Whether you’re starting a new afterschool program or restructuring an existing one, designing a program schedule is an essential step to developing a high-quality program. This schedule will help to structure the afterschool day and outline the various activities and events you have planned for participating students. Below we’ve shared six things to consider when building out your program schedule.

1. Structure and Flexibility

To create an effective program schedule, you need to establish a routine. This means incorporating daily, weekly and monthly routines into the schedule while leaving space for special events and celebrations. With an established routine, students know what to expect, distractions are minimized and there are fewer opportunities for misbehavior.

Conversely, your program schedule must also allow a degree of flexibility. While your program may be an extension of the school day, you want to create an environment where students are free to explore their interests, engage in fun, interactive activities and even socialize with their friends while learning and discovering. A structured yet flexible schedule allows them to do that.

2. Transition Time

After a long day in the classroom, students are likely restless and full of energy. They may want to relax, burn some energy or catch up with their friends. For this reason, you should schedule time to help them transition from the classroom to afterschool. This will help them to recharge and refocus in order to fully engage in the activities you have planned. During this time, you can allow them to engage in physical activity, enjoy a snack, socialize or have quiet time. If you’re not sure which route to take, assess the students’ preferences and involve them in the decision-making process.

3. Homework Assistance

Create space for students to complete their homework and receive help from program staff. For school-age students, they may need between 20 to 40 minutes to finish. When providing homework support, be sure to create an environment that’s primed for learning. Provide the necessary materials, choose a quiet, well-lit area, and set aside space for those who finish early to read or play computer games with headphones. You can even invite volunteer tutors or mentors to be involved in homework time.

Check out Homework Assistance & Out-of-School Time: Filling the Need and Finding the Balance for More Information

4. Snack Time

To help fill the afternoon hunger gap, you will want to allot time for students to have a snack. You may decide to schedule one or two 10-15 minute breaks throughout the afterschool day. Alternatively, you can simply set up a snack area and allow them to grab a bite whenever they’re hungry. On some days, you can even involve students in the snack-making process with “snacktivities!” Whatever you choose, be sure to provide healthy snacks and drinks, like fruit, vegetables, whole-grain crackers and water.

Read 7 Ways Program Leaders Can Encourage Healthy Eating to Learn More

5. Structured Free Time

Use at least one block of time throughout the day for “stations.” These are small, designated spaces for students to participate in a variety of activities like arts and crafts, board games, dance and more. They should be able to move freely from station to station during this time. You may also want to schedule time for weekly or monthly “clubs.” These are typically based on students’ particular interests and allow them to dive deeper into a specific topic. Some examples include a journalism club, crime scene investigation (CSI) club and meteorology club. To get started, check out How to Organize an Enrichment Club (Plus 3 Club Ideas).

6. End-of-Day Transition

When it’s nearing the time for students to head home for the day, plan low-key activities. In this way, they won’t have to leave in the middle of an exciting, highly engaging activity, which can be difficult for parents. For example, a drawing activity is easier to pull out of than time spent on the playground. Keep that in mind when scheduling the end-of-day transition.

While every afterschool program is different and will have its own unique structure, these are the basic building blocks of an effective program schedule. Allot time for these throughout the day and you’ll be on your way to building a high-quality program that keeps students learning and engaged after the school day.