Starting a business

How to start an after school program | Ideas, grants, & more

After school programs are beneficial for parents who work as well as children who are looking for extracurricular activities based on their interests. For educators and children’s activity providers, they are a great way to expand their audience and boost revenue with extra programming.

Starting an after school program might sound like a great idea, but it requires a lot of work to be successful. Luckily, the team at Sawyer works with children’s activity and education providers every day to bring high quality programming to more families. In this article, we’ll outline how to start an after school program, including some after school program grants that can help and ideas to get you going.

How to start an after school program

The best way to accomplish a big task like starting your own after school program is by breaking it up into smaller steps. This is a great way to ensure that you are set up for success and none of the important elements fall through the cracks. To help you prepare, we are outlining how to start an after school program step-by-step.

Step 1: Create a business plan and budget

While you might already have a business incorporated, starting your own after school program is a large enough project that a business plan is an important place to start. Writing a thorough plan requires you to do research and think hard about what you want to accomplish. In your business plan, make sure you include analysis of the market, a description of your after school program, and your financial plan. For guidance on building a budget for your small business, review our article.

Step 2: Research city and state regulations

After you have created a business plan and ironed out the initial logistics of your after school program, you will need to do research on what licenses and other regulations might be required by the city and state. For example, if you plan to start a program in New York City, you will need School Aged Children Care Registration. Safety is a priority!

Step 3: Plan your classes

What will you cover in your after school program? Is it general enrichment or focused on one topic, like computer science or cooking? What age groups will you serve? Drilling down to find the answers to these questions will help you as you begin to organize your curricula and write lesson plans. Make sure your classes are interactive and hands-on. Take advantage of the extracurricular nature of your program and pack in fun activities that might not be included during the children’s school day. Use our guide with after school curriculum ideas to learn how to write a curriculum effectively.

Step 4: Create a hiring plan

Depending on the size of the after school program you are starting, hiring instructors is a helpful early step. Hiring educators can be difficult, so make sure that you are thoughtful in your approach. Write a clear job description so that job-seekers know what you are looking for in the role. Likewise, making the salary, benefits, and requirements transparent will help align incentives for you and the employee.

Step 5: Start marketing

Once you are on solid footing with your after school program, you should be ready to start marketing and finding an audience to attend your classes. Here are some of our recommendations for marketing for a small business.

  • Promote your business on Facebook. Create a business page, chat with parents in local groups, and highlight user-generated content and testimonials. For more help on Facebook marketing, check out our guide.
  • Run Google Ads. If you have the marketing budget, you can set up a Google Ad campaign that hits keywords related to your business and runs on a small budget. Use our guide to understand Google Ads for small businesses.
  • Set up an email marketing campaign. If you are starting an after school program alongside your business, you might already have access to parents’ email addresses. In that case, you can announce your new program via email and provide these parents with an incentive for booking. Review our guide with email marketing tips.
  • Join a marketplace. Signing up for access to a marketplace, like Sawyer, can put your new after school program out there for millions of parents to see. For new businesses, this is especially helpful to get their first customers in the door.
  • Offer a free trial. Since this is a new venture, parents might want the option to try before they buy. By providing free trial opportunities, you can increase your initial customer base and then convert those free trial customers into returning fans. According to Sawyer’s trend report, 30% of customers who take a free class convert to taking a paid class. 
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After school program grants

Grants are a great way to get seed funding so that you can get your program off the ground. If you are going to apply, make sure that you spend time personalizing your grant proposal cover letter and executive summary so that you maximize your chances of winning the funding. Here are some after school program grants to add to your list.

  1. The 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21CCLC). This is the only federal funding source that exclusively supports after school programs. Competition is fairly fierce because of that, but it is a great option for organizations.
  2. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). TANF provides financial support to low-income families, but states may also use this funding for after school programming. If you plan to open an after school program in an area with a high percentage of low-income families or if you plan to provide scholarships or prorated costs based on income, this might be a good option.
  3. The Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF). Likewise, CCDF provides childcare vouchers to subsidize the cost of care for low-income families. They also fund state childcare quality improvement initiatives, which means that they have access to funding for after school programs.
  4. Federal Food and Nutrition Programs. After school programs may be able to receive reimbursements from the Federal Food and Nutrition Programs to cover the snacks or meals offered during programming.

For more information on after school program grants, check out our guide.

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After school program ideas

Now that you know how to start an after school program, it is time for you to think more in depth about what you want your program to look like. Here are some after school program ideas to help you get inspired as you embark on this journey.

  1. Art. Children love getting their hands messy and parents love when their little ones come home with their beautiful creations. Art after school programs are great for children of all ages to have fun, learn, and be creative.
  2. STEM. After school programs are great opportunities for children to explore topics of interest. Science experiments, coding, LEGO, Roblox, and more similar activities can help children discover their inner engineer.
  3. Sports. Since the students in your after school program will have just spent all day in class, they will likely enjoy getting up and moving around. Sports after school programs are a great way to help children blow off some steam, practice teamwork, and get their energy out.
  4. Theater. Children might not get to experience theater in their regular school day, so providing an outlet for their imagination and creativity in their extracurricular activities is beneficial to their growth and development. Plus, parents love watching their children shine!
  5. General enrichment. Maybe you want your after school program to be a little of everything! You can include art, sports and outdoor play, science, theater, and homework sessions at various times or various days during the week so children have the opportunity to try new things in your program.

For more after school program ideas, check out our full guide!

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With the above steps and tips, you should be prepared to start an after school program and be on your way to finding funding via grants. If you are looking for more guidance on how to start a business teaching children, the resources and tools offered by Sawyer for Business can help.

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