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10 Los Angeles afterschool programs to entertain your kids

From the sun-scrubbed beaches of the coast to the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains, the greater Los Angeles area is a play land for kids young and old. But sometimes the best activities carry a hefty bill, or getting to your destination involves a traffic-jammed car ride or too many exchanges on the metro. If you and your kids are looking for something quick and closer to home, an after-school program may be the way to go.

After-school programs are not simply rooms where children are held in stasis while mom and dad are at work. Today's programs get your kids thinking, learning and laughing after the last school bell has rung for the day. Elementary-school kids are wide-eyed and open to experience, and the better programs introduce them to the arts and sciences, physical fitness, or computer literacy while entertaining them far better than a tuckered-out parent can at the end of the work day. Even kids who attend online schools can convince nearby programs to let them participate, which is wonderful for families with flexible learning needs.

It's a challenge to choose only ten after-school programs with the best tonic for idle minds, but these all are stand outs:

  • L.A.'s BEST. Then-Mayor Tom Bradley created L.A.'s BEST in 1988, and it's grown to serve 28,000 at-risk children aged five to 12 at 186 Los Angeles elementary school sites. Schools are chosen by low test scores and vulnerable neighborhoods to drugs, gangs or crime. Programs include after-school arts, fitness, computer literacy, math and science, junior financial achievement and a peacemaking curriculum in communication, conflict resolution, appreciation of diversity and emotional expression. Locations from San Pedro to Sylmar, and in-between.
  • ACE Enrichment. Voted "Best After School Program" by LA Parent readers, Ace Enrichment offers more than 40 individual classes designed to help students build social skills and achieve higher test scores. Making learning fun, the founders say, is the principal ingredient to their success. Locations include 11 public schools from Santa Monica to the greater Los Angeles area, including the San Fernando Valley.
  • Performing Arts Workshops. For more than 20 years, the after-school programs by Performing Arts Workshops have served public and private school students in kindergarten and up. Students enjoy musical theatre, karate, dance, iFit sports, comedy improv, orchestra, TV commercial workshop, singer's showcase and guitar jam. The school serves eight public school districts in Orange and Los Angeles counties.
  • Bloom School of Music. The Bloom School of Music serves young musicians up to age seven in the communities of Eagle Rock, Pasadena, South Pasadena, Glendale, Highland Park, Glassell Park, Mount Washington, La Canada, Silverlake and Los Feliz. After-school courses teach youngsters in piano, voice, guitar, bass, drums, violin, viola, saxophone, clarinet, cello and flute. In addition, it offers a dance and drama program up to age 12. Oh, and the school teaches separate beginner classes to adults in their 60's and 70's, too!
  • Dawn Barnes' Karate Kids. This is not online learning; it's hands-on all the way. Voted Best Martial Arts School by LA Parent, LA Family and The Daily News, Karate Kids uses its "love-based" instructional methods to build self-esteem in its students. Located in the beach communities, Beverly Hills and the San Fernando Valley, the school has schedules for after school and on the weekends. Karate instruction serves pre-school children, kindergarten and first grade and a black-belt program for second grade and up.
  • Lenny Krayzelburg JCC Swim Academy. Four-time Olympic Gold Medalist Lenny Krayzelburg started the academy in 2005 to help kids build confidence and swim safely from beginning classes to using the freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. Locations are in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. There are also parent-tot lessons available if you have a child two years old or younger. CBS LA television named the school among the "Best Swim Lessons in Los Angeles".
  • Mad Science After-School Programs. Parent's Magazine has cited Mad Science summer camps among the ten most unusual programs for youngsters. After school programs are designed for students aged 5 to 12. Your kids learn the fun way about nutrition, chemistry, astronomy, rocketry and science fundamentals all done with colorful gadgets and concoctions. Courses are offered across the LA basin and valleys, with students learning the hard stuff the easy way.
  • The Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA). DADA was founded in the Crenshaw neighborhood in 2001 to give young, at-risk people in the LA area access to dance theory and practice. The Early Birds class, for boys and girls from four to seven years old, meets four times a week. The curriculum includes ballet, tap, flamenco, hip hop, jazz and African dance. The Pre-academy Course is for kids from eight to 18 years of age.
  • The Young Actor's Studio. Founded in North Hollywood in 1996, the Young Actors Studio hosts three distinct acting classes for children: one for ages five and six, another for ages seven and eight, and one for nine to 12-year-olds. Courses are offered Saturdays and Sundays. Your child can learn the fundamentals of acting theory and technique, perform script work or improv and build skills in listening, memorization, agility, voice and self-confidence. Founder Jeff Alan-Lee previously worked with soon-to-blossom stars Scarlett Johansson and Shia LaBeouf.
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The largest art museum in the western United States, LACMA fires the imaginations of young artists. There are two educational programs for youngsters offered at the Wilshire Boulevard location, one for ages six to nine and another for kids 10 to 13. Students learn art history and take gallery walks, and they receive hands-on experience with mixed media, painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture. Courses are offered on Sundays at 11 am.

Introduce your kids to interests that ripen and flourish over a lifetime. The last word should be about the tangible results of these after-school programs for you. You'll regain your own free time while your children are in enthusiastic, capable hands.

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