After-School Babysitter: Your 101 Guide

The start of a new school year gives you a chance to get off on the right foot with a new after-school babysitter or refresh the relationship you have with existing sitters. Seize the opportunity to evaluate your after-school childcare expectations and have a candid discussion with your sitter to let her know what’s important to your family and how to best support you in caring for your child. Open and honest communication is the key to both of you getting what you want out of the partnership.

Here are five back-to-school tips to help you maximize your relationship with your after-school babysitter. These messages will go a long way toward ensuring the best possible care for your kids while you are away and will help you avoid misunderstandings or disappointments that can arise when you are not upfront with your child’s childcare provider.

1. Clearly define the hours
“After-school” care may translate differently to you and your sitter. Let the sitter know the hours you will need assistance, including whether they are in charge of dinner and bedtime. Also discuss availability and willingness to stay late in the event that you’re stuck at work, need to run a few errands or hoping to squeeze in a date night. If your return time consistently varies, you won’t be happy with a sitter who isn’t able to stay late.

2. Discuss driving expectations and rules
If your sitter is charged with dropping off or picking up your kids from school, lessons, activities or play dates you should have a frank conversation regarding your expectations for driving – including no talking on a cell phone or texting while driving. Also make sure your sitter understands the importance of your children riding in car seats and that they know how to properly install them. Do your homework before hiring a sitter to drive your kids by checking to see that the child care provider has a valid driver’s license and a safe driving history.

3. Provide snack and meal guidelines
Make your sitter your wingman in your fight to keep your family’s nutrition and health on track. Rather than hoping for the best while the kids are in the caretakers hands, let your sitter know what you’d like your child to eat while you’re away. You want the sitter to spend time playing with your kids, rather than spending time in the kitchen, so don’t require the sitter to prepare time-consuming meals and snacks.

Instead, make it a practice to keep nutritional snacks in the house. Choose snacks that your children are accustomed to eating so there is no battle of the wills. Also, make sure your sitter understands that meal prep is part of the responsibilities (if you require her to prepare your child’s dinner) and let the sitter know if you prefer that your child wait to eat with you when you return.

4. Ask the sitter to supervise homework
It’s fantastic when your after-school babysitter goes the extra mile by taking the time to help cover activities you’d be doing if you were home and will otherwise have to handle when you return. Most sitters are more than willing to lend a hand, but may not realize where their help is useful. Let your sitter know if you want them to help your child knock out their homework, log daily reading time or if your preschooler could benefit from some one-on-one practice tracing the ABCs, learning to write their name or mastering colors and numbers.

5. Set the after-school babysitter up for success
You can help your sitter do their best by providing all they need to succeed. That means making sure there are clear instructions, schedules and directions to wherever the kids will need to go. Be sure your kids’ activity bags are packed or provide details on where to find everything your child needs for lessons or practice so the sitter isn’t scrambling to find soccer cleats or stressing over what your child is supposed to bring to dance class. In addition, be sure the sitter has the food she needs for snacks or to make dinner, and that there’s a clearly marked homework spot with everything your kids need to do their work. Your sitter is there to take over while you’re away, but the sitter can do a much better job caring for your kids with a little help from you.

Your sitter will appreciate your candid discussion and be better prepared to provide your child with the best possible after-school care. You’ll both be happy you had this important conversation, and will be off on the right foot for the new school year.

Need help finding an after-school babysitter? Check out our 7 tips for hiring the best after school nanny or sitter. Here are also some ideas for some fun after-school activities.

Looking for a babysitter or nanny? Join UrbanSitter to browse profiles, sort by pay rate, and book jobs online.

Before and After School Child Care: 6 Practical Solutions

The new school year is around the corner which means it’s time to nail down your before and after school child care. From morning drop-offs to shuttling kids to after school activities, the back to school hustle can leave you juggling a lot of different schedules. Not sure what kind of after school child care is right for you? Have no fear! We have 6 before and after school babysitter and nanny solutions that will help your family get an A+ this school year.

1. The Full-Time Nanny

Full-Time Nanny
Before and After school babysitter

Work full-time? Need a helping hand before and after school? Have a little one in school and one still at home? A full-time nanny may be just what you need to cover all your bases. Nanny-finding sites like UrbanSitter conveniently allow you to search or post a job for this type of “split shift” schedule. 

Pro-tip: Check our blog post for suggested questions to ask when interviewing potential nannies.

2. The Carpool-Driving Sitter

carpool driving sitters

Maybe your mornings start early and you need help getting the kids ready and dropped off on time to school. Or, maybe you can’t leave the office early enough to pick them up. Problem solved! Book a carpool driving sitter.

Pro-tip: Use UrbanSitter’s search filter to find sitters ‘willing to drive kids’ in your car or theirs.

3. The Homework Tutor

sitter tutor
before and after school babysitter

Let’s be real, kids have A LOT of homework these days and sometimes our kids need a little extra help. Find and book a sitter who’s ready to hit the books after school.

Pro-tip: Sites like UrbanSitter make it easy to search for sitters by the grade levels and subjects they teach or tutor.

4. The After-School Sitter

after-school sitter

Soccer practice, music lessons, dance class, or even just a trip to the park can be hard to juggle when you have more than one kid, errands to run, or when your work schedule keeps you late. Have no fear, an after-school sitter can help you feel like you are in more than one place at the same time.

Pro-tip: If you aren’t finding any sitters to cover every day of the week, consider splitting your job into two jobs with a sitter for Monday-Wednesday-Fridays and another for Tuesday-Thursdays.

5. The Last-Minute Sitter

urbansitter app
last minute sitter
before and after school babysitter
after school child care

When the kids have an unexpected day off from school or your usual nanny calls in sick, you’ll need access to a last-minute sitter for backup child care. 

Pro-tip: Download UrbanSitter’s child care-finding app for free for access to last-minute child care. 

6. After School Programs

after school program

Some schools offer after school programs to give parents a few extra hours of child care beyond the school day. If your school doesn’t offer an after school program, many local YMCAs offer affordable school age after school child care.

Found the right before and after school child care solution for you? Now get started on your caregiver search by creating a free account on UrbanSitter.

For ConstructionKids’ Deb Winsor, Confidence Comes with the Bang of a Hammer

By Lela Nargi

The 214-year-old Brooklyn Navy Yard is a three-acre industrial park that occupies a small cove just across the East River from Manhattan’s Lower East Side. As a major builder of battleships during World War II, it earned the nickname the “Can-Do Yard,” a title that moldered along with its buildings when the yard was decommissioned in 1966. But lately, it’s been reclaiming its former glory, after the 2004 arrival of Steiner Studios to the park (Boardwalk Empire and the film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were both shot here)—and on its heels, hundreds of “can-do” businesses of all varieties: artist and textile studios, furniture restorers, ship repairers, woodworkers, a rooftop farm, and one seemingly incongruous company with a large “workforce” comprised of people who are all under 48 inches tall.

That company is ConstructionKids and its fearless leader, Deb Winsor, has in her six years in business taught some 12,000 New York City schoolchildren the rudiments and beyond of building things with wood and nails and hammers. Her home base is in the Navy Yard’s Building 92, the former Marine Commandant’s House that serves as exhibit space and education center; the second floor is devoted to ConstructionKids. “People are always amazed when they walk in and with 40 kids, it’s humming like a factory in here and nobody’s fooling around,” says Winsor—loudly over the din—as a group pint-size builders cobble together tool boxes at low tables in the center of the large, project-lined space. “It’s fully engaging for children when we give them the tools and the process to be self-reliant.”

“It’s fully engaging for children when we give them the tools and the process to be self-reliant.”

Construction Kids is a highly likely culmination of a lifetime’s experience for Winsor. “Coming from a family of engineers, I spent a lot of time down in the basement watching what my dad did,” she says. “Carpentry and woodworking really spoke to me.” After majoring in industrial design at Syracuse University, she realized that she wasn’t cut out for office work and wound up in Nantucket, painting houses. That led to historic preservation work, then a move to Long Island to learn about boat building and restoration. Says Winsor, “That was a real game changer, because you can make a chair that looks great, but a chair doesn’t have to float and keep you alive in a storm.” She got a Master’s in historic preservation at Columbia University, “wound up in New York with a family,” and all was plodding steadily on. When she got a call from her son, Jack’s, preschool teacher.

“They were studying igloos,” Winsor recalls. “His teacher said, Can you build an igloo with a bunch of 4-year-olds, in Brooklyn, in May?” The final product—made from a bent wood with fabric stretched over it—was not quite the “igloo” Winsor had in mind. “But we were all down there on our knees on the floor, and it struck a vein with every kid, every teacher, every parent,” she says. That summer, she ran her first two-week camp through the school. “It took off like a shot,” she says.

Now running more than 100 programs city-wide—including afterschool programs at the Navy Yard space and in some 20 schools; vacation and summer camps; birthday parties; and special events—Winsor admits, “We’ve never been quite able to meet the demand. It’s a crazy business model to have!” She credits her success to her commitment to expanding slowly—“If I need to buy three hammers, first I need to make the money to buy three hammers”—as well as meeting a primal need of an increasingly sedentary, screen-focused population of elementary schoolers to do something physical and hands-on. “It’s whole-child learning, which they don’t get much of in school these days,” she says. She offers an analogy to Jack’s first foray into Little League baseball: “He walked across Prospect Park with this bat-weapon in his hand, hitting the ground, the dog, the tree. When I picked him up from practice two hours later, that bat was no longer a weapon; it was a tool and he had been taught to use it. That’s what we do, too. It gives kids confidence.”

Every day, one of Winsor’s teachers arranges the hammers in a different pattern on the floor.

During camp season, Windor takes on some 60 employees but during the regular school year, her staff of 14 teachers, administrators, and fabricators work to ensure that every child who comes to build has a fun, creative, and safe experience. “Someone calls up and says, We need to build the Lincoln Memorial for a program we’re doing in our school,” says Winsor. “Our creative and fabrication teams get together with the educators to talk about what kind of curriculum themes they’re trying to develop, then we build prototypes.” Always, they start kids building with wood because while kids have plenty of opportunities to use clay and paper and fabric in school, wood is not often offered as a material.

Winsor’s program also begins with hammer and nails—the “iconic tools,” as Winsor calls them. “When it’s paper, it can only be wrong or right, but if you bend a nail, you can take it out and put in another one; it doesn’t feel like a failure,” she explains. From there, kids progress to saws and vices, then wrenches and bolts, then nippers and pliers. At each step, they’re taught how to hold the tools correctly and most of all, safely.

The age of the kids is of paramount in importance in determining programming. Not only are the materials scaled down to meet their physical needs and abilities—like four-ounce hammers for the littlest builders—so are the expectations. “We work with little, tiny 3- and 4-year olds who are still learning what a triangle, square and rectangle are,” says Winsor. “So, we spend a disproportionate amount of money on program development,” to make sure Construction Kids get things just right.

On the other, older-kid, end of the spectrum, “It was transformational day for me when the three boys arrived and told me they wanted to build Yankee Stadium,” Winsor laughs as she remembers. “Which also was the day we established one of our few cardinal limits, which is, any project you build in this workshop has to fit through a New York City subway turnstile”—the measurements for which, along with those for those of an American Girl doll, Winsor and her team have committed to memory.

Teaching kids how to use tools responsibly gives them confidence—part of the core culture of ConstructionKids.

And indeed, in an era when so much is made about creating STEM opportunities for girls, Winsor admits to a certain amount of frustration around persisting gender stereotypes. “Making is a gender-neutral skill,” she says. “So, we embrace the American Girl doll as an opportunity for girls to do architecture around this omnipresent character. We don’t have a marker for girls that we can recognize as ‘building’ except for their creative play—making environments for dolls—but that to me is science and STEM and architecture and planning. I don’t know if everyone sees it that way.”

 The final component to making ConstructionKids such a unique space is what Winsor calls an “intergenerational connection.” Staff is often high school and college students—grownups who are not quite peers but more along the lines of older cousins, or family friends. Says Winsor, “We teach them that their role is to be a safe buddy, so kids can step out of that teacher-child, parent-child world they spend their whole day with. That’s a big part of our culture.” She talks about the joy of watching kids of all ages learning from each other in her big, bright, tidy, and tool-filled space. “They’re marching over to get their end-nipper, or marching over to the vice to chuck up their piece of wood,” she says. “Confidence—that’s what we’re about. It’s pretty fantastic stuff.”


Photographs by Roy Beeson

News You Can Use: Are Music Lessons Good for Kids’ Brains?

By Lela Nargi

Likely you remember a scenario like this: a young you, looking forward to dinner and TV after a long day at school, scrambling to finish your homework by dim winter’s light, only to hear your mother’s admonition, “Time to practice!”

Unless you were a true music aficionado, you probably wanted nothing more than to be let off the hook for that half-hour of tootling on your piano, or your flute, or your sousaphone. You counted off the days until the end of the year when, your parents had promised, you could quit the lessons. But years later, here you are with kids of your own and to your own shock, for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on, you find yourself determined that they, too, should be subjected music lessons.

Now, you’ve got science to explain that nagging sensation that all this must be good for you. According to a study published last year in the Journal of the Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry,  researchers at the University of Vermont College of Medicine determined that music training helps kids develop their brains, their attention spans, and their emotional control.

Dr. James Hudziak and colleagues used MRIs to scan the brains of 232 children aged 6 to 18, three times at 2-year intervals. Analyzing the data, they discovered that playing music alters the motor areas of the brain, “because the activity requires control and coordination of movement,” according to an article in Science Daily.

Additionally, playing an instrument thickens various parts of the brain that are responsible for executive functioning, including “working memory, attention control and organizational skills,” according to “In short, music actually helped kids become more well-rounded.”

Is it too late for us parents to go back and revive their own music educations? The science is still out!

Julie G. is the Pied Piper of Tiny Urban Scientists

Julie G.

By Lela Nargi

For the past several years, kids have been STEMed up the wazoo as the national conversation about education—and more particularly, what’s wrong with it—has centered on a perceived lacking in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  Also lacking in the face of much high-minded assessment? A sense of fun, and of the integral, integrated way that science flows through our lives and the lives of our children, (yes, even city children), if we just know how to pay attention.

Enter Julie G. and her uncluttered outpost hunkered on a bright corner of Brooklyn’s Windsor Terrace, Tiny Scientist. Here, for the last two years, the former metal singer turned elementary science teacher shows area kids what’s fun and oh-so-relevant about science in the city. She’s uniquely suited to the task: “I was never interested in science in school,” she confesses. “We had a third grade teacher, ‘Mean’ MacLean, who was actually mean and didn’t teach us anything.” As a result, she initially shirked college until, enrolled in her 20s in an adult learners program at City College, she found herself taking a basic science course. “The teacher showed us slides of cells multiplying and I was immediately hooked,” says Julie, who went on to get masters in biology, math, and science elementary education at Hunter College.

After 10 years teaching science to public school kids, and having just become a first-time mom herself, to daughter, Quinn (Julie’s husband, Andrew Schneider, is a sound engineer for Blue Man Group), she took the plunge and opened her own little science oasis. We caught up with her to get her take on what’s so fun, and what’s so relevant for city kids, about all kinds of science.

Rocks: In the Tiny Scientist class “Rock Cycle Riot,” geared towards kids aged 5 to 10, children put on their paleontology hats to study the Jurassic period and recreate an excavation. Says Julie, “We use lots of visual references and discuss how all rocks started as one type of rock, and changed into other types of rocks over millions of years with pressure. In a class like this, there’s also measuring, sequential thinking, history, sensory development and literacy, because we read books about it.”

But what do prehistoric times have to do with the science we see in the world around us today? “One of the big things we learn is that things change over time,” says Julie. “That’s a big skill for kids, to be able to observe things that happen in some sort of sequence. One of the ways that kind of thinking is applicable to any environment, but particularly the city, where people think we don’t see any nature, is with leaves changing with the seasons. But there are so many ways it works for kids. Kids living in the ‘concrete jungle’ see buildings being built up from big holes in the ground.  And they can experience how forceful and important nature is by taking a closer look at the ground right beneath their feet. Very few living things can break rocks, but trees can! And especially here in Brooklyn, we see the sidewalks breaking from the tree roots growing out of them.”

Candy: Working with treats isn’t just about satisfying your sweet tooth. In fact, for kids as young as 4 who are enrolled in Tiny Scientist’s “Candy Chemistry” class, there’s almost no sugar-eating at all. Even though Julie does show kids how to add agar agar to sugar syrup to make gummy candy, “Actually,” she says, “it’s just a fun anchor for studying real science concepts, like pressure, which we use to smash things like marshmallows.”

Air pressure, she points out, is literally everywhere, even though we can’t see it. Standing on a subway platform, almost every kid in New York has felt air pushing through the tunnel as the train has neared the station. But even a task as mundane as blowing bubbles on the sidewalk is loaded with useful information for kids who are learning to observe closely.  “Bubbles can tell you about the wind, how fast it’s moving, the direction it’s coming from, how air moves around corners,” says Julie. “Learning about this is training kids to think about what doesn’t seem to be there but is actually all around you.”

Making: Julie’s class “Maker Magic” is a kind of free-for-all of engineering and tech concepts, where kids in grades 2 through 5 make things like lava lamps and put together working circuits. These are building blocks for all manner of things that shelter us, and keep us comfortable as we live and work and move from place to place. “We just looked at propellers and talked about sustainable energy versus fossil fuels. Then we built solar panel circuits attached to small motors,” says Julie.

How does all this pertain to city living? “There’s a block right here in Windsor Terrace that’s becoming a heavy topic of conversation, because there are locally based organizations trying to get homeowners to put solar panels on the roofs of their houses. A lot of schools are experimenting with using them to power machines, and the panels are becoming more and more a part of city life. Even the Brooklyn Botanic Garden uses them, and some of the bridges have solar lights.” And possibly the best part of all for parents hoping to help their kids become keen observers, even after their class at Tiny Scientist has draw to a close: “Trips to see these things cost nothing!” says Julie.

Photographs by Roy Beeson.

Tips for a Stress-Free Homework Routine

Many parents dread their kids’ school homework as much, if not more than their kids do. It’s not easy to squeeze homework into schedules packed tight with after-school activities, family and work responsibilities, dinner and still get the kids to bed on time. Plus, it’s never easy to convince tired, hungry kids to tackle homework after a day at school. Here are effective tips for kicking off the school year with a stress-free and productive homework routine.

photo via Woodley Wonderworks, flickr
via Woodley Wonderworks, flickr

Make it top priority.
Make it a routine to tackle homework before the afternoon slips into late evening and leaves you with tired, cranky kids. For most families, it works best to do homework after school, once kids have had a snack and a few minutes of chill time. If you wait to do it later, it’s easy for it to get lost in the shuffle of after-school activities, outside play and friend time then ends up interfering with bedtime. Having it done and out of the way frees up the evening for family time, avoids meltdowns, and helps keep everyone on schedule.

Provide a healthy snack or meal.
Kids can’t do their best when they are hungry or filled with sugary, processed snacks. Make sure your child has a satisfying, healthy afternoon snack before digging into homework. Some parents even swear by feeding their kids dinner when they get home from school, and a lighter snack later in the evening. Seems unorthodox to eat dinner at 3 pm, but it makes a lot of sense! Check out our Cures for the Snack Attack Pinterest Board for healthy snack ideas and Easy, Kid-Friendly Dinners for Busy Parents to rev up your dinner repertoire.

Create an appealing homework space.
Designate a comfortable space for your child to do his homework each and every day. Rather than doing homework on the couch while watching TV or in the back seat on the way home from soccer practice, get in the habit of doing it an environment that is conducive to doing good work. Whether it’s the kitchen table or your child’s own desk, make sure it’s a spot that’s free of interruptions or temptations, and is well lit. Have tools and materials handy, such as sharpened pencils, markers, and a dictionary.

Schedule ample time for homework.
Young children may only need a few minutes to copy spelling words or trace letters, but if possible, turn off the rush. It helps to give older kids time to work through tougher homework without the added stress of squeezing it into the schedule.

Keep homework anxiety under control.
Kids have less anxiety when they know what to expect and when to expect it. You can reduce any anxiety they may have about homework by sticking with your routine, making sure your child understands your expectations and reminding him that mistakes are a part of learning.

Stay connected with teachers.
Open communication with your child’s teacher is important. Let her know if your child has anxiety about the homework, or if you feel there is too many assignments for a young child. Also ask her for suggestions on how to help your child understand and complete assignments, and for feedback on your child’s performance.

Recruit your sitter to help with homework.
If you depend on a sitter for after-school care, ask her to spearhead homework and be available for assistance. Helping a child with homework means clarifying directions, providing additional explanation, and reviewing the finished product.

Consider hiring a tutor.
If your child continually struggles with the work, consider hiring a tutor. It might be the solution that takes the stress off both of you, and allows you to spend more enjoyable time together.

With a little practice and consistency, these strategies should help you tee up a successful, stress-free routine to start the year off right.

Super Cool After-School Activities You Won’t Want to Miss

We’ve surveyed the afterschool landscape in search of the hippest, hottest, most fun extracurricular activities for your preschool and early elementary-aged children. And we’ve scored! Some of these activities look so thrilling, you’ll want to check out their adult classes, too!

Classes fill quickly, so take your pick and get your kid on the roster ASAP. Remember, even if you can’t swing afternoon carpool, there’s a babysitter out there that’s just right for the job. Log onto UrbanSitter and search by the days and times you need. It’s as easy as that!

In the San Francisco area:


A very groovy play studio in Hayes Valley with great workshops and classes for after school up to age 10, and something throughout the day for kids as young as one.  They offer a range of classes, including toddler play time, language and music lessons,  arts and crafts, yoga and emotional and social skill building.

House of Air

This trampoline gym offers a “Junior Geronimo” program for ages 3-6, giving little ones a safe, supervised jump space and parents an onsite café where they can take advantage of some free time.

In the New York City area:

Trapeze School New York

Really. The school claims children as young as four often have the coordination to attend classes here, but our insider mom recommends 6 as the starting age.

Brooklyn Robot Foundry

A very cool place that blends designing, building and playing, while teaching kids about electricity, gears, motors, and how things work. The DIT (Do It Together) class concludes with the kids bringing home their own robot. Fall classes start in October.

In the Chicago area:

Menomonee Club

Awesome indoor center with activities to spark the interest of any kid, including sports and fitness, cooking, science and engineering labs, arts, music and dance, theater and martial arts. Most are geared toward the TK and up crowd, but they do have a few selections for preschoolers.

Common Threads

After-school cooking and nutrition classes for elementary-aged children, focusing on basic cooking skills, healthy eating and world cuisine. Students are taught by real chefs, and prepare healthy meals to share with their classmates. The school also offers an outdoor gardening class (Spring and Fall) where kids learn to grow and harvest their own healthy eats, and then incorporate them into recipes.

In the Los Angeles area:

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The LACMA has several offerings for kids, including an intergenerational art class for kids at least 3 ½  years old and their families. It’s a chance for kids, parents and grandparents to learn about and make art together at the museum.

Los Angeles School of Gymnastics

It’s more than just gymnastics here – although you can’t find a better place to learn the basics and team level sport. Let your kids pick what speaks to them – tumbling, trampoline, karate, All Star Cheer, parent and tot classes, and Rhythmic Gymnastics (think gymnastics blended with dance and ballet with twirling ribbons and hula hoops!).

In the San Diego area:


Drop-in art studio for kids age 2 to 14. Tons for your kids to sink their hands into at this open studio, which includes a VW Bug as a canvas, glass and chalk walls, activity tables, a 20K brick Lego Castle, and a stocked, self-serve craft bar.

Alma Latina Dance Company

For a low monthly price, your child can take unlimited classes, attending a favorite class or two or choosing to try something new each week.  Offerings range from ballet and hip hop to Latin dance and yoga.

If you like our picks, let us know and we’ll keep’em coming with new selections for your kids to mix it up this school year!