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Arming parents with the tools to gauge program quality

By Samantha Grant

Out-of-school time providers beware! I'm a parent and know a lot about program quality. Last week as my daughter pirouetted her way into her preschool dance class, I found her dance teacher looking at forms instead of greeting the students. As a youth worker myself, I understand the demands of balancing 20 things at once. But I couldn't help thinking about how this non-greeting affects the learning environment.

I get it that I'm not the typical parent -- I'm the one who grills potential daycare providers on their use of developmentally appropriate practice, because I understand what that is. But I am interested to study more about how the average parent can become a better consumer of learning opportunities for their children. I know that my knowledge has impacted the decisions that I make for my children, and I believe the same would hold true for other parents.

There is a battery of program quality observation tools that demonstrate that not only do we know what makes a high-quality learning environment, but we can observe it. If parents knew more about how to identify quality in youth programs, would they choose differently? Would parents start to demand quality and support efforts to better train youth workers?

In Exploring the Supply and Demand for Community Learning Opportunities in Minnesota, researchers from the University of Minnesota examined more about parents and their ability to find and access youth programs. From this we learned more about:
  • What is the perceived quality of youth programs?
  • What do parents and youth want and value in youth programs?
  • How difficult is it for families to find learning opportunities?

I would love to extend this research by digging into the idea of program quality to learn more about what parents consider to be high quality, and how that influences their decision making. Maybe it's just a pipe dream of mine, but I hope we can create a demand for high-quality programming that comes from all fronts: youth, parents, and youth professionals.
Are you interested in the role parents play in accessing quality learning opportunities for their children? How can we help parents become better consumers of quality?

-- Samantha Grant, evaluation director

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  1. Yes! I can so relate to this post as my son will be in kindergarten this fall. The questions I asked on tours of the afterschool environments were very different from what other parents were asking. In fact, I would like the school tours to spend some more quality time in talking about the afterschool options--and what they are really trying to do for young people after or before school. The only highlight you really get is "it's cheap." Certainly not a shared understanding of what parents should demand from ost programs. And this is from middle class, college-educated parents who were likely very choosy with preschool do we start to change this?

  2. Hi Maureen,
    What a great example! As I write a very expensive daycare check each month, I reassure myself that it's the best money that I spend, and I truly believe that. Why is it that parents who work to find the best childcare providers would suddenly only want the cheap option? Like you said, we need to be talking about the value of these opportunities for youth. Personally, I think that this has to change from many fronts, but I believe that some of the greatest change comes from the bottom up. This is why I think it's important for parents like me and you to continue to ask these questions and to demand quality out of youth programs. If parents can work together to ensure this for youth, I hope that youth programs and schools will notice the emphasis and meet our needs. I also think that voicing our questions with other parents around will help to cue others to be looking for more.
    Keep it up!

  3. Hello Samantha, I am extremely happy to come across your post giving voice to so important issues- what is the quality of the out-of-school activities our children participate into?! An individual is being formed not just in school and home, but also in the different occupations and examples he or she has in their free time, so I also think that it is highly important for every single parent to be demanding quality out of the youth programs.And there is no doubt that if we all as parents, work togther in the name of the common cause- better quality out of the youth programs, we will be much stronger in achieving it. Great ideas and meaningful questions that we all have to ask ourselves as parents.

  4. Thanks for your comment. There certainly is strength in numbers, so I, like you, would love to see parents advocating for the same thing. Any ideas of how to best do that?

  5. What an interesting topic. I see this as partly a way to strengthen parenting but also a way to support a democratic citizenry by helping parents to practice evidence-based decision making. Thanks for taking this on, Sam, and for also adding to your thoughts in the FINE Newsletter at


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