Updated: Dec 11, 2019
This article is contributed by a member of our Educator team.
Early December normally ushers in the depths of the school vacation in Singapore. School children are out in full force at shopping malls participating in vacation shows and programmes whereas some families may choose to take a vacation overseas.
Amidst all the buzz of the holiday spirit, another more tedious and impactful search is also happening. It is also the time of the year when many families with primary school-going children sweat it out to find and choose the after school care centres for their children.
Finding the Right After School Centre is Not So Easy
Finding the right after school care for your child can be a major headache for most parents as they contemplate factors like proximity, convenience and programme of the after school care centre. For many parents, this search is often futile - what appears to be a good choice in December often becomes something of a nightmare as parents start discovering the plethora of problems associated with finding and choosing the less-than-ideal after school care.
One of the most shocking discoveries usually happens about 3-4 weeks into the new school year when parents discover that the after school care centre they have picked is just a babysitting service.
Kids are shuffled to the showers, fed a decent meal, and then shuffled back to a room where they do their own homework. In the midst of all the homework time, social upheavals occur as children argue and dispute over childish encounters. Before you know it, homework time is over, and nothing much is done. Imagine the horror of mummy and/or daddy when they discover after dinner, or worse, late into the night that homework was not completed and the child has spelling the following day.
This is just one common problem of most after school care centres. There are many more, which is why choosing a good after school care centre is such an adventure. I mentioned that most parents fail to choose the right one, but this does not mean that you cannot succeed.
All you need to do is to pay a little more attention to certain factors, ask the right questions and observe the product of your prospective after school care centre - the children themselves.
Three Things to Do When Choosing Your After School Care Centre
1. Factors to consider
I will give you the short list here as I will be writing another post on these factors. These factors include programme, staff, recognition, proximity, and well-being. These factors are in order of priority, in my opinion. Your child will be spending a significant portion of his/her time at the after school care centre, doesn't it make sense to ensure that he/she receives the best programme that will enhance his learning?
For the programme to be effective, the staff conducting such programme must be proficient. The key is proficiency; they do not need to be overly qualified, but simply effective in carrying out the programme. Beyond these two, the rest are secondary in my opinion, or rather, they are good to have.
2. Questions to ask
a. Can you tell me about the framework of your after school care programme? Most after school care centres have this framework for their programme (though they will not say it this way) – we are a baby sitting service. In other words, we take care of your child's basic needs like food and shelter after school, that is all. That is the sad state of Singapore’s after school care centres.
Any good after school care centre that is serious about holistic development of children will definitely anchor their programmes to something they believe in. For instance, at Gummy Cove, Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Framework guides our programme.
b. How much time by percentage is spent on programmes, well-being and recreation? From the moment your child enters the after school care centre, the clock is ticking. Is the child wasting a large percentage of time waiting and moving from place to place, or spending good time engaged in learning or enrichment programmes? For instance, most parents do not know that their children spend a large portion of time moving from point to point to take shower, eat, etc.
This is a problem because most after school centres, especially those based in schools, choose to move their children in a big group to the shower and back. When you gather such a large group of students under non-teachers, you will inevitably get chaos. There is also much time waiting for everyone to finish showering, then going back together.
c. What is the profile of your staff? The key thing in this is to look for experience and some basic teaching experience. We are not looking for fully qualified staff with all the necessary certificates to accompany them. You do not need overly qualified staff, but who you need is staff with the experience to run the basic learning programmes and other enrichment programmes.
3. Can I observe or speak to the children? Try to make some time to observe and ask for permission to speak to the centre's children and their parents if possible. The best time to do this is after 6pm when most kids are about to go home. Be close enough to listen to the kids’ and parents’ interaction at the point when they are picked up from the after school care centre.
Children are the best judge of the programme they have gone through. If the programme is boring, they will say it. If the programme has been fun, varied and educational, they will be excited to say so. If you are able to, approach one or two parents and speak to them about how they feel about the after school care centre. Just introduce yourself as another parent, and most parents will not mind sharing their thoughts with you. From such interactions and conversations, you will have a better idea of how the after school care centre is like.
This is the time of the year when parents looking for suitable after school care centres have to make major decisions for the benefit for their children. Even though it can be a tricky decision, it does not mean that parents are trapped.
All it takes is to prioritize and consider some essential factors like programme, staff competency and feedback from children and parents, and the decision will be easier. Our advice is for you to spend some time and do your homework. This will make encountering the agony of a poor decision later less likely.