In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section After-school Hours and Activities

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews, Textbooks, and Anthologies
  • Journals
  • History of After-School Hours
  • After-School Time Data
  • After-School Hours by Social Categories
  • In Relation to the Educational System
  • Psychological Impacts
  • Children’s Work
  • Play and Homework
  • Social Life during After-School Hours
  • Summer
  • After-School Hours outside of the United States

Childhood Studies After-school Hours and Activities
Hilary Levey Friedman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 June 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0135


Beginning in the late 19th century, compulsory education had important consequences for the American childhood. Children experienced a profound shift in the structure of their daily lives, especially in the social organization of their time. Compulsory education brought leisure time into focus; since “school time” was delineated as obligatory, “free time” could now be identified as well. With the simultaneous rise of mandatory schooling and laws restricting child labor, worry mounted over the idle after-school hours of children, which many assumed would be filled with delinquent or self-destructive activities. Adults intervened to help organize children’s after-school hours into activities. Over the course of the 20th century, children’s after-school hours sorted themselves into three categories: work, play, and organized activities. During this time, the last category—organized activities—became ever dominant, especially among middle-class families. These organized activities (which can be recreational, educational, and/or competitive) were eventually developed for increasingly younger children and not just those in high school. While sports are a main focus, activities focused on arts and academics also exist. Children’s work (broadly defined to include paid work and housework) remains important for poorer families with children of all ages, while free play for all children has decreased over time. Uses of after-school time in the United States vary by class and gender and by type of activity. The ways in which families decide what their children will do in these after-school hours appear to influence educational aspirations and attainment, which in turn affects professional goals and ambitions. This article focuses on work by social scientists who examine what has shaped children’s after-school hours and how these hours shape them; it does not focus on work by practitioners who offer practical advice on how to manage and utilize American children’s after-school hours. The last section provides guidance to resources to those interested in after-school hours outside of the United States.

General Overviews, Textbooks, and Anthologies

Despite the importance of these after-school hours in the long-term development of children, very few general studies exist, and no textbook devoted to the subject has yet been written. These three works offer the best and most comprehensive overviews available. Though Medrich 1983 is now dated, it offers the best larger-scale study that classifies the five major domains of out-of-school life (kids’ activities without adult supervision, activities with parents, jobs and chores, organized activities, and television viewing). A worthy endeavor would be to complete a similar project—interviewing close to eight hundred families/children—in the 21st century. Mahoney, et al. 2005 presents twenty-two papers covering the development of after-school time, processes, and outcomes associated with various after-school programs, and policy assessments and recommendations. Rosenbury 2007 places the development of activities in the after-school hours into legal context, which is a perspective not offered elsewhere.

  • Mahoney, Joseph L., Reed W. Larson, and Jacqeulynne S. Eccles, eds. Organized Activities as Contexts of Development: Extracurricular Activities, After-School and Community Programs. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2005.

    The most comprehensive, interdisciplinary book on a variety of uses of after-school time, including mentorship and organized activities for children of varied backgrounds; also presents the perspective of practitioners.

  • Medrich, Eliot. The Serious Business of Growing Up: A Study of Children’s Lives outside School. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

    Though based on data collected in the 1970s, this book offers tangible data and a cogent social classification scheme to help make sense of how after-school hours can contribute to inequality.

  • Rosenbury, Laura. “Between Home and School.” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 155 (2007): 833.

    In examining a legal case involving the Boy Scouts, this legal scholar shows how the current triangular structure of family law (parents, children, and the state) ignores the fact that children are no longer confined to the home and the school.

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