Skip to content

What Makes an Effective After School Program for Your Preschool or Child Care Center?

When you think back on your early experiences in school, what do you recall about those after school hours?

Running errands with Mom? Getting shuffled between Grandma’s and the babysitters? A few hours of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS?

Instead, imagine that time exploring sensory bins, engaging in stories and creative play, and making joyful connections with peers. Sounds pretty good to us! 

The stressors and needs of today’s families and the benefits of a well-designed after school program can make offering the right activities a true win-win-win. Parents and caregivers benefit from having a safe place for their kids, children get further opportunities for enrichment, and your ECE center is the source of that support.

Not sure where to start? We’re here to unpack all you need to know about an effective after school program.

After School Starter Kit

  • What is the goal of an after school program?
  • What makes an effective after school program?
  • How do you organize an after school program?
  • Why is the right after school program or child care so crucial for families?

What is the goal of an after school program?

In the words of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), an effective after school child care program “offers academic and enrichment activities in the hours that follow the school day.” 

We love this straightforward definition. It highlights that after school programs offer opportunities for the student, not just a babysitting service for the parents. 

With that in mind, we like to think an effective after school program’s goal is to provide a safe place for students during after school hours that continues to nurture learning and child development

Blog Stock Images (2)

After school teacher doing activity with students

 Provide a safe place for students

After school child care requires a physically safe place for students. A space that is clean and set up to be child-friendly is critical (put the craft scissors away, folks). 

Safety in an after school program also requires appropriate supervision of children. Especially if your center is caring for birth to three year-olds, they cannot be left unsupervised. There need to be an appropriate number of staff members giving children their attention for the entirety of your after school program.

Students also need to feel emotionally safe through consistent care. Reliable and responsive care teaches children to trust others and influences their social-emotional development

Foster academic engagement 

Beyond just offering a physical space with reliable staff, the best after school programs know that kids never stop learning! 

There are ample opportunities to offer activities that keep young learners engaged during after school hours. And the benefits have long-lasting impacts. An effective after school program instills the concept of lifelong learning early on. 

Plus, after school programs indicate higher academic achievement in high school according to a study from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Offer enrichment activities

Depending on where your after school participants come from – a different school or your own program – they may not always have opportunities for enrichment activities. Many preschools are half-day, so students are coming to you primed to learn through play, exploration, creation, music and more!

What makes an effective after school program?

So you understand the goals of an after school program…but how do those goals translate into action? 

We’ve got a five point checklist for you to get the ball rolling on your awesome after school program.

1. Hire Great Staff

Want students to reap all the benefits of after school care? You’ll need great teachers and leaders in the room with your students!

Attract and retain people who have a passion for early learning, comfort and confidence with young students and experience with developmentally appropriate practice

Since children may be at after school care until the evenings, it’s important that your staff members are trained to prepare appropriate snacks, help with diapers or potty training and administer minor first aid.

2. Practice Regularity

Routines let students understand the expectations of the environment and influence cognitive, emotional, and social development. The NCSL highlights that “to fully realize all the positives of afterschool programming, students must receive a regular dosage, adequately trained staff, and high-quality programming.”

Practice regularity and become a trusted after school program (for children and parents!) by:

  • Communicating clear rules, processes and expectations 
  • Following consistent schedules for snacks, naps, and playtime
  • Setting reliable program hours that meet the needs of the families in your community

3. Lean Into Social Emotional Learning

Social emotional learning (SEL) is a buzzword for a reason – it has a huge influence on how students process, reflect, regulate, and connect. Its need continues to grow, and an after school program is a perfect place for students to safely navigate developing their SEL skills.

4. Offer a Variety of Activites

Child development is generally split up into cognitive, social, language and physical domains. The activities you offer can (and should!) provide ample opportunities for students to grow in all these areas.

The best part? There are so many fun ways to work on these domains! Whether that’s out in nature, in small groups, or with themes, there’s always opportunities to make learning engaging and playful.

5. Top Notch Communication

If parents or caregivers aren’t able to be with their kids after school, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to be involved! Staying in communication (and making it easy for parents) allows them to stay connected to their child’s day and helps them become part of your center’s community.

With LineLeader’s communication features, you can keep parents and staff in the loop easily. Update an End of Day email summary for a child or share a video of an awesome after school moment. Great communication shows not only how you care for their child, but helps parents feel how much you care.

daily-summary-report- manage

Daily summary report email from Manage

How do you organize an after school program?

Assess your community's need

If you’re building an after school program without considering what the needs of your community is, we recommend you hit the pause button.

What times are most of the parents in your community unavailable and in need of after school child care? Don’t assume everyone’s free at 6pm! Perhaps your center will have more success being open until 8pm. 

Some other helpful insight to gather from your community:

  • Is there a predominant age that needs after school care?

  • Where do families with young children live?

  • What is the cultural demographic in your area? How can you offer culturally responsive and respectful programs?

  • Do certain holidays present a need for child care? Keep in mind not everyone has Thanksgiving or Christmas off.

Let these answers guide your program’s location, staff makeup, hours and mission. And if you’re lucky enough to have a preschool PTO on hand, don’t hesitate to get their input!

Set up the groundwork

Once you know what community needs you’re filling with your after school program, there are some foundational steps you’ll need to attend to.

  • Register for appropriate state licensing
  • Secure an insurance policy
  • Create your financial and funding plan
  • Confirm a location and make sure it’s up to code
  • Decide your organizational set up (Will you want a director? A board? How many teachers?
  • Hire and train your staff
  • Lay out your policies and procedures

Create an educationally rich program

A key benefit of an after school program for your preschool or child care center? You are early learning experts! 

As a trusted organization for learning and growing, today’s parents already know what you have to offer their children.

Keep that standard for excellence in your after school programming through: 

  • Modern resources for students, parents and staff

  • Continued training and professional development for staff

  • Aligning with a teaching methodology (such as Waldorf or Bank Street).

  • Sharpening the goal of your after school program (such as a focus on creative play, linguistic development, etc.)

Choose your management system

Choosing the right child care management system for an after school program can make all your operational and customer service needs a breeze. 

Utilize a system that:

Gives your preschool or child care center a digital hub for staff and families to get all their news, updates and reminders.

Why is the right after school program or child care so crucial for families?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 77.2% of mothers with children under age six worked full time and 95.3% of fathers with younger children worked full time in 2021. 

It’s not too hard to read between the lines on this one: there’s a huge need for after school programming to meet the needs of working parents!

Parents could make a number of choices for their young learners during after school hours. Maybe they hire a babysitter or have a family member help out.

But the right after school program can offer so much to children. Extended development opportunities, trained ECE staff members and a reliable schedule in a safe environment give parents peace of mind and students meaningful learning opportunities. 

At LineLeader, we believe every ECE organization is a crucial part of the community it serves. As they say, it takes a village. A high quality after school program makes that village stronger – for today and many years to come.

Who is LineLeader?

LineLeader offers four core products: digital registration software, full-featured CRM software, a combined family engagement app and childcare management system, along with the Unified platform, which provides comprehensive visibility into every contact throughout various stages of their enrollment journey. This all-in-one solution is the first of its kind and facilitates tracking and management of the entire family journey, from initial inquiry to registration, to re-enrollment and beyond.

So, while each tool is powerful on its own, they truly innovate when used together, allowing dedicated staff to focus on what matters most - the children in their care.

Learn more about why the leading childcare brands choose LineLeader at

Not a User Yet? 

Schedule a demo to see LineLeader in action.

Schedule a Demo

Already a User or Simply Want to Learn More? 

Download the benchmark report to expertly grow and manage your childcare business.

Download the Report

Additional Resources

Meet The Author

Asyah Jiron is a marketing intern with professional experience in field marketing, content, and advertising. She attends the University of North Texas and is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies with a Marketing concentration. Asyah is passionate about growing her marketing knowledge and always tackles any new challenge thrown her way.

Subscribe to stay up to date on the latest industry news, trends and best practices for growing and managing your childcare business.