With the start of the school year right around the corner, lining up your child’s afterschool schedule is most likely on your list of to-dos. But how to choose? Gone are the days when afterschool programs were just fun. Parents are looking for more bang for their buck, and experts agree that choosing the right program is key for success in school and in the future.
“Afterschool programs are a time for children to continue learning and practicing new skills, obtain mentoring from other positive adults, get exposure to a range of disciples and cultures, and develop social skills,” says Dr. Tiffany Cooper Gueye, CEO of Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL). “Programs have become more holistic, with a lot of evidence now suggesting that programs are most effective when they reinforce or develop academic skills, and provide enough recreation to develop social skills and make the program appealing to students.”
With the afterschool landscape ever changing, we’ve identified the newest trends and the hottest programs to help guide you in making the right decision for your child.
Dr. Jean Newton, dean of students and faculty at the Music Conservatory of Westchester, has seen music programs evolve throughout her 15-year tenure at the school. “Students are interested in branching out into jazz and rock programs, making music with their peers, and finding exciting performance opportunities,” she says.
Research has shown the positive impact music has on the brain, and according to Newton, parents are looking for more than just a music lesson. “They want the learning experience to be enjoyable and take place in a nurturing environment,” she says. There has also been increasing interest in vocal music, with more students interested in on-stage performance, musical theater, and acting.
Yet with all the new options, learning an instrument remains a fundamental component for any program. “Children still need expertise in their instrument,” Newton says.
For children interested in sports programs, quality is more important than ever. “Parents are looking for instructors with experience to teach their children, and they want the best,” says Coach Fher, owner of Soccer by Coach Fher in Manhattan. Steve Scigliano, owner and president of Swim and Scuba in Rockville Centre, agrees, “Parents want to make sure their children have the same instructor throughout the entire program, which is important because they build trust in the instructor,” he says.
Since children are busier than ever, families are also looking for flexibility. “They have input about how the program will run,” says Fher, who adds that many of his students ask to play more games and he often makes changes to accommodate their needs.
With the popularity of shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars, dance programs have changed in many ways. “Students used to be exposed only to what the teachers choreographed, but now they want to dance the way they’re seeing it on TV,” says Nancy Zindell, owner and director of the Westport Academy of Dance. “As teachers, we’re aware of this so it pushes us to be more innovative and on the pulse of the latest trends.”
Although no style is likely to become obsolete, styles have evolved and will continue to do so. Diane Frankel, owner and director of the oldest and largest dance studio in Rockland, Coupé Theatre Studio, says social dance and culture have heavily influenced afterschool programs. “Just as everyone was dancing disco in the ‘70s, the trend will move to the newest style. Hip-hop is now the flavor of the month, but we’re starting to hear more about reggae and fusion.”
Frankel who notes that the more well-rounded children are in dance, the better prepared they will be if they choose a career in the field. “Parents are expecting real training and they want to be sure their children are getting what they need to develop as dancers,” says Zindell.
With the growing demands placed on children at school, academic enrichment programs have become an excellent way to strengthen their skills and exceed. “Academic enrichment programs should focus on the skills that today's young learners lack, such as basic grammar, reading, phonics, and language skills,” says Judy Suchman, owner and director of Chappaqua Learning Center.
Expectations in the workforce are always changing and children need to be prepared. “Programs should give students an edge in an educational environment where critical thinking and innovation are essential, while also integrating technology,” says Dr. Andi Stix, director of Gtec Kids in New Rochelle, a program that has been around for 27 years.
The days of subject focused memorization and drills have been replaced by methods that recognize that children learn in different ways. “Programs now focus on developing the social, emotional, and cognitive intelligence. A multi-sensory approach nurtures children’s varied learning styles and how they process information,” says Carolyn Fox, director of FasTracKids and E.Nopi in Bardonia.
Parents are also seeking programs where their children can be creative. “With the demands of test preparation, parents are looking for integration of the arts and sciences and as much hands-on applications as possible,” says Stix.
Regardless of the program you choose, the experts agree that the environment should be warm and nurturing. “Enrichment programs should make learning fun for young, acquisitive minds,” says Suchman.