Revised and updated October 12, 2019.
Parents are looking for ways to enrich their kids’ lives more than ever today, and entrepreneurs who want to jump into this field with a proven business concept and model have lots of great options to explore on this list of the 22 best children’s after-school program franchises of 2020. The offerings literally run the gamut, covering art, music, science, technology, cooking, math, building, drama/theatre, and more.
Kids younger than 18 years represent a little over 22% of the US population right now, and parents are looking for unique and innovative ways to give them rich experiences at a young age. Parents want to expand their children’s horizons and, in many cases, give their kids an extra academic boost. Parents looking out for their kids’ futures helps explain why STEM/STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) is such a popular theme right now. Many parents rightly see STEM-related subjects as the future.
The secret to enrichment programs is that they have to be more fun than school, and the companies on this list are the ones who have figured out how to make that happen and scale their concept into a viable franchise. Children’s enrichment programs have also proven to be largely “recession proof” because parents are always reluctant to give up anything they see as benefitting their children, even when the economy takes a downturn. Here are the top 22 children’s after-school program franchises of 2020:
1. Bricks 4 Kidz
Bricks 4 Kidz is the perfect after-school enrichment program for kids who love building things with LEGO bricks. The chain’s proprietary model plans are all inspired by engineers and architects utilizing a solid STEM curriculum to foster the development of a range of skills, including patience, teamwork, communication, problem-solving, fine motor skills, organization, and more.
Founded by Michelle Cote in St. Augustine, Florida in 2008 and franchising since 2009, the number of locations rose rapidly to 674 locations in 2015, but has declined slightly to the current total of 640, none of which are company-owned and 237 of which are located outside the US.
Abrakadoodle 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 as they do art. This art enrichment franchise aims to inspire and develop creativity in kids with its lesson plans delivered by highly-trained teachers. The curriculum was crafted to exceed national standards for visual arts education. Its core approach is called Process Art, which places less emphasis on the final outcome and more on what is learned during the process of children exploring, creating, and developing their own original ideas.
Founded by Mary Rogers and Rosemarie Hartnett in Northern Virginia in 2002 and franchising since 2004, the company began to grow aggressively on the international scene in 2010. There are now 489 locations, only two of which are company-owned and 447 of which are located outside the US.
3. Nutty Scientists
Nutty Scientists takes the wise words of Confucius to heart: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” With its core belief that “kids learn by doing,” children of all ages (3-16) learn science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through exciting, engaging, hands-on activities that make science fun. There is also a major emphasis on doing science safely.
Founded in 1996 and franchising since 1997, the number of locations fell from 318 last year to the current total of 252, of which three are company-owned and 244 of which are located outside the US.
4. Drama Kids International
Drama Kids International offers weekly hour-long sessions that help students be enthusiastic, speak out clearly, and relate to others with confidence through fun, fast-paced drama activities pioneered by popular Australian television actress Helen O’Grady back in the 1980s. The results are children and teens developing speaking, acting, and social skills along with creative thinking, collaboration, and leadership. Rather than focusing solely on preparing for a single performance, the curriculum consists of more than 450 unique lesson plans, each of which includes 4-6 different activities focused on speech development and creative movement.
Founded in 1979 and franchising since 1989, the number of locations has risen over the past 10 years from 176 in 2008 to the current total of 238, none of which are company-owned and 165 of which are located outside the US.
5. School of Rock
School of Rock offers weekly private lessons in vocals, drums, keyboards, guitar, and bass along with group band rehearsals to prepare students for performing live in front of audiences. Its results-driven approach is all geared towards performance, which it views as the key to amplifying anyone’s musical abilities. Camps are also offered during school vacations and summer break.
Founded by Paul Green in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1998 and franchising since 2005, the number of locations has climbed during the past 10 years from 46 in 2008 to the current total of 214, of which 35 are company-owned and 29 are located outside the US.
6. Romp n’ Roll
Romp n’ Roll offers gym, music, and art classes for kids who are five and younger to target developmental milestones with its proprietary curriculum that rotates on a weekly basis. This is play-based learning for toddlers, babies, and preschoolers in which parents can also participate. Socialization is a major focus of its regular programming, and there are lots of opportunities for additional sessions, evening programs, special events, birthday parties, camps, and more.
Founded by Babz and Michael Barnett in 2004 and franchising since 2006, the number of locations has risen rapidly in recent years from nine in 2011 to the current total of 202, of which two are company-owned and 192 of which are located outside the US.
7. Engineering for Kids
Engineering for Kids works with children and youth from 4 to 14 years old to boost their exposure to STEM education programming that is both compelling and engaging. The activities are based on real-world engineering problems to discover how things work, learn math and science while having fun, build problem-solving skills, and explore engineering as a career option. Topical focal points include robotics, interactive engineering, technology, and coding.
Founded by Dori Roberts in 2009 and franchising since 2011, the number of locations has grown to the current total of 169, only one of which is company-owned and 62 of which are located outside the US.
8. Mad Science Group
Mad Science Group offers what it calls education wrapped in entertainment, serving up hands-on science activities that are fun and educational. All the founding brothers had to do was think back to their childhood days and all the crazy experiments they dreamed up. Their mobile science demonstration concept can be delivered in any and all kinds of group settings, including birthday parties, schools, clubs, summer and vacation camps, and so on. The programs are geared to students in grades K-6 and help encourage kids to consider STEM careers.
Founded by Ariel and Ron Shlien in 1985 and franchising since 1995, the number of locations has slowly declined over the past 10 years from 183 in 2008 to the current total of 144, only one of which is company-owned and 60 of which are located outside the US.
9. Challenge Island
Challenge Island brings an adventure theme to its STEAM (STEM plus Art) enrichment programs. Each session takes place on a unique thematic “island” destination where kids work collaboratively in tribes on exciting project-based learning activities full of adventure and imagination. The proprietary curriculum is aligned with Common Core and next generation science standards, with a focus on problem-solving and critical thinking along with developing the resilience, grit, perseverance, flexibility, and adaptability too many kids are lacking today. There is also a strong environment values component in the programming.
Founded in 2003 and franchising since 2012, the number of locations has jumped up in recent years from 45 in 2017 to the current total of 104, of which three are company-owned and 11 of which are located outside the US.
10. Code Ninjas
Code Ninjas is all about teaching kids to code, which makes good business sense in the digital era of the 21st century. And the company was also smart in realizing that the best way to teach kids to code is by building games they love. The core philosophy is that coding is as important to kids today as a second language. From the parental perspective, it’s about developing problem-solving, teamwork, logic, math skills, and perhaps above all, investing in their kids’ future.
Founded by David Graham in 2016 and franchising since then, the number of locations has shot up to the current total of 102, none of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
11. Young Rembrandts
Young Rembrandts offers art programming in the form of preschool drawing for kids 3.5-5 years old, elementary drawing for kids 6-12, elementary cartooning for kids 6-12, and summer drawing for kids 3.5-12. The programs can be brought into daycare centers, parks, and after-school programs for weekly sessions so kids and parents can experience how involvement in the arts leads to academic success. Kids develop spatial reasoning and fine motor skills, order and sequencing abilities, visualization, and self-discipline along with fundamental art skills.
Founded by preschool worker Bette Fetter in 1988 and franchising since 1997, the number of locations currently stands at 101, none of which are company-owned and 10 of which are located outside the US.
Snapology was founded on the belief that kids were meant to learn through play, and especially through building blocks and other materials that snap together. Their programs make use of LEGO bricks, K’Nex, and other technologies to teach STEM/STEAM concepts in ways that are so fun the children and youth aged 1-14 don’t even realize they’re learning. A primary focus is robotics, which kids love. Programs are offered year-round in schools, community facilities, homes, and a select number of Discovery Centers.
Founded by Lisa and Laura Coe in 2010 and franchising since 2015, the number of locations has risen quickly to the current total of 100, two of which are company-owned and 26 of which are located outside the US.
13. STEM for Kids
STEM for Kids believes the future of the economy and society hinges on rising generations of STEM-proficient young people. It also knows that, according to brain research, a fun learning environment is an important ingredient for learning and memory. Offerings include computer programming, robotics engineering, advanced manufacturing, automation, biomedical engineering, innovation, IoT, business and finance, big data, entrepreneurship, and more.
Founded by Moni Singh in 2011 and franchising since 2014, the number of locations has exploded in the last year from only 12 in 2017 to the current total of 80, of which five are company-owned and 22 are located outside the US.
LearningRx offers what it calls one-on-one brain training for both kids and adults to provide effective personal training for those with learning difficulties. The company’s programs were created by Dr. Ken Gibson, a psychologist who spent 35 years researching, developing, and testing them. The focus is on cognitive skills to aid thinking, learning, and reading for kids who are struggling academically due to attention problems, dyslexia, memory issues, and other challenges. An initial Cognitive Skills Assessment reveals each child’s strengths and weaknesses, and from there 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 current total of 68, one of which is company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
15. Little Medical School
Little Medical School is all about “inspiring tomorrow’s healthcare providers today” by offering STEM-based programs to bring medicine, science, and the importance of health to children aged 4-12. A major part of the prescription is making it entertaining, exciting, and fun through role-playing medical professionals. Hands-on demonstrations, crafts, and games teach children about the world of medicine, how the body works, the use of medical instruments, and administering first aid. Additional programs include Little Veterinarian School, Little Nursing School, and Little Dental School.
Founded by Dr. Mary Mason in 2010 and franchising since 2014, there are currently 45 locations, of which four are company-owned and seven are located outside the US.
16. Baby Power/Forever Kids
Baby Power/Forever Kids offers two major types of programming. Baby Power offers parent/child play classes for ages 6 months through 3.5 years that incorporate warm-ups, mini-gymnastics, music/singing, story time, crafts, and show ‘n’ tell (starting at age 2). Classes are capped at 8 kids to ensure each one gets the individualized attention they deserve. Forever Kids focuses on different topics, depending on the specific class, for the second period of child development from ages 3-7. Topics include arts and crafts, cooking, theme classes, gym play, and science experiments to develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and self-expression while using creativity to have fun.
Founded by Linda Searles in 1973 and franchising since 1998, the number of locations has expanded rapidly in recent years from seven in 2014 to the current total of 41, none of which are company-owned and 40 of which are located outside the US.
KidzArt provides arts enrichment programming to both kids and adults through classes, parties, camps, and workshops. The curriculum is kept fresh so it never repeats its creativity-oriented programs. The major goal of all activities is to remove the biggest barrier to creative expression, which is the fear of failure. By creating a safe environment, mistakes become opportunities to learn and grow, and participants create artwork they never thought would be possible for them. Art is also presented and taught as a relaxation technique.
Founded by Sue Bartman in 1997 and franchising since 2002, the number of locations has declined in recent years from a high of 107 in 2014 to the current total of 40, none of which are company-owned and 10 of which are located outside the US.
18. Bach to Rock
Bach to Rock (B2R) positions itself as America’s music school for students of all ages, including all the way down to toddlers. The company’s unique approach is based on the idea that “…students learn best when they join together to play the music they like the most,” so lessons feature special arrangements of today’s music. Individual lessons are supplemented and enhanced with weekly “jam sessions” leading to Battles of the Bands events and recording sessions in B2R Studios. Participants can focus on whatever instrument they want, including vocals, drums, guitar and bass, piano and keyboards, and even all manner of brass, woodwind, and string instruments.
Founded in 2007 and franchising since 2011, the number of locations has risen to the current total of 39, of which eight are company-owned and all are located in the US.
19. High Touch-High Tech
High Touch-High Tech aims to ignite children’s natural curiosity about science with quality STEM activities that build problem-solving skills, self-esteem, and confidence to try new things. The company’s scientists will come to nearly any location and turn it into a living laboratory. The approach is inquiry-based and non-competitive to get participants excited and positive about science. Everything is kept highly relevant by showing how science applies to daily life.
Founded in 1990 and franchising since 1993, the number of locations has expanded slightly in recent years to the current total of 34, of which four are company-owned and 12 are located outside the US.
CompuChild offers computer education STEAM programming to children on-site at childcare centers, schools, and community centers to develop communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity (the 4 Cs) in each student. Age-appropriate programming is available to preschoolers and K-6 students with an approach strongly informed by the standards created by the International Society for Technology in Education. Group lessons let students work together to become better communicators, collaborators, and critical thinkers while having fun and learning valuable 21st century skills to be successful in life.
Founded in Carmel, Indiana in 1994 and franchising since 2001, the number of locations has declined in recent years from 62 in 2011 to the current total of 27, only one of which is company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
21. The Coder School
The Coder School feels strongly that the best way to get students coding is by immersive mentoring relationships with experienced coders (Code Coaches) that is highly tailored to each participant while also providing opportunities for collaboration. Because the company is against a one-size-fits-all curriculum, students are free to focus on their area of choice, such as web development, gaming, algorithms, specific languages, and so on. They also aim for a student-to-teacher ratio of 2:1, which is impressive.
Founded by Hansel Lynn and Wayne Teng in Silicon Valley in 2014 and franchising since 2015, there are now 23 locations, three of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
22. Parker-Anderson Enrichment
Parker-Anderson Enrichment offers more than 50 different classes under its motto “Fun Comes First!” Examples include Chess Club, Project Runway Fashion Design, MatheMagicTechKids, Fine Art Painting, Robot Building Workshop, Jewelry Making, and many more. The programs are offered on-site at schools, community centers, summer camps, and birthday parties. School-based programs mean the participating kids just stay at school for an extra hour, which can be a valuable alternative to childcare for working parents. Schools often don’t have the time or resources to develop their own enrichment programs, which ensures a robust market for franchisees.
Founded by Jamie Anderson and Josh Parker in Los Angeles, California in 2005 and franchising since 2014, the number of locations has risen steadily to the current total of 19, only one of which is company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.