While pre-primary and primary schools are regulated in South Africa, after-school care is not, which can often result in an unstructured, unsafe and unhappy environment for your child.
Janine Hammond, mother, entrepreneur and the regional director at WC North Sherpa Kids at Sherpa Kids South Africa shares her insight into what parents need to ask about their children’s after-school care programme.
What happens at the aftercare?
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 supervising homework (if required); engaging activities such as arts and crafts, sports and games, music, drama, experiments and technology experiments; and well-supervised free play.
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. There should be time for active play and extra-mural activities, but you also want the children to be in an environment where she can use her 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.
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 aftercare 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.
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 an add-on to their other work, rather than their core responsibility. Parents are paying for this service.
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.
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 need to know how to appropriately communicate with the parents. Transparency is vital and parents need to be informed.
Do you implement sun-smart principles (no hat, no play) during playtime?
If a sun-smart programme 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 school hours and aftercare, but it’s still a good idea to make sure.
Do you offer a full holiday care service (are all days in holidays covered for the full day)?
You may be 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 you are getting the full-service solution and are not being left stranded over the holiday periods.
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 and places the child in a vulnerable position.
Active sign-out procedures are vital to ensure that your children are safe; only those authorised to do so are allowed to collect the children.
About Sherpa Kids South Africa
Sherpa Kids is an international programme that is trusted by thousands of parents all over the world to take care of their childrens’ before-school, aftercare, and holiday-care needs. The programme removes the aftercare burden from schools, gives parents peace of mind, and lets children have fun at aftercare.
Visit www.sherpakids.co.za for more information.
Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day.