November 6, 2019

5 ways to keep kids engaged after school

after school program at YMCA

Children learn a new recipe at an after-school program with United Way partner YMCA.

When the bells ring to mark the start of another school day, students know it’s time to scurry to class and get their assignments to stay on-track with their studies. But when the same bell rings at the end of the day, it’s not always clear what students should do next.

Children spend 83 percent of their waking hours outside of school. This presents a large window of time to make a positive impact that will help youth in school and for the rest of their lives.

At United Way for Southeastern Michigan, we understand that how children spend their time after school and during breaks has an enormous impact on their overall well-being and their readiness for the future. That’s why we work to increase access to affordable after-school and summer programs.

The most important thing is to ensure your child has a productive way and a safe place to spend their after-school hours. Below are a few ideas to keep your students engaged and learning even after the school day ends.

Make a healthy meal

Cooking and eating together helps strengthen family bonds.

Children of any age can assist in the kitchen. Younger kids can help stir or gather items from the fridge. Older children can chop vegetables or help with prep work.

Try adding one unique ingredient while cooking together. During dinner, discuss the item’s flavor, texture and where it comes from. For more information, check out our tips for building healthy mealtime habits.

Find an after-school program

Every day, one in five American children spends time after school alone and unsupervised because they lack access to a quality after-school program.

United Way supports initiatives like Discover Your Spark, an online tool to help parents find after-school programs that fit their child’s interests and schedule. Activities include sports, science, math, arts and more.  Many of the programs are free or low cost and financial assistance is available.

Get crafty

With just a few affordable items in a reusable tote, you can create a travel craft kit that kids can utilize at home or with their after-school care provider. Include construction paper and glue, along with unexpected items like aluminum foil and clay. Then, watch your child’s imagination soar.

Or, have your child make new creations out of old items. Instead of throwing away recyclable items like cans and boxes, add them to the kit and challenge your child to make something new.

Schedule time to read

Just 20 minutes of reading a day can help build your child’s listening, memory and vocabulary skills and lay the foundation for their future success. Reading also opens a child’s mind to the world, which can help improve social interactions.

It’s never too early or too late to start reading together. In the evening, set a timer for 20 minutes and settle in with your child’s favorite book. Afterwards, keep the learning going by discussing one or two ideas from the passage.

Looking for more books? United Way Early Learning Communities give parents access to many resources and supplies, and several include free lending libraries.

Find a tutor

If your child needs a little extra help with math or writing, a tutor can be a great resource. Tutors may be available at your child’s school so be sure to ask their teacher or school administration. United Way partner 826michigan also offers free tutoring Monday through Wednesday to students ages 8 to 18.  Their program is located inside the Detroit Robot Factory in Eastern Market. It pairs volunteer tutors with students who need homework assistance in a safe, supportive environment.

To find more after-school programs in your area, visit