After-School Care

Finding the best after-school care for your child is a challenge. Here's how to weigh the options.

After-School Activities, p.1

When 5-year-old Annie Lutz started kindergarten, her parents' number-one concern was making sure she adjusted to her new classmates and teacher. Their number-two concern? After-school care, of course. "Both my husband and I have full-time jobs," says Ericka Lutz, of Oakland, California, "so we needed to find a safe, fun place for those postschool hours."

The Lutzes are not alone: According to The Families and Work Institute, in New York City, 62 percent of mothers are in the workforce -- seven million full-time -- and more than half say that child care is a serious worry, one that doesn't stop when a child enters school, which typically ends at 3:00 p.m., or even earlier.

One of the biggest challenges is finding developmentally appropriate care. Just being in school all day is a new, stimulating, and often exhausting experience for a 5- or 6-year-old, so think carefully before you pack these extra hours with structured activities. "Kids this age need plenty of time for independent play," says Rebecca Eder, Ph.D., director of psychology at St. Louis Children's Hospital. "That's how they do much of their learning."

Letting them just play, however, is easier said than done. A 1997 University of Michigan survey of 3,000 children found that American children under 12 spent nearly four fewer hours per day in free play than kids did in 1981. So before you commit to any after-school program or caregiver, weigh your options carefully. Here, the lowdown on what's available.

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