The After School Dilemma

Choosing an after-school care option for your tween can be confusing. Some kids need the structure that a School-Aged Childcare (SACC) program offers, while others are ready to stay at home alone for a short time. And then there's the question of what you as a parent are comfortable with. So how do you know which alternative is best for your family?

According to Kirk Bloir, program director of Family and Consumer Sciences at the Ohio State University Extension, parents can start the decision-making process by assessing their child in three areas:

Emotionally: in what kind of environment is your child most at ease? Is your child comfortable with the idea of being alone for an hour or so or does he or she prefer social interaction?
Physically: is your child capable of being reasonably self-sufficient? Can your child lock and unlock the door, use the phone, and fix a snack?
Intellectually: can your child follow directions and rules without supervision or does he or she work better in a structured environment?
"Each child and situation is different," says Bloir. "The whole family has to be comfortable with the decision." Making the choice can seem overwhelming, but it can be done.

We asked two Central Ohio families about their experiences, but to protect their children's safety, they are not identified by name or location.

Going with Latchkey:
The R family allows 12-year-old Joe to go home by himself after school.

"He was getting bored at his after-school program and was having trouble getting his homework done," explained mom Mary. About a year ago, the family started allowing Joe to come home by himself two days a week.

"He was a little nervous at first," said Mary. "But by the end of the year, he wanted to do it every day."

The family established rules for Joseph and set up a routine. He also has a cell phone to check in with his mom and knows the neighbors can help in an emergency.

"Staying on his own has been great for Joe," said Mary. "It's taught him time management and he really enjoys it."

Going with the SACC Program:
The M family is in no hurry to leave their school's SACC program. Nine-year-olds Elizabeth and Katherine enjoy interacting with their friends, while dad Kirk appreciates the physical activity and homework assistance.

"We've considered letting them stay at home alone, but we're not there yet," said Kirk. "The girls would probably be responsible enough, but we feel they benefit from the extra structure they get (at SACC)."

The girls have been attending their school's SACC since they were in first grade.

"They've made a lot of friends in the program and look forward to going each day," added Kirk.