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Are Parents Desperate for Extracurricular Learning or Just Looking for Babysitting?

Our school’s PTA asked me this fall if I’d be interested in running a science club after school. As if I didn’t have enough on my plate, I agreed.

After tossing around the best way to have a science club, we decided to start with a Halloween science club. One that would meet one time in October and share some of the best experiments from my arsenal. I have it easy, because I work at a science toy and education company.

We would gauge response and see if an actual club is viable for the second semester.

I was offering two sessions – one for grades 1-3 and one for grades 4-6. The PTA was sponsoring and providing the opportunity for free. They would fill at 20 and admission would be on a first come first served basis. I hoped someone would think my little club sounded cool and sign up their kids.

The Monday morning after the letter went home, parents walked their child’s forms into the office to make sure they were first. The office received about 70 forms, so many that they had to hold a lottery and pick 20 for each grade level class.

On Tuesday, 20 more came in. We closed admission with 91 total kids. I couldn’t believe it. The office administrators and PTA president were not surprised. They knew we’d get a lot.

I couldn’t cut out 60 kids and keep 40. I just couldn’t turn so many away. I decided I’d hold a total of four classes with 25 each, while begging for volunteers.

Over the remainder of the week we received several more forms, of which the office turned all away. I didn’t want to know how many were turned away, because I knew I’d be tempted to include them too.  Then the deluge began. Parents emailed,  Facebook’ed and called me asking to get their kids in the class. Some forgot to turn in their forms, others swore they turned them in and didn’t get a response, still more were upset that one sibling made it in but the other didn’t.

Let me mention that I am not getting compensated for this. I am strictly a volunteer.

I wanted to ask them if they thought the guys from Myth Busters were teaching the class, or that they knew it was just going to be little old me. I’m a parent who works at a science company, not a teacher or a celebrity.

I didn’t turn one kid down and squeezed them all into a session. I wanted to include everyone – didn’t want someone angry with me over not including their child and I just couldn’t say no. Maybe I need to work on that.

My first of the four sessions was last week. I had kids who hadn’t signed up, show up. I had siblings attend, kids that were scheduled for a later session but their parents didn’t catch the correct date. I sent two to after school care with instructions to return on the later date and ended up with close to 35 kids in a class that I had originally planned for 20. It was crazy. I was nervous and the kids were excited.

The best reward I could have received was the next day when a mom told me her son exclaimed, “Science is cool and I like it now.”

I also had another boy ask if he could come back every week. Now that’s cool.

And that’s why I did it. Not for the money, not for the recognition, but to get the kids excited about science.

This science frenzy has sparked several conversations about why so many kids and parents were so excited to get into science club. Out of about 360 students, we had well over 100 interested in coming to a one time science club.

The school administration believed many parents are looking for after school care for their kids that is beyond the traditional after school care or babysitters. They want to mix it up when they can.

Our PTA president kept saying she hoped we were getting science enthusiasts signed up and not just parents looking for free babysitting.

The other piece was that this was a free activity. Were parents just excited to get their kids into a free opportunity?

Or do my kids attend a unique school where parents, teachers, administrators and kids are all engaged in finding extra learning opportunities? Are we an anomaly? What is the situation at other schools? I asked for volunteers and have at least five parents for each session. That’s a lot, especially if the majority is looking for babysitting.

Our school has also re-instated a chess club. The chess club is more than full with over 30 kids signed up and a waiting list of more wanting to get in. A few years ago, the club only had a few.

My hope is that the kids and parents are excited for a different kind of opportunity, one that the kids want to attend. In my first session, I had very excited, very engaged kids who I hope walked away with at least a little knowledge and excitement towards science.

Today is my second and I can’t wait to see how many smiling faces greet me at the door.

What is your thought? Do you believe parents are just looking for different after school care to break up the monotony or are they looking for extracurricular educational opportunities to supplement what is taught during the school day?  Or is there another reason I am missing?

Susan Wells
Author: Susan Wells

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  1. We’re not at this place yet as my kids are just starting school. However, you can see how it would be a big problem for sure, particularly with FREE activities!

  2. I would hope that parents are looking for educational extra curricular activities that encourage learning and are a good fit for their child. I think that a science club like the one you are offering would interest a lot of kids, like it has.The students are so lucky to be learning from you and I would hope that the parents value and appreciate all you are giving to their children. You’re truly making science come alive for these kids and that’s a wonderful gift.

    • Thank you Lori. I hope the parents appreciate it and the majority has been very thankful. One mom told me today that she felt bad for other schools because they didn’t have a science mom like me. That makes it all worth while.

  3. Free activities always inspire high enrollment and probably parents are looking for extra help. However, none of that really matters once you get them there as you saw for yourself. Sometimes people may be inspired to try things for different reasons, but find that the activity ends up inspiring them towards new and cool things like an appreciation for Science.

    • Letia thank you for the inspirational comments. You are right, it doesn’t matter what got them there, what is important is what happens when they get there.

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