While pre-primary and primary schools are regulated in South Africa, after-school care is not. This has led to everyone and anyone running after-school care programmes, which can often result in an unstructured, unsafe and an unhappy environment for your child.
Genevieve Allen worked in the education industry for 20 years before launching an out-of-school hours programme called Sherpa Kids South Africa.
Here she shares her insight into what parents need to be asking about their children’s after-school care programme.
Also see: Is your child's school bag too heavy?
1. What happens at the after-care?
Ideal after-school care should be centred around the holistic development of a child, with a combination of free and structured play. Well-run after-school care programmes will include supervise homework (if required); engaging activities such as arts and crafts, sports and games, music, drama, experiments and technology experiments; and well-supervised free play.
2. Are children actively engaged and stimulated? If so, how?
Theme-based activities, specifically designed to be age and stage appropriate, are critical to a comprehensive educational programme. Ensure there's time for active play and extra-mural activities, but you also want the children to be in an environment where they can use their own imagination and curiosity to play freely under supervision.
If the school programme is endorsed by a local or international education authority, such as the The Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA), even better.
3. Is there a structure to the afternoon? Exactly what is it?
The afternoon needs to start with a formal roll call system. If a child is not there, it is important to know why. This will be followed by lunch, when appropriate, and then homework supervision. The duration of homework supervision needs to be flexible, depending on the age and stage of the child. There also needs to be time for structured activities and free play.
It's very important that after-care is not experienced as an afternoon of extra lessons. It is not a double-up of the school day, it is about learning through play. This generation of children have incredibly structured days, which can lead to stress. Children need time to relax and play in their own time.
4. How many staff members are there and what type of experience/backgrounds do they have?
International best practice for aftercare requires a staff-to-child ratio of between 1 to 10 and 1 to 15. Qualified graduates and retired childcare professionals make the ideal after school care providers. You want people who are passionate about childcare and filled with energy and enthusiasm to engage with the children in a positive way.
It is important that the aftercare staff's working day starts in the afternoon, so they are not tired after a work-day or just see the after-school programme as a 'bolt on' to their other work, rather than their core responsibility. Parents are paying for this service.
5. Are the staff trained in first aid?
This is a critical area that parents should investigate and many current providers at schools fall short here. International best practice requires at least one staff member trained in first aid be on site at all times. It is also imperative that the staff are trained in paediatric first aid, rather than a general first aid course.
The most frequent causes of death in children under the age of 12 are anaphylactic shock (allergic reactions) and choking… paediatric first aid ensures that staff members will know how to deal with these. Also, first aid qualifications expire after two years, so you need to ask whether their paediatric first aid training is up to date.
6. What type of training do staff have in behaviour management and incident reporting?
Why it's important is because staff members need to be able to know how to manage children in a variety of different circumstances. Scenario-based training is ideal for this. The staff also needs to know how to appropriately communicate with the parents. Transparency is vital and parents need to be informed.
7. Do you implement sun smart principles (no hat, no play) during playtime?
If sun smart isn't being implemented as a school rule, it is almost impossible for it to be implemented effectively at after-school care. Most schools do institute a sun smart programme in and school hours and aftercare, but it's still a good idea to make certain.
8. Do you offer a full holiday care service (are all days in holidays covered for the full day)?
You may be very happy with your after-school care provider, only to find out that there isn't a holiday programme in place. You ideally want a comprehensive care provider, so that you are getting the full-service solution and are not being left stranded over the holiday periods.
9. What are the collection and sign out procedures?
Many after-school care service providers allow children to sign out for themselves or go and wait by the gate after receiving a WhatsApp message. This is not an acceptable sign-out procedure.
This makes children very vulnerable.
Active sign out procedures are vital to ensure that your children are safe; only those authorised are allowed to collect the children.
10. How do you manage dispensing of medication?
We dispense medication in line with legal regulations; we can only give the child medication when a parent has handed in a consent form, along with the medication. These forms should be issued at the beginning of the year, for parents to use when the need arises.
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