Summer is almost over. You’re assembling the kids’ back-to-school gear and looking forward to having an actual routine again. So, what’s on the agenda for your youngsters’ afternoons and evenings so that they’re not just sitting in front of the TV?

In our community, there are numerous unique options to keep your kiddos’ minds and bodies engaged.They’ll be having so much fun, they won’t even notice that they’re learning something along the way!

En Garde

The ring of metal clashing with metal rings out, and the bouncing white-clad figures move with precision. It’s the North Texas Fencing Alliance, one of only a select few clubs in the Metroplex that teaches the fine art of fencing.

From “pirate” or “knight” introductory classes to internationally competitive ranges, the club is a second home for more than 70 students.Everyone age 7 and older can suit up with electronic weapons, white jackets, fencing masks, and body cords for touch point measuring.

Coach Aly Khamis, an internationally acclaimed fencer originally from Egypt, runs the club with a gentle hand. He guides with a friendly tone, occasionally laying down the law with the reminder, “On strip! On strip! Let’s fence!”

Students learn how to be agile, strategic, aggressive and defensive at all the right times. Many parents say that because of the individual nature of fencing, combined with the club’s camaraderie, it’s the best sporting fit for their children.

“I just love it!” said 16-yearold Berkley Burney, who drives to North Texas Fencing Alliance three nights a week from Weatherford. “I love the club; the people are awesome.I started as a beginner at a tournament, and I thought, ‘I’m good at this and I’m going to go to the Olympics one day with it!’”

Contact: Info@northtexasfencing or 817-946-1720

Blast Off

Nathan McAfee’s Rocketry Club is really taking off. The fifth-grade Glen Oaks Elementary School science teacher started the club for fourth- and fifth-graders after his students were inspired by the book-turned-movie “Rocket Boys.”

The enthusiasm grew and the after-school rockets began to fly. More people began to notice, and the list of rocketeers grew.

During the program’s first year, there were more than 100 people participating in the every-other-Friday challenges.Students both young and old, neighbors, parents and fellow teachers were showing up to learn and see what flies.

McAfee creates challenges for each rocket launch session. His most recent challenge was to put a raw egg in the cone of a rocket, blast off the rocket, and have it come down within 25 seconds – without breaking the egg.

“It’s a really fun family event,” he says. “Kids learn science and math and take pride in coming up with solutions to the challenge – and none of it is for a grade!”

Contact:, nmcafee or 469-302-6400


No, it’s not an Aussie calling for his restaurant tab. It’s what you’ll hear at Chess Club gatherings at Finch, Glen Oaks, Malvern, Walker and Webb elementary schools, Faubion and Scott Johnson middle schools and McKinney high schools.

Studying the classic checkerboard pattern with single-minded intensity, kids learn the rules and strategies behind this ancient board game. The clubs sprang up due to several dedicated adults. Older McKinney residents from a local senior center have become Mentors, and mothers Susan Berger and Rana Paswan have championed the cause.

There are open chess play sessions at the McKinney Performing Arts Center each week, and monthly tournaments are scheduled as well. Each school has weekly club meetings so members can play chess with each other to build skills, and they log on to to keep a virtual game going.

“I started the club last year when my son wanted one at Walker Elementary,” Berger explains. “We received an overwhelming response and started meeting once a week.”

The rest is history. Berger and other volunteers turned to the Chess for Youth program that provides free chess equipment and United States Chess Federation membership for underprivileged students. Now kids across McKinney are calling out terms such as, “Queen to E4,” “Check,” and, of course, “Checkmate!”

Contact: or 214-620-0527

Giddy Up

Storybook Ranch is the stuff horse dreams are made of. The west McKinney enclave has horses, trails, an Old West town, tack, teachers and that sweet smell of hay-laden barns. Riders can saddle up and take lessons or head out on a trail ride. Students learn how to take care of horses and the gear for the noble steeds.

On Custer Road, near Stonebridge Drive, more than 60 acres and 7 miles of trails beckon with the promise of open space. “This is a great place,” says Wayne Kirk, president of the affiliated River Ranch Educational Charities. “We do after-school lessons, trail ride lessons, a cool Ghost Ranch at Halloween, and all sorts of things.”

Kirk emphasizes that the ranch helps develop a work ethic in kids and provides Exceptional support for individuals with special needs.

In the ranch’s Old West Town, often seen on the TV show “Walker, Texas Ranger,” children and adults sample life during the times of wooden sidewalks, saloons, hitching posts, dusty boots and polite hat tippin’.

There are even staged gunfights to entertain visitors. Kids of all ages can join in on the rides, the tours, a petting zoo and special holiday events.“Y’all come on out!” Kirk says.

Contact: or 972-369-0874

Imagine It, Create It

Legos can take an imaginative young mind from idea to castle, and Bricks 4 Kidz Creativity Center adds fun instruction to the process.

This hands-on facility starts with preschoolers and the larger Duplo blocks, moving up to older kids and Legos, ultimately adding pulleys, levers, gears and even small engines.The classes and work sessions let kids do their thing.

“Everyone has a lot of fun here,” said owner Rich Zdrojewski. “It’s really great to watch kids grow and develop – when preschoolers first come, they’re in a Mommy and Me class using the large Duplo bricks. Within a few months, they’re much more independent.”

As the kids get older, the classes get even more intense. Kids can move up to classes that involve gears, robotics, model-building and computer programming.

The Bricks 4 Kidz center opened just over a year ago, and it’s already a haven for creative minds. Parents and kids alike enjoy seeing what they can do.

Contact: or 972-540-6020

For more information about things to do after school, visit the Community Calendar on


About the author: Katherine Ponder is a freelance writer and marketer who loves living in Collin County and enjoys gardening.