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Online after school programs: Benefits, setup, and growth

If you are an educator who already teaches online classes, getting into online after school programs could be a great way to expand your offerings. If you are considering starting a children’s activity or education business, creating an after school program can help you kick off your new venture on the right foot.

After school programming is especially important because the timing is helpful for so many parents who work. These sessions can include enriching activities, homework time, a mix of both, or something else entirely. But, the goal for in-person or online after school programs is to keep children engaged and busy.

If you are interested in creating online after school programs for children, we’ve outlined why after school programs are important as well as how to start and promote online after school programs. If you want more information on how to start an after school program, check out our guide.

Setting up and growing online after school programs

What is an online enrichment program?

Online enrichment programs provide educational and interactive experiences to children in a virtual learning environment. These are opportunities for children to expand beyond what they usually learn in the classroom, interact with new peers and adults, and build valuable skills.

Benefits of after school learning programs

After school programs, whether in-person or online, provide children with structured time to work on homework, interact with other students, find adults who can become mentors, and discover new passions. In addition, after school programs are extremely beneficial for working parents because it gives their children an activity while they finish up their workday.

Children who have time management issues or are distracted easily when left alone can benefit from online after school programs because they are given supervision to do their schoolwork or other extracurricular activities. Plus, after school sessions are great opportunities for children to make new friends, expand their social skills, and explore new areas of interest. 

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Advantages of online learning after school

When you think of after school activities, most people think about clubs, sports, or homework help offered directly by a school. But, with COVID-19 and the rise of the digital age, independently provided online after school programs, activities, and classes are becoming increasingly more common.

When you promote online programming, you should include information about the benefits of online learning so that you can more thoroughly convince parents to sign their child up. 

Online learning is easier for children with social anxiety

In an interview with CNN, Robyn Mehlenbeck, who is the director of the Center for Psychological Services at George Mason University, explained it this way: "For children with social anxiety, virtual learning took away the social pressures to look or act a certain way. There were fewer pressures to dress a certain way, cameras were often off so no one could see their expressions and there was less pressure to verbally participate in front of others."

Online learning can reduce instances of bullying

Parents who worry about unstructured, free play time on the playground or in the gym, which is often a part of in-person after school programs, can find comfort in online sessions. By removing unsupervised time and face-to-face interactions, online after school programs can be safer for children who might be victims of physical bullying.

Online learning provides more opportunities for digital knowledge

Today’s children are already much more technologically savvy than any other generation. Online after school programs can give them the opportunity to explore more digital topics like animation, film editing, and coding. In addition, homework has now moved almost exclusively online, which means after school homework help is just a click away.

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How to start an after school program online

Starting an after school program requires a lot of moving pieces. While online after school programs do not need a physical rental space, they do need audio and visual equipment, a solid budget, great staff, a planned curriculum, and an easy-to-use registration system. 

Funding

When kickstarting your new venture, you should first consider funding. Setting up a solid budget is important because it informs all of your decisions. In your budget, include the equipment you need, your staffing requirements, class registration software, and any other monthly or daily financial needs. 

As you plan, consider applying to grants for additional support in the setup process. We’ve outlined some great grants for after school program funding to get you going.

Equipment

You will need to invest in high quality audio visual equipment to create the best possible experience for the children. A relatively new computer or laptop with a fast Internet connection is a must. Depending on the type of activities you will offer in your program, you might also want a better camera or an additional camera to complement the one on your device. For example, if you are doing a cooking demonstration, art activity, or science experiment, an additional camera is helpful for students to get a closer look at your work.

Likewise, we recommend using headphones with a built-in microphone or even buying an external microphone to speak directly into so that you can make sure your audio quality is clear. A ring light, handheld whiteboard or digital whiteboard, and second (or third) computer monitor  are all similarly important pieces of equipment to help you create interactive, interesting, and exciting online after school programs.

Curriculum planning

When you start your first after school program, we recommend being specific with your curriculum. You are starting this venture to share your passions with the next generation, so focus your program on that. Because it is after school, feel free to include some structured homework help as well as icebreaker games and supervised social time. Check out our full guide with after school program curriculum ideas to get the ball rolling!

Keeping a standard schedule can help you check all of the boxes without spending too much time on curriculum planning each week. Check out our list of 15 after school program ideas for all ages and abilities for even more inspiration.

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How to promote after school programs

Once you have your program funded, your equipment ready, and your curriculum planned, it is time to think about marketing. How can you actually get butts in seats for your online after school program? At Sawyer, we work with thousands of children’s activity and education business owners every day to successfully market their classes and programs so they can grow and scale. Here are some of our best marketing ideas for small businesses to promote your online after school program.

  1. Utilize social media. Take high quality photos of the activities that will be covered in your after school program and post them on Instagram and Facebook to advertise to parents around the country. Use hashtags that are local and non-local to spread awareness. We outline an entire list of social media tips for business profiles so you can make the most out of your accounts.
  2. Connect with local school districts. Your program might be online, but there are still local students who can join. Take some time to speak with the local districts near you to see if you can join forces. This is built-in marketing as well as a great way to garner trust from your community.
  3. Ask for referrals. Word-of-mouth is a wonderful thing. Setting up a regular cadence to get referrals from families is incredibly important when you are looking to promote a program and grow your business. Online reviews and testimonials are also a type of referral and can help parents who are on the fence.
  4. Offer incentives. Why should families book your after school program and not another one? You need to show how you are better than your competition - whether that is because your staff is better qualified, your classes are more interesting, your prices are lower, or something else. Your marketing should show parents why you are the right choice. Try offering free trials to get people in the door! We recently analyzed 2.3 million bookings across Sawyer partners and found that at least 30% of trial customers converted to a paid booking.
  5. Do a great job. At the end of the day, children who enjoy your activities will want to come back. And, returning students don’t just come back on their own, they bring friends and siblings, as well. Make sure your programming is strong and you will see your enrollment numbers grow.
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If you are just starting a children’s activity or education business or transitioning into the virtual world, the team at Sawyer is excited to meet you! We know you are passionate about teaching children and we are passionate about helping you grow your business. If you are looking for more information on how to market your after school programs so you can scale your business, check out our free e-book, The Sawyer Guide to Growing Enrollment.

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