Back-to-school season is also back-to-after-school season, when families look for enriching and fun programs for their children. Options for arts, sports, and other recreational classes for kids in the LA area are numerous and varied - lucky us! - but many are tough to manage on a budget. The good news is there are also many free and cheap ways to engage students’ minds and bodies in the hours after school lets out.
The first place to check is always your child’s own school campus; most Los Angeles elementary and middle schools host a program that offers low-cost enrichment classes on property. Programs like STAR, CREST, THINK Together, LA’s Best, and LACER all offer a selection of age-appropriate classes that don’t require leaving school grounds; and an up side of the down-turned economy is that these programs are able to recruit some super talented professionals to share their skills. Most programs offer scholarships and financial aid; we recommend getting aid applications in early, so that waiting for approval doesn’t interfere with securing a place in the class your child wants.
The KidPress Club shoot an interview. Photo courtesy of LA's BEST
Police Activities League
A great source of totally free programming is the Police Activities League, which has been providing educational, athletic, and other recreational activities to local youth for decades. LAPD’s PAL website provides contact numbers for local organizers, plus many of LA’s incorporated communities have local police forces with their own PAL programs that may be easier to navigate. Santa Monica PAL, for example, offers free drop-in activities at Virginia and Memorial Parks daily after school, and Pasadena PAL has a dedicated facility with free after-school activities.
Boys and Girls Clubs
The folks at the Boys and Girls Club have been doing this since long before anyone ever hyphenated the words “after” “school” and “enrichment.” For a mere $20 annual membership, kids can take part in the club’s sports, arts, homework help, and computer lab – and even eat a free snack while they’re doing it. Many local clubs offer daily transport from the public school to the club for an extra annual fee (currently $275/year). If you want school pick-up, apply early, as space is limited. The national website has a page for finding the nearest club by zip code.
Another national organization with a long history of kids’ programming is the YMCA – and as we all know, it’s fun to hang at the YMCA! The nearly 10,000 local kids’ programs across the country vary some, but not by much. Glendale, for example, welcomes students from 3:00pm-6:00pm on school days for a mere $20/week (or $15 for members) and enriches their lives with sports, cooking, journal writing, dance, and other fun stuff.
Local parks are often a resource worth checking for free and super-cheap programs. LA Parks and Rec, for example, often has interesting youth programs going on at Barnsdall Arts Park. Torrance Parks and Rec offers residents a daily after-school program for about $40 per week (with scholarships available if this is still too much), on campus at most of its elementary and middle schools. Santa Monica offers free daily homework help and other free after school adventures until 7pm at Virginia Park. And Culver City offers free drop-in programs at most of its parks; check with individual parks for details.
City and County Libraries
Libraries offer a whole lot more than just books, and with multiple branches of the LA County Library and LA City Library, as well as public library systems in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, Torrance, Redondo Beach, and Long Beach there’s always one close by. While you’re not likely to find daily child care, you can expect to find free book clubs, homework help, chess clubs, and knitting classes, as well as opportunities to play Wii, build with Legos, and create craft projects on a weekly basis.
Photo courtesy of 826LA
826LA is a neat program that only enrolls students who qualify for federal free or reduced priced lunch. They offer, among other things, free after-school tutoring four days a week during the school year. Neighborhood students in Echo Park and in Venice can come in for free one-on-one tutoring in all subject areas. Daily writing prompts are posted for students when they complete their homework and reading.
The fabulous acronym KYDS stands for Keep Youth Doing Something. The organization provides a free school-based after-school program offering arts and crafts, sports, drama, and homework help at 15 different elementary, middle, and high schools around LA.
After-School All-Stars is a national program that exists on campus at 43 different Title I schools in the LA area, offering a broad enrichment curriculum and homework help. If your school is listed at the link above, ask for enrollment information in your school office.
Inside Out Community Arts
This arts program in Venice offers a free weekly theater program for young people during the after school hours.
The Los Angeles County Junior Golf Program might make a golf pro out of your kid. Photo by David England Photography
LA County Junior Golf
Who knew? LACJGP's year round program offers free golf lessons to juniors, 18 and under. After-school, summer, and one-day clinics are offered, at 17 golf course properties around the county.
Top photo courtesy of 826LA. 826LA enrolls students who qualify for federal free or reduced priced lunch only.
Updated from a piece originally published September 14, 2011