Though schools have daily programming, many families look to after-school activities for further opportunities.

According to Courtney Laves-Mearini, founder of Cleveland City Dance in Cleveland, and Tina Ohmart, after-school coordinator at Laurel School in Shaker Heights, after-school activities give children a safe environment to explore their interests.

“For some of the kids, it depends on if they have some physical education at school, and if they don’t, they need something to release the energy,” Laves-Mearini said. “If the body isn’t healthy, it is hard on the mind. Physical activity is important because they’ve been sitting down all day so they need to move those muscles. Dancing specifically is great for developing fine motor skills.”

Ohmart said after-school activities are a “great opportunity” to explore challenging interests.

“They are great for children who need to stay after school in a safe place to be in the after school hours,” she said. “Students already know what to expect from (Laurel) already in those situations.”

Cleveland City Dance offers after-school programs surrounding ballet. Laurel School offers various programs, including its Adventure Girls program, music academy, Chinese exploration club, engineering club and even a Google coding program.

“We have students who stay after school for supervised play and they hang out with their friends and develop emotional and social skills,” Ohmart said. “And then there are structured activities where (students) can learn something specific as well. But across the board, there are social-emotional skills that can be learned. Everything else is a plus.”

Laves-Mearini said academics and after-school activities go hand in hand.

“For academics, (dance) works on musicality which translates to counting,” she said. “It also works on listening skills. Dance also helps (students) learn things like sequencing. As students start to progress, they start to understand how physics play in and how their body is able to do certain things.”

Ohmart said after-school activities give young students opportunities for personal growth.

“Different programs do it in different ways, but in general after-school care, students have the opportunity to get their homework done,” she said. “It is staffed with teachers who can help and keep their students on task. There are leaps and bounds of programs with the opportunity for personal growth. Students get active and develop resiliency and a sense of accomplishment.”

Both professionals suggest parents involve their children while choosing an after-school activity for them. Even if they are a little young, it helps to get their input.

“It depends on their age,” Laves-Mearini said. “If the child doesn’t know what anything is, it is the parent that is going to suggest they try something. They have to see what it is like. Sometimes a child will say they want something, but it isn’t exactly what they thought it was.

“Go to an open house. Parents should be willing and able to speak to someone on the phone or in person to ask questions about what a child is going to learn. It is a personal process. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

Ohmart said, “I’ve seen it both ways. Often parents can push their child by enrolling them in something new to try, but often times the child has to be involved in the decision in order for it to be successful. To get the most out of it, children need to want to be there.”

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