Back-to-school season is the perfect time to re-evaluate which enrichment programs you will include or toss for your kids this school year. We spoke with Julee Brooks, CEO of Woodcraft Rangers, to talk about the importance of after-school programs and how to choose the right one for your child.
Please share with us the importance of enrichment programs.
Enrichment programs provide students with the opportunity to explore multiple options and eventually find their “spark” with the things that they love doing. This is essential and can lead to lifelong passions and even long-term career interests. Through enrichment programs, young people discover their unique skills and talents, and find social groups who share their interests, as well as adults and mentors who can support this exploration.
At Woodcraft Rangers, we have over 100 different clubs, ranging from arts, sports, STEM and outdoor education and leadership programs. This means that at each of our 80+ sites, we can offer a culturally relevant program that is designed specifically for youth enrolled there. We also rotate through a variety of activities on a regular basis to ensure young people can explore many different interests.
What benefits do after-school programs provide kids?
After-school programs help to nurture well-rounded young people by developing the whole child. For many parents, after school care is a priority, as they need safe and supportive places for their children when they are working and to support their kids with their homework. At Woodcraft Rangers, we call it the “Woodcraft Way,” which means we help support young people in body, mind, spirit and service. For middle school and high school youth, such activities are especially important as kids are establishing their sense of self and being able to choose their activities, become their authentic selves, and find groups where they feel they belong are key to their development and are proven to result in more confident, happier and more well-adjusted young people – and adults! With the stress and isolation of the last few years, this sense of belonging has never been more important.
What’s the best way for parents to support their kids’ interests?
Offer a chance to try many things and take the child’s lead. Specializing too early can be harmful to a child’s physical and emotional well-being, and it Is often driven by a caregiver’s projected interest robbing kids of their following their own interests. Watch for the things they enjoy – the activities they can spend hours doing, where they feel the most joy. It is important to find programs that offer enough of a challenge to keep curious learners engaged but not so much that it overwhelms them. Then follow what they want and be careful not to push or project adult interests on our kids. And remember that starting something can be both tough and frustrating, so be sure to provide lots of encouragement especially when they are beginning. Make sure they know that consistency and hard work are ultimately what will cultivate success.
What criteria should parents look for when selecting an after-school program?
Parents should look for a quality provider, a well-rounded program and an engaged staff. The provider should have experience and a track record of quality and leadership at the site that parents trust. A program should have a variety of activities that are active and engaging and should be intentional about creating an environment that is inclusive and creates that belonging for all participants. At the end of the day, however, quality staff is the most important. Staff should be passionate about their subject matter, experienced with youth, and receive ongoing training and support. At Woodcraft Rangers, we train staff in everything from positive behavior solutions, equity and inclusion and project-based learning and have thousands of activity lessons they can use so we offer consistent quality and variety. Additionally, it’s important that young people see themselves in the staff – representation is critical.
As a mom, what do you look for?
I look for program leadership that has open and proactive communication, and the highest standards of safety. Site leadership should easily be able to give clear answers regarding both physical and emotional safety. And as a special needs mom, I expect a program to work collaboratively with me to ensure everyone is successful. But most importantly, I look for an organized program where staff seem happy and relaxed. That’s a sign of good leadership.
What if your child is not interested in after-school programs? How do you help your kids expand their interests and develop new skills?
There are multiple options for kids to explore. Rec centers and parks offer a lot of a la carte class options. Or, most simply, just play! Offer a variety of activities and get on the field, sing along or do experiments with them. You don’t need to be an expert, and there’s so much guiding content online… so use it! Personally, I recently bought a racket on Facebook Marketplace and started playing tennis with my middle school son. I’m terrible at it, but the goal is to explore together and spend time together and bring friends to join if you can. And remember – it’s never too late for grownups to discover new interests, either!
Celebrating 100 Years Serving Youth in Los Angeles
Woodcraft Rangers was founded in 1922 by Ernest Thompson Seton. Woodcraft made a distinct mark from other youth organizations by its early commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. From the start, Woodcraft challenged the norm by opening its programs to all children from every race, religion and socioeconomic background. Woodcraft Rangers is at the forefront of expanded learning opportunities in the greater Los Angeles area.
Woodcraft programs are rooted in the core belief that every child deserves the opportunity to realize their full potential, and that youth should be active participants in defining their own paths. Programs focus on four major learning pathways: visual and performing arts, sports and wellness, STEM, and youth leadership.
To learn more or donate visit: www.woodcraftrangers.org