American Rescue Plan Offers New Opportunities to Tap into the Afterschool Market – Q&A with National Afterschool Association

March 23, 2021 | Under the newly passed American Rescue Plan, afterschool and summer learning programs are expected to receive critical funding to help address the impact of COVID-19 on the American education system. Toy News Tuesday editors spoke with Gina Warner, executive director of the National Afterschool Association (NAA), the professional association for individuals who work with – and on behalf of – children and youth outside of school, about the opportunities this could also present to toy companies to get involved in the afterschool market.

TNT: What does this new source of funding under the American Rescue Plan mean for NAA and its members and how will funds be allocated?

Warner: The American Rescue Plan funding is the largest federal funding investment ever in afterschool. By specifically setting aside funds for afterschool and summer programs, policy makers recognized what the research has long shown – that afterschool programs are critical and necessary partners to the academic success and social and emotional development of children. The nearly $30 billion in funding will allow programs to double the number of children they were serving pre-pandemic, meaning many programs will be able to return to operating at full capacity while also expanding into communities with new programs to support children and families. The federal funding will be flowing to the states in the next four to six weeks. Some of the monies will be granted directly by the states, while some will be allocated to local school systems for dissemination. Funds can be spent over 24 to 30 months, until September 2023.

TNT: Toys and play serve as critical tools for learning, what role have they previously played in NAA’s programming, how has that changed amid the pandemic, and how might this new influx of funding offer new opportunities for NAA members to incorporate more elements of toys and play into their programming moving forward?

Warner: Play is a crucial component of a child’s healthy development. Developmentally appropriate play, including free play, is a strong component of a well-rounded afterschool program. Many children have been insolated and inside during the pandemic, and afterschool professionals are eager to engage them in fun and healthy play with their peers. Toys for group games and exercises will be highly sought after for the summer and school year. Afterschool professionals are also well-versed in play activities that engage children in learning and academic enrichment. They will be seeking toys and games that help facilitate learning in a fun and hands-on way.

TNT: For toymakers what kinds of new opportunities does this funding present to tap into the afterschool market?

Warner: The language in the federal funding bill is beneficial to those in the toy market, and toy marketers should consider it when promoting their resources to the afterschool field. For the afterschool and summer funding set-asides, the money is for “enrichment” activities so programs will be seeking games, toys, art supplies, etc.

Another portion of the money is designated for programs and activities that promote “learning loss and recovery.” Companies with toys and resources that promote literacy, STEM, and other academic skills should promote how their products provide these benefits when marketing to afterschool providers.

TNT: How can NAA help facilitate a toy company’s entry into the afterschool market?

Warner: Afterschool providers are discerning but also very busy. They know and trust NAA to bring to them the resources, tools, and products they need to help them deliver high quality services to the children and youth they serve. NAA has a variety of promotional packages to meet the budget and dissemination needs of toy community members.

Companies are invited to contact Jill Carroll to learn more.

The National Afterschool Association (NAA) is the professional association for individuals who work with – and on behalf of – children and youth in their out-of-school time. NAA has more than 36,000 members across the country and hosts the most comprehensive program of professional development opportunities for afterschool professionals anywhere in the U.S. Its members provide academic, enrichment, and recreational programs (i.e. comprehensive programs) to children between the ages of 5-18 across a variety of settings including schools, community centers, and churches.