When it comes to out-of-school time (OST), parents have three priorities for what they want OST programs to address for their children: their social and emotional health, providing them with physical outdoor activities and helping them discover their passion and purpose.
An enhanced national survey by Arlington, VA-based market research firm Edge Research, in conjunction with Learning Heroes, a nonprofit dedicated to elevating the voice of parents in education, was commissioned by Wallace to explore the unique, differentiated role OST programs play in youth development compared with home and school, how parents assess quality in OST programs and the impact of COVID-19.
Findings revealed substantial worries among parents about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many feeling their children are struggling academically, socially and emotionally: 40 percent worried that children were missing out on social connections and friendship; 32 percent about too much screen time; and 26 percent about falling behind academically. Similar concerns were voiced among teachers and OST providers, with teachers most worried about students falling behind academically (39 percent) and OST providers most worried about emotional well-being (26 percent).
Parents are looking to a range of places for information about summer programs, including their school district (32 percent), national youth-serving organizations like the YMCA/YWCA (25 percent), Boys and Girls Clubs of America (19 percent) and others.
The report also finds that parents see a distinct role for OST experiences that is different from home or school. Parents see OST programs as the settings in which children develop social skills like teamwork, confidence, leadership and perseverance. In thinking about these kinds of activities, parents use the term “extracurricular” most often (23 percent), followed by “afterschool” (12 percent).
The most important markers of a quality program were all highly and closely ranked by parents and included: your child seems happy (83 percent); is gaining confidence (79 percent); is developing social and emotional skills (77 percent); is exposed to new experiences (75 percent); and is pursuing their interests and passions (73 percent).
The overall environment of the program was also crucial for parents, with quality markers including: physical safety (73 percent); the program is fun (76 percent); and is nurturing and welcoming (72 percent).
The report builds on Learning Heroes’ earlier report Developing Life Skills in Children that examined how parents perceived the role of schools in fostering social and emotional skills.
In conjunction with the report, Learning Heroes has also released an online Playbook, designed to help educators, providers, and advocates leverage these findings to communicate the value of out-of-school-time or “extracurricular” activities. It can also inform the design of programs and policies that make high-quality OST opportunities equitably accessible to all children.