Academic Effects of After-School Programs
The current emphasis on performance standards and testing has led schools to look to the after-school hours as time that can be spent developing children's academic skills (National Institute on Out-of-School Time, 2001). Previously, principals and teachers tended to focus on after-school programs as a means to provide supervision for children whose parents were employed during the before- and after-school hours. Research has substantiated educators' concerns that children who are unsupervised during the after-school hours can suffer an array of negative developmental outcomes, especially when those children come from high-risk circumstances.
Few children attend after-school programs. Fourteen percent of primary grade children attend formal after-school programs compared with 27% of children who are cared for by relatives or by family child care providers after school (Brimhall, Reaney, & West, 1999). Most families who need care for their elementary school children depend on a patchwork of programs, lessons, structured activities, and self-care each week. Although federal government and private foundation funding has increased recently for after-school programs, research indicates that there are not enough programs available to meet demand (Halpern, 1999; National Institute on Out-of-school Time, 2001). This Digest describes types of after-school programs and discusses recent research on who participates and the effects of participation on children's school performance.
Types of After-School Programs
After-school programs are sponsored and operated by for-profit businesses, community organizations, public schools, private schools, church groups, and by government agencies such as municipal park and recreation departments. More importantly, with respect to the impact of school-age programs on children's academic adjustment, after-school programs vary in terms of their philosophy, goals, and programming. Many programs continue a tradition of providing safe places for children to have fun. Such recreational programs tend to emphasize sports activities. Other programs focus on academics by providing tutoring in school subjects and by assisting with homework completion. Yet other programs center on enrichment, providing children with opportunities to develop skills and interests in activities such as dance, music, science, or arts and crafts. Some programs pursue multiple goals and offer an array of activities.
Research on Participation in After-School Progams
Early studies of after-school programs reported inconsistent results in comparing children who attended programs with those who did not. Researchers have determined that where children go after school, what they do after school, and how their activities affect them depend on characteristics of the children, families, communities, and programs.
In general, between first and fifth grades, children's participation in formal after-school programs declines while their participation in lessons and in self-care increases greatly. Children's maturity and prior adjustment also predict their activities after school. For example, one study of low-income children found that children with better academic skills in third grade were more likely to select and attend enrichment activities in fifth grade and less likely to spend time with peers in unsupervised settings. The same study found that less well-adjusted children were more likely to remain in formal child care programs until fifth grade, probably because their parents recognized that they needed supervision (Posner & Vandell, 1999). Gender is another factor in children's after-school activities. Boys participate in more sports activities than girls; girls are more involved in academics, art projects, and socializing (Hofferth & Jankuniene, 2001; Posner & Vandell, 1999). Race may be yet another factor in children's participation. In one study, program participation was similar for White and African American third-graders, but by fifth grade, the number of White children attending programs decreased dramatically while the number of African-American children attending programs increased (Posner & Vandell, 1999).
Parents with higher educational levels and more income tend to influence their children to participate in educationally beneficial activities and can pay for more enrichment lessons than can parents with lower education and less income. However, some parents living in inner-city neighborhoods expend great amounts of energy to seek out resources for their children. Importantly, after-school program attendance provides children from low-income families with access to the types of enrichment activities that middle-class children typically experience (Hofferth & Jankuniene, 2001).
Community characteristics also bear on who participates and how this participation affects them. Program shortages are most pronounced in urban and rural areas, and programs for children from low-income families struggle with limited funding and resources. These limitations affect their quality (Halpern, 1999; National Institute on Out-of-School Time, 2001). There is some evidence that after-school programs are more beneficial for children from high-risk communities than for middle-class children.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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