The term 'latchkey kid' - used to describe children who must let themselves into an empty house after school and are unsupervised for some or all of the time between 3pm and 7pm - has been around, perhaps surprisingly, since WWII. However, in recent years it has increased in both notoriety as a socio-economic phenomenon and in frequency, all over the world. In America, it's been termed an 'epidemic,' with an estimated 10 million children fitting the description of "latchkey kids".
Here at home, the problem has grown substantially in recent years, especially among single-parent families, where the parent must work during the day and cannot be home when their children come home from school.
One solution - and one that is growing rapidly in popularity and utility - is the establishment of dedicated 'after school clubs,' providing after school care for children of various ages until a parent can collect them and bring them home.
An after school club is a great way to ensure that your children are safe until you return home from work. However, they vary greatly in availability, quality and cost, so here are some tips for choosing an after school club programme for your child.
1 - Homework
For most children, the best time to do homework is as soon as possible after school, before the distractions of electronic entertainment, friends, etc, take hold, so a good after school club will provide the three things children need to focus on to get their homework done:
a - Time. Children usually work best when a specific period of time is allotted to homework, perhaps an hour after a brief snack and settling in period.
b - Space. A cluttered table or noisy play area is no place for homework. Children should be provided with suitable, well-lit, clean and quiet space in which to work.
c - Support. While children should be allowed to work without unnecessary interference, an adult supervisor who can provide gentle help, control excessive talking and manage time is a great help to children's productivity.
2 - Activities
An after school club should not be seen as a holding pen for children to kill time in before being collected. Check that specific, scheduled activities are on offer, giving a balance of individual and team participation as well as a mix of creative and physical activities, and opportunities for socialisation.
3 - Nutrition
Most children could use an afternoon snack as a pick-me-up to revitalise them. But be sure the club isn't appeasing children with crisps, sweets and fizzy drinks. Instead, healthy (but tasty) treats should be on offer, not only to improve nutrition but also to help build a healthy attitude toward food.