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 several 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.
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 small annual membership fee, usually around $20, 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 (prices vary by location). 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. A number of branches in the greater LA area welcome kids after school for homework help and enrichment classes such as science, creative writing, cartooning, and computer lessons. Prices vary by location, and some scholarships are available.
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 (with scholarships available), 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.
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 Mar Vista 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 Los Angeles
After-School All-Stars Los Angeles is the local branch of a national program that serves more than 14,000 kids in the LA area and Lucerne Valley, offering a broad enrichment curriculum and homework help. If your school is listed, ask for enrollment information in your school office.
Inside Out Community Arts
This arts program offers a free weekly after-school theater program for young people at several school sites in the greater LA area.
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 19 golf course properties around the county.
Updated from a piece originally published September 14, 2011