Ask any parent and they would say that being there when their children arrive home from school is their preferred situation, but sadly, for many of them the reality of today’s economic environment precludes that.
Often, both parents are working, so other arrangements for the care of their children before and after school and in the holidays need to be made. A number of professional organisations around New Zealand offer these services, some based on school premises and others at community facilities.
In fact, as principal of Bledisloe School in Taradale, Carol Bevis notes, before and after-school care has become an expectation for a lot of families, while Craig Fortune of the Christchurch-based service, MASH (My After School Headquarters) says whether a school offers an Out of School programme and the quality of that programme is often a deciding factor for parents when choosing a school for their children.
A former schoolteacher, Craig Fortune and his wife Nicole started MASH in January 2012 in Christchurch, where they currently run seven programmes, and have since expanded to other South Island centres, with a total of 13 programmes being provided.
We are also looking for opportunities to expand into the North Island and provide a service to school communities there,” he says.
“MASH is not just after-school care, it’s an after-school programme. We have a semi-structured programme aimed at providing new experiences for children through very focused, accurate planning. We get them involved in activities that parents don’t have time to do, and let them make a mess.
“Each school or community is unique, and while the structure and framework for our programmes is the same, each programme reflects the specific school.”
Staff running the programmes go through a lengthy recruitment process and are police vetted.
The daily programme starts at 3pm with afternoon tea, after which the children do their homework with staff giving one-on-one help if needed. Monday to Thursday at 4pm they come together for a ‘gathering’ where the afternoon activity is explained and demonstrated.
These can include arts and crafts, outdoor physical activity, and baking. There is, of course, plenty of time for supervised free play too, Mr Fortune says.
Friday is ‘chillax day’, when the children might watch a movie with popcorn, play games or just chill out and relax after a busy week.
School holiday programmes run from 8.30am to 6pm and these are also reasonably structured, but with lots of opportunity for free play.
“Our managers gather feedback from the kids about what they enjoy and we review our programmes regularly to make sure we’re doing the best job for the children, parents and the community. We also invite community groups and organisations such as the Fire Service, the Deaf Association and Kapa Haka groups to come and be with the children. They really enjoy that.”
Mr Fortune says the growth of MASH has been a result of establishing new programmes as well as taking over from existing providers.
“Any school that doesn’t have a current provider but would like to offer a programme, or wants to change their current provider, we would love to have a chat about what we can offer them.”
West Auckland-based 4FUN offers before and after-school and school holiday programmes for the local community, with the hours of 6.45am to 6.15pm designed to meet the needs of parents who are working or studying, director Lynda Bayer says.
From its centre in Lincoln Road Henderson, next to Ta Pai Park the organisation runs multiple activities for the children, which it is able to do because of the size of its programmes, Ms Bayer says.
“This lets the children participate in activities that suit their needs and wants and ensures they don’t get bored. New families to our services are surprised with our ‘can do’ approach and our ability to send the children home ‘shattered’.”
Completion of homework is a key factor at 4FUN, Ms Bayer says.
“During term we understand that parents have limited time when they get home, so we make sure that the children complete their homework on site before participating in daily activities.
“With this in mind, we reward our children for their hard work with fun activities during the holidays. Trips range from swimming, jet skiing, to Rainbows End and Laser Tag, to name a few.”
Particular favourites with the children are bus rides and excursions during the holidays.
“We have the benefit of owning our own fleet of buses and vans, so this enables daily excursions to local parks and fields to play some of our favourite games.”
Many families comment on the fact that 4FUN doesn’t include watching television in their programmes, Ms Bayer points out.
“That’s what differentiates us. We don’t class ourselves as ‘glorified babysitters’ by placing children in front of a television. They can watch television at home. Our activities are chosen to ensure the children have fun, enjoy the activities and learn, all whilst not being bored.”
Staff members at 4FUN include many who are studying Early Childhood Education, or training in sports education, while others are primary teachers or parents themselves.
Established nine years ago, School’s Out provides before and after school and holiday programmes in 16 locations across the North Island, some working within schools and early childhood centres and others being standalone services at various community facilities.
“The major thing about us is we’re not school,” national manager Paul Whitaker says.
“The children are not forced to do anything they don’t want to do. We offer free play, and the children have a choice. They can chill out or take part in planned activities.”
The activities are themed throughout the year. For example, with the recent Matariki celebrations the children did arts and crafts and cooking around that theme, Mr Whitaker says.
“We’ve just had a competition week where they took part in various games and sports and there were winners and prizes. We also have special themed days, such as Independence Day.”
Underpinning the services provided by School’s Out are its seven core values, Mr Whitaker says, with the number-one priority being the children’s safety.
“Secondly, we aim to provide ‘knock your socks off’ customer service. And we create fun, which is sometimes a little bit weird, out of the box. As we say, if it’s not fun it’s not worth doing.
“We make our programmes creative and adventurous, looking at how we can inspire the children with different activities. For example, one centre includes golf.”
While there are no specific qualifications required, School’s Out staff include qualified teachers, teacher aides, and people with families of their own, with ages ranging from students to more mature adults, Mr Whitaker says.
“All of us strive to fulfil our potential as individuals, on a personal and professional level, and this includes professional training. We aim to build open and honest relationships with everyone, and lastly we promote a family spirit, we’re like an extended family.
“Overall, our vision is having safe and happy kids, happy parents, and helping families reach their goals.”
4FUN at Summerland School
4FUN started providing its service at Auckland’s Summerland School three years ago. Located in Henderson, the school has a roll of 600-plus children. Deputy principal Barb Dysart says parents have several options available for before and after-school care for their children and the majority have chosen 4FUN.
“In our experience we have found 4FUN to be very professionally run. The transport always arrives on time, whereas with other after-school carers the transport has not arrived on time,” Ms Dysart says.
“They keep track of the children getting on and off the bus, and if a child is not there to get on, someone stays behind to sort the situation out. They know who should be going. The children enjoy the programme and I certainly value the relationship we have the 4FUN.”
MASH at Pegasus Bay School
Principal of Pegasus Bay School on the outskirts of Christchurch, Roger Hornblow, says before the former Waikuku Primary School moved to Pegasus Bay, the parents were consulted about before and after-school care.
“Three providers presented their case, and overwhelmingly the parents chose MASH,” Mr Hornblow says.
“One reason was because it was local, but also it was the way MASH runs their programmes that the parents responded to.”
Mr Hornblow says the biggest ‘complaints’ they get from parents is that the children don’t want to go home.
“The children love the MASH staff and the activities, and the way the staff get involved and do things with them.”
School’s Out at Bledisloe School
Principal at Bledisloe School in Taradale, Carol Bevis, says she can’t speak highly enough of the School’s Out programme and the fantastic relationship the organisation has with the school.
It has been running the programme there for several years and leases the school hall.
“Carol Della-Barca and her team have built a fantastic relationship with the parents, and they are extremely professional. Their staff are well inducted and they have a good understanding of the culture of our school. Every effort is made to motivate and engage the children.”
School’s Out runs its programmes on themes, with the Jungle Book being the theme for the July school holidays, she says.
“They are very professional with health and safety and they also provide very impressive, nutritious food for lunches and afternoon teas.”