Fun Once the Bell Rings

By Christa Melnyk Hines

After-school programs and activities are an essential and fun way to round out your child’s overall educational experience. Kids get the opportunity to learn important social skills, meet a wider variety of peers, and gain more confidence and self-esteem. What’s more, research shows that children and youth who attend after-school programs do better in school.

Consider these after-school ideas – a mix of both structured and DIY activities:

Doodle, dabble, draw. Art education contributes to problem-solving and critical thinking skills, not to mention creativity. Independently run studios and museums offer classes for kids of all ages like painting, drawing and sculpting.

TRY: Anchorage Museum (; Kaleidoscape Play Studio (; Fairbanks Children’s Museum (; Alaska Fine Arts Academy (

DIY: Put together an "imagination bucket" with art supplies, including recyclables, construction paper and other doodads. Encourage your children to present their individual masterpieces to the family at dinner.

Move it. Team sports nurture social, communication and leadership skills. And experiencing loss builds resilience as kids learn to persevere through disappointment. Individualized sports like swimming, martial arts, rock climbing or tennis are also beneficial, helping kids develop focus and self-discipline.

TRY: The Alaska Club (; Anchorage Gymnastics Association (; Cook Inlet Soccer Club (; Alaska Rock Gym (; UAF Department of Recreation, Adventure & Wellness (; Joel’s Place (

DIY: Burn off energy by shooting hoops in the driveway, running through a homemade obstacle course, or groovin' to funky music before homework time.

Checkmate! A popular and ancient game of strategy, chess fosters patience and impulse control as players learn to plan and visualize their moves on the board.

"Chess can help increase a student's focus and concentration along with helping students with personal skills, such as problem solving and critical thinking," says Rick Hetzel, a high school chess club moderator.

TRY: Teen Game Time (; Youth Chess Club (; Chess Club at the Kenai Library (; Chess Club at Title Wave Books (

DIY: Start a club at your child's school or challenge your kids to a family board game or cards.

Strike the right note. Kids who learn to play an instrument learn to read music and gain a sense of timing, beat and rhythm. Multiple research studies find a relationship between music education and its influence on math skills, including the ability to recognize patterns, sequencing, spatial reasoning and tempo. And, according to the National Association for Music Education, youngsters who are involved in music are more likely to be engaged in school, develop a higher self-esteem and cope with anxiety.

TRY: Timbre Music Studio (; Alaska Fine Arts Academy (; Fairbanks School of Talent Education (; Anchorage Music & Dance (

DIY: Make your own music. Fill drinking glasses with different levels of water. Tap each glass lightly with a spoon and listen for the varying pitches and vibrations each emits. Kids also like making their own instruments – from drums out of oatmeal containers to rain sticks from covered paper towel tubes.

Encore! The performing arts offer a positive outlet for expressive children and can enhance reading comprehension and verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Also consider debate, photography and journalism clubs.

TRY: Anchorage Music & Dance (; Anchorage Ballet (; Alaska Dance Theatre (

DIY: Help your child set up a blog to share his writing and photos with a select audience. Check out which offers kids a safe and fully moderated place to blog. (Geared for 9- to 14-year-olds.) Younger kids can hone their storytelling chops by writing a story, dressing in costumes and acting it out.

Get cooking. Learning to prepare healthy meals is a life skill. Plus when following recipes, kids practice reading and math skills, like measuring and using fractions. Consider an after-school cooking class or cooking club for your budding chef.

TRY: Cooking clubs (check with your local school district); Allen & Petersen Cooking School (; Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop (

DIY: Include your kids in the process of meal preparation. Even on busy weeknights they can help make a salad or set the table. Also, check out cookbooks geared for kids like Chop Chop: The Kids Guide to Cooking, Better Homes & Gardens New Junior Cookbook and Wookie Cookies: A Star Wars Cookbook.

Be of service. "There are many volunteer opportunities that students can pursue in the community where they can give of their time and learn new skills," says Cindy Neely, a high school counselor coordinator. Scouting, Boys & Girls Club, the YMCA, and youth groups are examples of service organizations that offer real-life experiences outside of the classroom, fostering confidence, leadership and communication skills. Through engagement in their communities, kids are less likely to feel isolated. They gain a greater appreciation and understanding of the world around them.

TRY: Anchorage Community YMCA (; Boys & Girls Club Alaska (; Boy Scouts of America (; Girl Scouts of Alaska (

DIY: Volunteer together at a local shelter, help a neighbor with yard-work or gather canned goods for a food pantry.

For more after-school activities and programs, visit Alaska Parent’s After-School Activities Guide at