In Australia, the average school day for primary school children starts at 9am and finishes at 3:30pm. I personally have experienced the pressure this places upon family life, especially with two working parents. For those parents who are unable to always move their schedule around for school hours, there are other options. Commonly grandparents or other family members take over the responsibility, and growing in popularity is the option of before and/or after school care. From 1996 to 2005 the number of children in before and/or after school care doubled from 6% to 12%, and is anticipated to have grown again since. And in 2005, 38% of school children aged 5-8 were in before or after school care. Whilst some choose not to send their children into extra care, participation in outside of school programs is shown to make a difference in their growth. Broadly, scientific studies have found that benefits are reaped in the areas of academic, social/emotional, prevention, and health and wellness.
From an academic perspective, scientific studies have found that participation in out of school programs have benefits in better attitudes towards school, higher school attendance rates, better test performance, improved completion of homework and greater engagement in learning. It is important to note that these external programs did not even focus on intentionally improving academic scores, like a homework club or similar. Rather, they were shown to combine some academic support with other enriching activities. As the global average of primary school education focuses largely on reading, writing and mathematics, it can increase the interest of children to provide them with complementary material and pique their curiosity about other topics. Academic improvement is not the sole impact of out of school programs, and in the cases of some programs (like fitness focussed ones) nor should it be.
A secondary benefit is that of emotional and social ability, with increased social and communication skills, and increased self-confidence associated with program participation. It is also associated with lower levels of anxiety and depression. This result is something we largely have come to expect, as children are exposed to greater hours of interaction with other children of varying ages, in a range of environments. However, a program needs to intentionally focus on these things for it to have a substantial effect.
Furthermore, after school programs are viewed as one of the many places that can tackle the growing issue of obesity in our nation’s children. Similar to sporting teams, joining clubs and other extracurricular activities, outside of school care is considered a place of influence where children’s habits (good and bad) can be formed. There are an increasing number of programs focusing on good health in our children, with importance being placed on good nutrition and on exercising. Whilst an out of school program could not guarantee to reduce a child’s BMI or force them to enjoy vegetables, programs that focus on these health and wellness outcomes are found to impact children’s food choices, activity levels and improvement in standard health measurements.
If the possible benefits of out of school programs are so far reaching and positive, how can we maximise the effect they have on our children? They key seems to be access to and sustained participation in these programs, so as to build habits that will remain with them as they grow. Whilst Living Books is currently being designed as a one day holiday program, we will be building upon this to create ongoing programs that can have a greater positive impact on the lives of your children. It is important to have the capacity to tailor these programs to suit your child’s needs, to increase the likelihood that they will want to return and progress.
Just as important to the success of these programs is the quality of their design and structure. A program needs to have a clear target of what it wants to achieve and communicate this from the outset of the program. This helps parents and carers make an educated decision about why their child is going to commence a program, and assists teachers in staying focussed on reaching the vision. This program then needs to be delivered by well-prepared staff, that the children are able to form strong relationships with; these relationships are shown to be strongly tied with a child’s success in the program.
Also, at the end of the day, the program needs to develop partnerships with others in order to be a success. Children’s well-being is a top priority for parents, especially when they are entrusting their children into care for up to 20 hours a week. It is important and beneficial for all if these programs keep the parents well informed and even involved with the program. Partnering with other community organisations can also benefit an out of school program, as it can provide new activities, pathways for children to develop new interests and can give them an advantage over competitive programs.
These are the things we are taking into consideration as we develop Living Books, so as to be a reputable program. As previously mentioned, once Living Books grows momentum in the school holiday space, we will be looking to expand into an outside of school program, as the benefits to the kids can be that much greater.