There were early entrants into the children’s enrichment market back in the 1980s and 1990s, but there are many recent entries who have gotten into the act since the dawning of the new Millennium. These programs run the gamut from art and music to science and technology to cooking and math. After all, kids make up 25% of the population, and parents these days are more concerned than ever about giving their kids rich experiences at a young age to expand their horizons and give them an academic edge as they continue to grow and develop.
Anything related to STEM/STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) is a hot ticket right now as many view STEM-related subjects as the future. But they also have to engage children in a way that is much more fun than school, and the franchises on this list are the ones who have figured that out.
These franchise opportunities have also proven to be largely “recession proof” because parents are always reluctant to give up anything they see as benefiting their children, even when times are tough.
Here are our picks for the top 25 children’s enrichment program franchises of 2017/2018:
1. Bricks 4 Kidz
Bricks 4 Kidz gets kids playing after school like architects and engineers using LEGO bricks with activities designed by actual engineers and architects. The fun is actually based on a solid STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum to foster development of all kinds of skills. It’s the brainchild of Michelle Cote, who opened the first location in St. Augustine, Florida, in 2008 and started franchising the concept the following year. After growing explosively to 674 locations in 2015, the number of locations has declined slightly to the current total of 631.
2. School of Rock
School of Rock is a performance-based music school franchise that offers children and youth the chance to become a rock star through guitar, drum, piano, bass, and vocal lessons. The School of Rock philosophy and approach is to make the connection between music lessons and performances from the start, which works wonders with participants in terms of building their confidence along with their music skills. Students and parents can get a feel for what’s involved with an initial free lesson. Steady growth over the last ten years has seen the number of locations increase from 35 in 2007 to the chain’s current 200 locations.
3. Engineering for Kids
Engineering for Kids was born because Dori Roberts saw the need to fill a gaping hole in the nation’s public schools – exciting STEM education programming that students would find compelling and engaging. She began with an after-school club that was so successful it inspired her to turn it into a business serving students 4-14 years old. She opened the first location in 2009. Franchising began in 2011 after establishing 6 company-owned locations, and now there are 181 locations in 21 countries (106 of those are in the U.S.).
LearningRx is a one-on-one personal training franchise for students with learning difficulties. Developed by a psychologist and a visual processing specialist, their methodology goes far beyond basic tutoring – it’s brain training to develop the cognitive skills that go into thinking, learning, and reading for kids who are struggling academically from attention problems, dyslexia, memory problems, and other challenges. A Cognitive Skills Assessment is administered to discover each child’s strengths and weaknesses, from which a plan of intense mental exercises is put together to address weak areas. Founded in 1986 and franchising since 2003, the number of locations has declined in recent years from 92 in 2014 to the chain’s current 71 locations.
5. Bach to Rock
Bach to Rock (B2R) was founded in 2007 with the firm belief that learning music can be as fun as any other play activity, and that individual music lessons should always be supplemented with jam sessions and playing in a group or band because kids do better at music when playing with their peers. Bach to Rock also realized early on that kids learn music faster if you let them play music they like, so the schools use special arrangements of today’s music to teach students any instrument. After opening a half-dozen company-owned locations, franchising began in 2011 and there are now 30 locations in 21 states.
6. Gymboree Play & Music
Gymboree Play & Music was created by San Francisco mother Joan Barnes back in 1976 when she was unable to find a decent place for new parents and children to play and exercise together. Age-appropriate activities for children aged 0-5 help develop the cognitive, physical, and social skills of children as they play while at the same time encouraging parent involvement and helping them better understand their child’s development. Franchising began in 1978 and there are currently 748 locations, although most of these are located outside the U.S. The number of U.S. locations has been declining in recent years from 285 in 2007 to its current 148 U.S. locations.
Snapology is the creation of sisters Lisa and Laura Coe, who observed with their own children that kids were meant to learn through play, especially through building blocks and other materials that snap together. Snapology’s enrichment programs for children and youth aged 1-14 use LEGO bricks, K’Nex, and other technologies to keep kids so engaged and excited they don’t even realize they’re learning all kinds of useful STEM/STEAM concepts. Snapology programs are offered year-round in schools, community facilities, homes, and a select number of Discovery Centers. Founded in 2010, franchising began in 2015 and there are already 41 locations.
8. Young Rembrandts
Young Rembrandts was started in 1988 by Bette Fetter, a pre-school worker who has three children of her own. When a friend mentioned she couldn’t find art classes for young children, Fetter decided it was time to put her studio art degree to work for her. She began teaching drawing to pre-schoolers and eventually refined and expanded her programs for young children aged 3-5 and kids aged 6-12. The programs are brought into daycare centers, parks, and after-school programs for weekly sessions focused on drawing and cartooning classes along with summer drawing workshops. Franchising began in 1997 and there are currently 105 locations.
9. Drama Kids International
Drama Kids International has built on the work of popular Australian television actress Helen O’Grady who developed her own children’s programming back in the 1980s to develop speaking, acting, and social skills through the use of fun, fast-paced drama activities. The weekly hour-long sessions help students be enthusiastic, speak out clearly, and relate to others with confidence. Other skills participating students develop include creative thinking, collaboration, and leadership. Franchising began in 1989 and there are now 50,000 students taking classes at more than 1,500 locations, 71 of which are in the U.S.
Abrakadoodle is an art enrichment franchise that is all about inspiring and developing creativity in kids. This is a mobile art program that comes to schools, community sites, clubs, summer and holiday camps, parties, and other events to provide immersive sessions that teach kids about art even as they do art. The company’s lesson plans, delivered by well-trained teachers, are specifically designed to exceed national standards for visual arts education. Beginning in 2010, the chain began to grow rapidly outside the U.S., adding more than 300 locations in other countries. The total number of locations stands at 355, only 40 of which are in the U.S.
KidzArt is a fine arts enrichment program for both kids and adults that offers classes, parties, camps, and workshops utilizing a curriculum that never repeats along with a variety of creativity-oriented educational programs. Activities are designed to remove the biggest barrier to creative expression – the fear of failure. Within a safe environment, mistakes become opportunities to learn and grow, resulting in artwork participants never knew was inside them. Participants also learn how to use art as a relaxation technique. Founded in 1997, franchising began in 2002 and there are currently 64 locations.
Zaniac offers play-based learning programs for K-8 kids to learn STEAM concepts in after-school settings and summer camps. It is the brainchild of world-famous economist, college professor, bestselling author, White House official, and software developer of educational curriculum Paul Zane, who created a better way to teach math in which an individual curriculum is built for a child automatically by computer after they take an assessment test. Paul and his wife Lisa opened the first Zaniac campus in Park City, Utah in 2012 and started franchising the concept in 2013. There are currently 10 locations.
theCoderSchool is a place where kids can learn to code through its combination of collaboration and immersion with direct instruction from Code Coaches. The concept came from Hansel Lynn and Wayne Teng, two guys who have been friends and business partners for more than 20 years. In the digital era of the 21st century, kids should have the opportunity early on to learn how to code, but opportunities are few and far between, which is what led to the creation of theCoderSchool. Founded in 2014 and franchising since 2015, there are now 17 locations.
14. Nutty Scientists
Nutty Scientists is a children’s enrichment program providing interactive experiences for children of all ages (3-16) in STEM that children and youth find exciting and engaging, as opposed to the boring textbook approach still seen in many schools. Hands-on activities teach environmental and health issues in a compelling and entertaining way all the while making safety a top priority. Founded in 1996 in Europe, franchising began in 1997 and there are now 276 locations in 40 countries, with only a handful in the U.S.
15. Hobby Quest
Hobby Quest was started in 2003 when Boaz Givon revived his childhood passion for building and flying model airplanes and started introducing it to elementary students in New Jersey. His concept includes woodworking skills along with all the math, science, and engineering that goes into making something that can fly. Hobby Quest soon became the hottest after-school enrichment ticket in the state. The company has developed new hands-on, hobby-themed enrichment programs including Making Magic, Fashion Design, and Kids ‘n Cameras. Franchising began in 2012 and there are currently 21 locations.
16. Little Medical School
Little Medical School is a STEM-based program that brings medicine, science, and the importance of health to children aged 4-12 in ways that are entertaining, exciting, and fun. It offers after-school programs, birthday parties, and special events that can be customized, and each curriculum used is aligned with STEM objectives. Hands-on demonstrations, crafts, and games teach children about the world of medicine, how the body works, using medical instruments, and administering first aid. Additional programs include Little Veterinarian School, Little Nursing School, and Little Dental School. Founded in 2010, franchising began in 2014. There are currently 31 locations in the U.S., one in Lebanon, and one in Dubai.
iCode was founded in 2015 by Abid Abedi and Rashmi Mukherjee to teach computer science and robotics to children and youth in a way that equips “young minds with the skills to think critically, solve problems logically, and imagine endless possibilities.” Working with elementary, middle school, and high school students in their after-school enrichment programs, the company provides robotics and coding enthusiasts an opportunity to design and develop their own ideas into viable solutions with mentoring that could even help them bring ideas to market. So far there are only two locations, both in Frisco, Texas, but the company’s franchising program was rolled out less than a year ago.
18. Bricks Bots & Beakers
Bricks Bots & Beakers (B3) focuses on age-appropriate STEM activities for kids from age 3 up through middle school. BRICKS classes focus on engineering and building activities, BOTS classes hone in on robotics and computer programming, and BEAKERS classes present hands-on science with such offerings as Gross Out Chemistry, Elementary Entomology, Potions Lab, Forensic Mysteries, and more. The activities are designed to foster the 4Cs: Creative thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity. Founded in 2012, franchising began in 2014 and there are currently 16 locations.
CompuChild offers fun STEAM classes at child care centers, schools, and community centers to develop the 4Cs in each child: Communication, Collaboration, Critical thinking, and Creativity. Age-appropriate programming is available to pre-schoolers and grade-schoolers K-6 as an after-school program. The approach is strongly informed by the standards created by the International Society for Technology in Education. CompuChild was born in Carmel, Indiana, back in 1994. Franchising began in 2001 and the number of locations has declined in recent years from 62 in 2011 to its current 30 locations.
20. Professor Egghead Science Academy
Professor Egghead Science Academy got its start in 2007 when brothers Shaun and Gary Tuch decided it was time to make science cool for kids, harkening back to their own childhoods when they did things like dismantling toys to figure out how they worked, shooting off rockets, and generally getting their hands dirty. Science in the classroom was never fun like that. In fact, it tended to be pretty boring. What kids needed was the kind of science the Tuch brothers would have enjoyed as kids – no lectures, no manuals, just messy, awesome science. Their offerings are available as after-school programs, summer camps, birthday parties, and workshops. Franchising began in 2013 and there are currently 8 locations.
21. STEM for Kids
STEM for Kids was founded by Moni Singh in 2011 when she left the corporate world to find ways of introducing STEM to younger kids in a way that made it fun for them because the future depends on rising generations of STEM-proficient young people. Leaving the corporate landscape also allowed her more time to connect with her own family, which is when she discovered how fun STEM activities with her kids could be. Offerings include computer programming, engineering, and advanced manufacturing. Founded in 2011, franchising began in 2014 and there are now 12 locations.
22. Taste Buds Kitchen
Taste Buds Kitchen is a fun kitchen for kids by day and a BYOB kitchen for adults by night. The company got its start in 2007 by husband and wife team Jessi and Jeff Brelsford with a few holiday baking classes and cupcake birthday parties at a loft in Soho, New York City, under the name Cupcake Kids! Each Taste Buds Kitchen is maintained free of peanuts and tree nuts and does not make use of any nut butters, oils, or flour, or items containing the whole nuts. From cupcakes to pastry to sushi, participants learn the joy of cooking from scratch through classes, parties, camps, and special events. Franchising began in 2013 and there are currently 9 locations in 8 states.
23. High Touch-High Tech
High Touch-High Tech sends scientists to nearly any location to turn it into a living laboratory where kids from pre-school to high school can experience fun, hands-on science projects. Creative activities are designed to be inquiry-based and non-competitive in order to get kids feeling so excited and positive about science that they will become lifelong learners who love science. An added bonus is that the programs show applications of science in daily life to keep it relevant. All programming is delivered by certified science teachers. Franchising began in 1993 and there are currently 33 locations.
24. Mad Science Group
Mad Science Group serves up hands-on science activities for children that are equal parts educational and entertaining. All founding brothers Ariel and Ron Shlien had to do was think back to their childhood days and all of the crazy experiments they dreamed up. This is a mobile science demonstration concept that can be delivered in any group setting, including birthday parties, schools, clubs, and so on. Franchising began in 1995, but the number of locations has steadily declined over the last 10 years from 197 in 2007 to the current 141 locations.
25. Chef It Up!/Chef It Up 2 Go!
In 2003, Lisa Tirone decided to take her love of cooking and her energetic personality and combine them into a business idea – cooking classes and parties for kids. Because two of her own children suffer from life-threatening food allergies, she kept everything peanut-free and tree nut-free from the start, and she is highly tuned in to other food allergies as well. Classes can take place at a Chef It Up! location or on-site with a Chef It Up 2 Go! travel team. Franchising began in 2005 and there are currently 14 locations.