CHERRY HILL, N.J., Aug. 29, 2011 — With schools across the nation now back in session, parents should be scouting for after school programs for their kids that will be enriching, fun, educational and challenging.

Experts say that keeping kids engaged in meaningful activities outside the classroom actually leads to better performance on tests, improved self confidence, and in general a heightened positive mental attitude as compared to students who do not take part in after school programs.

As parents, it is your responsibility to do the research for your kids and then present them with all options, and let them choose what types of activities they’d like to be involved in. Encourage them to pursue the things that get them excited.

Here are some tips from Destination ImagiNation (, a worldwide program that involves more than 100,000 kids annually in critical thinking and creative problem solving programs in after-school settings.

  • First, don’t delay. Be determined to find an after school program now that will keep your kids engaged during times when they would normally be idle in the afternoons and on weekends during the school year. Delay will make it more difficult because your child will have already developed an after-school routine.
  • You’ve watched your child at play and interacting with others, and that observation can give you clues about what after school activity will be right for your son or daughter. Some will like sports, others will want to focus on music, some on outdoors/nature, crafts, drama, karate, dance, photography, science or other pursuits. Let your observations be your guide. Helping kids enjoy what they like will give them small victories that build character.
  • Visit the After School Alliance ( for a host of tips on after school resources, organizations and activities. This is perhaps the nation’s most powerful clearinghouse for all things after school.
  • When choosing an after school activity, try to find one that links back to your child’s core curriculum in some way. Connecting after school activities with classroom work can enhance your child’s in-school performance. For instance, a child weak in math and science might love to be part of a local astronomy club, which will involve the application of both. Or, a child who may be weak in geography and biology would benefit from after school activities such as hiking, camping, birding or outdoor photography. A youngster deficient in foreign language will benefit from immersion in community projects in neighborhoods where that language is spoken. And, speech competitions and theater can help improve self confidence. Your child’s teacher can give you great advice finding the most relevant after school activity.
  • Be sure to check out the non-profits and charities in your area that are always in need of volunteers to help them accomplish their mission in the community. Engaging young people in charitable work always broadens their world view, and may help them develop their nurturing instinct.
  • Many cities and counties are eliminating after school programs because of budget cuts, so you may have to be creative and check with your church or synagogue, Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCA, Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, or other traditional youth activity centers or organizations.
  • Make sure the program or activity can show you proof that their paid and volunteer staff have passed recent criminal background.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website provides guidance on the types of after school programs available all over the U.S., and even gives tips on how to start your own program in your neighborhood.
  • And finally, visit to learn how to start you own local Destination ImagiNation team to involve your children and others in your neighborhood in  an after-school enrichment program that teaches creative problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork, innovation and communication – all traits they’ll need to be successful in the global economy of the future.