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PARENTING : A Place to Call Home After School : Morning and afternoon programs provide Valley youths with companionship and supervised activities.

October 21, 1994|MARYANN HAMMERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Maryann Hammers writes regularly for The Times

Whoever decided that workdays should start around 8 a.m. and end after 5 p.m. obviously didn't have kids in school.

Parents who hit the freeway before the sun rises have to find a way to ensure that their youngsters are securely in their classrooms when the 8 o'clock bell rings. Then when school is dismissed around 2 p.m. or so, moms and dads face the even more difficult predicament of keeping their children safe and happy until the workday ends.

Fortunately, plenty of before- and after-school programs in the Valley offer youngsters companionship, help with homework and a chance to exuberantly let off steam or quietly unwind. Many care givers open their doors as early as 6 a.m., transport the kids to school, pick them up in the afternoon, serve them a snack, and entertain them with free play, sports, games and arts and crafts until their parents take them home.

After-school care settings vary from a simple classroom to a family home to a commercial day-care center to a park. They may accommodate a mere handful of youngsters or several dozen. Costs vary from $30 or less to $80 or more weekly, with the average program running about $60 to $75. (Care for kindergarten students, who are dismissed from school around 11 a.m., is more expensive.)

Here's a sampling of what's available:

CAMPUS LATCHKEY PROGRAMS

Dozens of public elementary schools throughout the Valley offer "latchkey" programs, with before- and after-school care provided on campus.

Many latchkey programs are sponsored by the 31st District PTA, others are run by the YMCA and a few are coordinated by the Los Angeles Unified School District. Costs vary from school to school, but generally range from about $8 a day to $260 a month, with subsidies and / or sliding-scale fees available for needy families.

Latchkey programs usually strive to tailor after-school activities to complement what the children learn in school, according to Ellen Pollock, coordinator with the 31st District PTA. "But our programs are not highly structured," she said. "Children have been in a structured environment all day, so we offer a flexible program--with certain established guidelines." Simple snacks, arts and crafts, outdoor play, tutoring and / or assistance with homework are the typical latchkey fare.

For information, contact your child's elementary school, the nearest YMCA or the 31st District PTA at (818) 996-2668.

AFTER-SCHOOL RECREATION PROGRAMS

Playgrounds at 127 elementary schools and 27 middle schools throughout the Valley remain open for several hours in the afternoon, providing kids 8 to 14 the chance to participate in organized sports, games, tournaments and leagues--all free of charge. However, the after-school recreation program is not a child-care service, emphasizes Donna Kimura, coordinator for L.A. Unified's Valley Youth Services office.

"We offer supervised recreation within the relatively safe boundaries of the schoolyard, but child care is not within our range," she said. According to Kimura, children may come and go at will, and those who wander off the playground--whether to wave down an ice cream truck or sneak off to the mall--will not be stopped.

Playground supervisors are generally college students with experience in education and / or working with children. Most playgrounds are open until 6 p.m., but a few close at 4 p.m.

For information, contact your child's school or the Valley Youth Services office at (818) 904-2152.

RECREATION CENTERS

Four Valley parks--Northridge, Tarzana, North Hollywood's Victory-Vineland and Pacoima's Hubert Humphrey recreation centers--offer complete licensed child-care programs, including transportation to and from nearby elementary and junior high schools, field trips, organized games and sports, snacks, and a variety of indoor and outdoor activities. Prices vary from park to park, usually starting at about $30 a week.

For information, call Northridge Park at (818) 349-0535, Tarzana Park at (818) 343-4721, Victory-Vineland at (818) 908-2764 and Hubert Humphrey at (818) 899-3445.

All L.A. city parks--even those that do not have a full child-care program, schedule after-school seasonal sports and classes, such as arts and crafts, drama and dance. However, no transportation is provided, and children are not as closely monitored as they are in the child-care centers. Prices and offerings vary. For details, call the park nearest you.

DAY-CARE CENTERS

Commercial day-care centers are likely to offer more resources, equipment and activities than programs sponsored by nonprofit and city agencies. A few centers, such as Kidsville USA in Northridge and Sunshine Day Camps in Santa Clarita, specialize in school-age children. Such private centers are likely to be run much like a summer day camp.

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