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Ain't No Cure for the Summer Camp Blues

By Liz Snyder

Well here's a twist, a guest blogger inviting a guest blogger; in this case my wife, Liz. She was poring over the Fairfax County "Parktakes" brochure this weekend in frustration, trying the solve the summer day camp puzzle for our kids. Yes, in February, the summer camp issue looms. I told her it sounded like a perfect blog post. Being a writer and editor, she quickly plunked this out on the keyboard. Enjoy -- and comment! -- Mike

It's February--time to choose summer day camps. This is a logic puzzle worthy of its own game show. Picture it: An Alex-Trebek-style host stares at a nervous parent, who frantically tries to sort through all the summer camp options for the kids to the find single, Sudoku-like solution before the theme music stops.

Without a doubt, parents and kids these days are lucky, because so many summer camps are offered. Not interested in the traditional soccer and baseball camps? Then try historical adventures, scuba diving, cartooning, or reporting. Kids can enjoy a new activity each week.

But read the fine print. Notice the dead zone? That's the first week after school finishes in June plus the last two weeks in August. Few camps operate then. A good time for vacation? Sure, but for many families, that will last just one week.

Then we have the kindergartner's dilemma. Most camps--and their "after-care" programs--are for ages 6 and up. I got excited when one brochure promised activities for children entering kindergarten. Scrolling down the list, though, revealed that only half-day camps were available for rising kindergarteners, and just one full-day camp allowed rising first-graders.

Closely related is the age-group challenge. Naturally, camps often divide children by age. But what if one of your kids is in the 6-8 age group and the other is in the 9-12 age group? They cannot necessarily go to the same program because some camps alternate--one age group one week, a different age group the next.

Last comes the geography test. Although terrific camps are available, they can be 30 or 40 minutes away, even for those of us who don't live in the distant exurbs. That kind of trip may not be practical every day, especially not if it conflicts with a parent's commute to work.

So, parents, are you up to the challenge? How do you make it work?

By Mike Snyder |  February 5, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers
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My daughter won't be starting summer camps for another two days. But we have anticipated the school/summer camp gap. We will take one week vacation during the month of August to cover the gap. And we currently go to a day care that will take kids for the gap weeks. You pay the same price as the current full time clients but for just the weeks you need. Of course I don't think it is the most interesting weeks for your kid but for two weeks, they can play big sister/ brother to the little ones. I think I would make an effort to leave work early at least two days a week during those times. My day care will also take them for random inservice days too.

Posted by: foamgnome | February 5, 2008 7:25 AM | Report abuse

I'm a little confused by this (and maybe a little out of touch to how people raise kids today). Is summer camp the new summer "daycare" solution? Do parents by and large send their kids to one camp after another through the whole summer? Do kids like this?

When my boys were younger, they had camp for one or two weeks every summer, and we would go on vacation for another week or so. For the rest of the summer, I generally hired a college student to watch the kids at home, ferry them to the pool, and generally let them enjoy some unstructured time in their otherwise way too busy lives. And that solution was definitely not any more expensive than it would have been to send the kids to camp for the whole summer.

Posted by: jen | February 5, 2008 8:13 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, this is enough to drive you crazy. Especially when you have more than one kid. I only have one child who is day camp age and the others are in daycare. But in February, I don't know when daycare will close for vacation but I've got to decide now about daycamps for the older one if I want to get the camps I want or really take my chances later, either with camp availability at all or for the more economical options. In Montgomery County, I also noticed last year that there were few all day options for rising kindergarteners. It looks better for rising 1st graders. Talking about the gap at the end of the summer, there can be an even bigger gap if your child goes to a school not following the public school schedule. It seems like you should make your best guess about summer plans and hope that the programs you choose have a good refund policy just in case.

Posted by: Rockville Mom | February 5, 2008 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Mom was a nursery school teacher (closed in the summers) when I was growing up, so every year, the van was packed on the last day of school and the 3 kids (totaling 6 years apart) plus Mom would spend the rest of the summer living in our huge canvas tent in a campground, with Dad driving 3+ hours up to us every weekend. That's how I knew it was Friday or Sunday.

We went to the beach on sunny days and played cards and games under the canopy on yucky days (or more often, played in the mud and the rain and went searching for tree frogs).

I am still a ways off of having kids, and am completely bummed that this will not be an option for me -- I have to work to pay my college loans!

But what a childhood!
We came back in time to go clothes and grocery shopping before school started.

Posted by: Luckier than I knew | February 5, 2008 8:36 AM | Report abuse

To respond to Jen, for some parents, summer camp is their childcare for the summer so having a full summer's worth of coverage is necessary with hours that match your work schedule. And, it is challenging to find that. The YMCA near me in Bethesda is one of the few camps I've found that starts right after school ends and goes until it starts again. They also have before and after care for parents who need coverage beyond the 9-3:30 core hours. There's also a gymnastics camp, Silver Stars in Silver Spring, that has 1-week sessions all summer long, even the week the public schools start and most private schools are still out.

For 2 summers, I had to find coverage for the bulk of the summer for my daughter (my son was still in daycare). She did 9 weeks of camp and we took a 1 week vacation. It was a little hard on her. Although she was at the Y for most of it, every 2 weeks the session would change so it would be new activities, new kids. There aren't a lot of camps where your child can be with the same group of kids and counselors for more than 2 weeks and I think that lack of consistency can be very hard, particularly for younger kids.

Now, we have a nanny so theoretically don't need camp at all but I don't think it's practical for them to sit home with her for 10 weeks. In our neighborhood the kids either go to camp, on vacation with family, or do swim club at the pools. So, kids aren't just hanging around the neighborhood for impromptu play opportunities.

So my kids will go to camps for part of the summer, we'll take a vacation for a week and then they will be home for a few weeks each. Because I have the nanny, I can take advantage of some of the half day camps for rising kindergarteners, which I could not do before. That will save us some money. All of these camps also can be incredibly expensive!!

Posted by: Pt Fed Mof2 | February 5, 2008 8:39 AM | Report abuse

I'm a SAHM so the gap isn't an issue for me. I am interested however, in hearing afrom others about how they evaluate these camps? Are there special licensing requirements for camps? Do the counselors have to be trained in CPR? Is there a seal of approval a camp can get? They all look like a great deal of fun but I'm concerned about saftey especially with the more "campy" camps (canoeing, horseback riding, swimming in the lake etc...). We are doing a couple of camps this summer for fun, but I honestly don't know how to sort out the good from the bad? I'd love to hear from the veterans.

Posted by: Moxiemom | February 5, 2008 9:03 AM | Report abuse

This year I will be the director of a pre-school day camp, so 3 of my girls will be there with me. My oldest will have summer dance for a week or 2 and I will need to hire someone to watch the baby.

This is the first year we will have a completely structured summer. I am excited to be back at work, but I am uneasy.

Posted by: Momof5 | February 5, 2008 9:06 AM | Report abuse

I guess I have it easier than I thought! I was going to moan and groan, but reading these posts so far, I guess I won't.

My kids after school care offers a summer camp program that starts the day after school lets out and ends the dya before school begins. They have 2 field trips a week - one to a pool, the other a 'special' trip. The other days they have scheduled activities throughout the day. So, technically, I'm set. I sign them up for the weeks I want them to go and I'm done.

But, since my oldest has been going there for 6 years now, he is a bit bored by it. And my youngest has heard about other camps as well.

Last year, in addition to this summer camp, my daughter went to Girl Scout Day Camp, my son went to Cub Scout Day Camp.

This year, daughter will go to GS camp again, as well as a week of gymnastics. Son will go to Scuba Camp and Boy Scout Sleep Away Camp (1st time at a sleep away!). And we have a week of vacation planned as well.

What makes it crazy for me is that the daycare needs to know how many, and which weeks we will needs in January! We can make changes through May, but after that we are committed. The gymnastics camp hasn't even posted there summer classes yet.

But, yes, since we both have to work, the whole summer needs to be planned way in advance.

Posted by: prarie dog | February 5, 2008 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Over the years my kids have gone to Y-camps, Mont Co camps, with some time away with the grandparents (1 week) and on vacation (1 week), but this takes a toll on them. they want to have more time to swim during the day and more free time. This year they will go to a day camp together for 4 weeks, then with grandparents and vacations, I'll only have 3 weeks left. One poster mentioned a college student -- I would love to find a responsible college student. Other than calling local colleges to check out what they have, is there any other resource that anyone knows out there? Thanks and good luck!

Posted by: Mom of 13 and 9 yo | February 5, 2008 9:19 AM | Report abuse

I don't have any experience as a parent but Moxiemom, I was a camp counsellor/director for years in a minimum-one-month-sleepaway-camp with a pretty intense tripping program (5 days in a provincial park, no roads, no phones at that time), and director of a day camp for two years.

This is Canadian, older info but here's the inside scoop from then:

For camps that involve overnight stays or watersports or tripping or anything like that, first look for accreditation. I believe the ACA does that down there, but there might be separate daycamp accreditation groups too. That is the ABSOLUTE MINIMUM that you should look for.

Second call the camp and find out what their staff requirements, hiring practices, and ratios are.

At my sleepaway camp, first aid & CPR was required for all staff; all waterfront staff (and 75% of staff overall) had to have the minimum livesaving standard (at that time, Bronze Cross) and 50% had to have the next standard (NLS designation). Our camp had a ratio of 1 counsellor per 6 campers, but when you added in junior (under 18) counsellors and CITs (16) it was closer to 1:4. That was unusual but I would look for a low ratio.

At my day camp the ratio was 1:12 (inner city free arts/sports camp), but the environment was much, much more controlled. Not to mention in the city. Again all staff had to pass first aid training at the start of the summer.

In both cases staff were trained for one week prior to camp opening, there were formal policies for discipline, and fairly extensive guidelines for anything like tripping, field trips, etc.

Ask the director where s/he hires students from. If it's primarily high school aged students, that will be different experience than if it's primarily college aged students, etc. Expect that they will have been screened via police search or whatever; if not, ask why not.

Ask about staff turnover. In my daycamp, it was fairly natural that the turnover would be higher, so about 1/4 of staff returned; at the sleepaway camp it was about 1/2.

Ask about any safety incidents and how they were handled, discipline policies, staff evaluation policies, and staff training. If any of the above are not in place (or they can't come up with a safety incident) I would not send my kid there.

I would also personally inspect the physical grounds of any camp I was sending my kid to that involved anything risky. I'd look for things to be well maintained, for there to be appropriate safety equipment around, etc. If there's a waterfront I would specifically ask how campers are supervised.

At my sleepaway camp the campers all knew that the ONE assured way to get sent home in disgrace (and no refund) was to set one TOE on the path to the lake without a counsellor. And it was patrolled at random hours in the night. Supervision is important too of course but how a camp approaches its waterfront is a big deal as campers do go to the bathroom, occasionally sneak out at night, etc.

For tripping, there should be a minimum of two staff on any trips. You should ask how staff and campers are trained for trips (campers should not be going out on trips if they don't have basic camping, first aid, swimming, and canoe skills or whatever they need for that trip). At my camp it was a progression - everyone had to step through doing/supervising 1 overnight, 2 night trip near camp, 3 night trip further away, etc.

Anything "special" a camp does should also have clear progressions, IMO. Both staff and campers need to know what they're doing before they do it.

Any camp that puts kids together by age and makes them all do the same stuff regardless of ability (unless it's art or history or something) would make me nervous, because they are not paying attention to capability.
For a daycamp I'd ask around the parent-gossip-line about it. For a sleepaway camp I would ask directly for references or a list of parents in my area, and talk to them.

As a final "line of defence" I would roleplay with my child around how to handle anything like... getting lost, being uncomfortable with something physical, etc. Camp can be a great, great experience in trying one's wings but kids need not to be just dropped off, goodbye, have fun. It's not like a school that way.

Sorry for the novel eek.

Posted by: Shandra | February 5, 2008 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Argh, we just had to do this ourselves. It's just completely wrong for me of all people to be planning stuff out 6-8 months ahead of time, but my girl's school ran their camp registration 2 weeks ago, so we needed to decide what we were going to do. She has done that every summer so far (Montessori, they don't close for the summer), which has been very, very easy. But last year, her cousin went to a camp-camp, with trees and swimming twice a day and crafts and all that, and I decided that's what I wanted for her.

We had it fairly easy. I knew what camp, and there was only a one-week gap between end of camp and start of school. But it just seems completely wrong even to be thinking about this this early. It was definitely fun calling my dad -- even a worse planner than me -- and asking him if we can come visit for that week in August after camp ends and before school begins. :-) Now we just have to hope they don't rewrite the bus routes in a way that makes life REALLY inconvenient.

Posted by: Laura | February 5, 2008 9:31 AM | Report abuse

For the person looking for college students I used to use a web site called Student Sitters that works through the local colleges (I am in Northern VA, so I don't know about Mont. Co.). The problem with College students is that College starts before the elementary schools so you have problems at the end of the summer.

One other thing I did when mine was younger was did a mini-camp with other friend for that week before camps start. Between the four parents (the other couple had 2 kids) three of us took off one day and one took off two days. This was easier on the parents and the kids just got to hang out for a week.

Posted by: mom_of_1 | February 5, 2008 9:41 AM | Report abuse

I went to 2 week sleep away summer camp from 7-17 and then worked there after that. I cannot wait until I have a girl to send away there.

re:certification. I would never send my child to any sleepaway camp not certified by the ACA. The camp I went to (in GA) always got a 99% rating from the ACA, we were missing that last point because we are not handicapped accessible. But they inspect the food, water source, certifications, quality of programming etc.

as for finding a college student. look on craigslist, I found all my babysitting jobs that way in college. Parents would sceen me and then decide if I was the right person for their family. It helped that I had a lot of expierence and am an EMT to boot but it was a pretty easy process on both sides

Posted by: campingbarbie | February 5, 2008 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Also, on the topic of structured summers, this is one of the reasons I started looking for alternative camps.

The main summer camp my kids go to, is the same place they go for afterschool care. It's a good program, they have planned activities, field trips. But, there is a lot of unstructured time. In my opinion, this is both good and bad.

Good, because it sort of mimicks playing with friends all day. They are outside, riding bikes, playing in the sprinkler, tag, ball. Inside, quiet time, board games, movies (esp on rainy days). All with friends they know through school and the neighborhood.

Bad, because by the end of summer, it does get a bit boring for them. So, I decided to spice it up a bit with different camps thrown in throught the summer. They like the change, and are also excited to get back to the 'main' camp to see their friends again.

Posted by: prarie dog | February 5, 2008 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Luckily the daycare for our younger child only closes one week--the week before labor day, so that is our vacation week.

For the older child we have several options in Fairfax--RecPAC (through parks and recs covers the typical school day times, can sign up by the week) is a very good program, as is the Summer SACC program, which is a full working day. And both are extremely affordable.

Girl Scout camps are also a really good deal--and several have buses, or you can find other parents to carpool with if the are not as convenient in location. Plus the sleepaway camps are great. Church camp is also great (and if you're a churchgoer, look for Vacation Bible School options, which I know at least at our church falls in one of those gap weeks).

And finally, this year, instead of RecPAC for the "non-camp" weeks, we are hiring our usual teenage babysitter (who we love) to take care of our older child. I know she's out of school the same weeks, and they will go to the pool and do other fun stuff. Allowing our daughter to have much more of a "summer off" than she's ever been able to have before. And the sitter will be able to do her own camps and summer activities (the weeks our daughter is going to camps etc) while still making some money in the summer.

Even if you have other options for the rest of the summer, think about finding a sitter you trust to help fill those gap weeks. It can be a benefit to both sides.

Posted by: Mom2-2 | February 5, 2008 9:50 AM | Report abuse

DD will go to the camp that meets at her elementary school. She goes there now after school until I can pick her up.

She will know the staff and a majority of students. She likes the activities and they do more in the summer and do field trips. The big difference we will not have the school bus in the morning but they serve breakfast.

We will spend about a week at the beach and I may be able to take some Fridays off to go our pool. I should be able to cover the two inservice days I will take one off and one send her to my work day care. They also take field trips for the above 6 crowd mostly to the Smithsonian museums.

Posted by: shdd | February 5, 2008 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Shandra - thank you so much. That is the most valuable info. I've heard on this. It seems around here that people just sign up and drop their kids, I guess based on word of mouth. You have given me a lot to work with!

RE: church camps - I know a number of people who simply send their kids to Vacation Bible School after Vacation Bible School all summer. They are free and plentiful. I'm not saying its right, I'm just sharing the anecdote.

Posted by: Moxiemom | February 5, 2008 10:11 AM | Report abuse

moxiemome: That is pretty funny about the vacation bible school. Our diocese has a summer camp. It is not free. It is a sleep away camp for 1-2 weeks. I think it costs around $500-800 depending how long you stay. The only catch it is divided into age groups. So you can't ship all your kids off for a two week period (unless you have kids very close in age). That seems like parental heaven to have two weeks sans kids!!!

Posted by: foamgnome | February 5, 2008 10:31 AM | Report abuse

This isn't something our family has to deal wtih. However, I believe that if it was an issue, I would hire an older high school or college student so that my kids can do exactly what they do now during the summer - play or hang at home; spend time with their friends; go to the pool, the park, the library, different goings-on in our town; play on the summer t/soft/base-ball team. I don't understand the emphasis and worry on making sure your child is stimulated every second of the summer. Let them be a kid for 2 1/2 months.

Oh, and shouldn't this be an On Balance column?

Posted by: SAHM | February 5, 2008 10:52 AM | Report abuse

This just became an issue for us last year when my elementary aged daughter no longer had daycare as her default summer care. I waited too long (I had NO IDEA that registration started in February!) and had to just take what I could find--a mish-mash of one-week camps at a local college. This year I'm more on top of things. I just sent in the registration for four weeks of camp (again, at the local college--turns out she loved the courses, and this year we registered early enough that I'm hoping we get our first picks) and we're planning two weeks at a more traditional day camp (swimming, crafts, tennis, more swimming, some field trips). That one is up in the air--I discovered over the weekend that registration has been opened for a few weeks already, so I'm dropping off our registration tonight and hoping that there are spots left. It's crazy how fast these camps fill up.

Our bigger problem is our son. He gets extended year school services for autism, but there are only half days in the summer, and there are no camps or even daycares that can take him. My husband works nights and normally sleeps during the school day. Last year we weren't able to find a solution, so we ended up with a horrible schedule where my husband would sleep from 9:00 to noon, get up to get our son from school, take care of him until I got home from work, then sleep for another few hours until it was time for him to leave for work. Not a very relaxing summer!

And we still scramble for care during the dead weeks at the end of August. I generally take the partial week in June when school ends as vacation time, then we go camping for a week at the beginning of August, but for those last two weeks in August we cobble together care wherever we can find it--grandparents, aunts, taking more vacation days ourselves, and just not sleeping.

Posted by: Sarah | February 5, 2008 11:33 AM | Report abuse

to SAHM:
If there is not a SAHM in the household, it's not about "making sure your child is stimulated every second of the summer". It's about finding a safe, fun place for your children to go when you are at work.

The thing for me is, I'm not comfortable about having a high school kid watching my my kids all summer. Driving them from place to place? Yikes! And, I can see the teenager getting a lazy and not caring that my kids watch tv most or play video games most of the day. Also, where are this teenagers friends? Are they coming to my house? Are they meeting up at the pool? Of course, you have to specifically address all these issue up front, but how do you know if they are being truthful?

Posted by: prarie dog | February 5, 2008 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Tsk, tsk,tsk -- the trials and tribulations of conspicuous consumption. Really -- why not pack them up and ship them to the hills and hollows of Appalachia where they will see real poverty. Give them a hammer and nails and let them fix up a home for people too poor to eat a decent meal. Make them work in a shelter (for homeless or battered women or animals, makes no difference) to see how the other half lives. I am so sick of you super rich spoiled wretches I could puke. Summer camp worries ...Jeez, give me a break.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 5, 2008 2:00 PM | Report abuse

I think there are plenty of choices that you can find one to work with what you need.

I mostly caution against OVER scheduling- they need just downtime to do NOTHING. While I am in favor of a year round school system with longer frequent breaks, with the system we mostly have now, they NEED time to just be and settle and play.

Specially cuz when they get older (and I'm talking middle school) they will have so many summer projects to do for the next year that it will just be more work and less fun.

Posted by: Liz D | February 5, 2008 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Well, I wouldn't put it quite (but almost) like the 2:00 pm commenter...but you have to admit this is a pretty "privileged" problem.

Posted by: Me | February 5, 2008 2:18 PM | Report abuse

"I'm not comfortable about having a high school kid watching my my kids all summer. Driving them from place to place? Yikes! And, I can see the teenager getting a lazy and not caring that my kids watch tv most or play video games most of the day. Also, where are this teenagers friends? Are they coming to my house? Are they meeting up at the pool? Of course, you have to specifically address all these issue up front, but how do you know if they are being truthful?"

The same way you know if anyone who cares for your kids is being truthful. You get references and hire teens/young adults who have proven that they're responsible. You check up on them from time to time. You talk to your kids about what's going on (we're talking about elementary school aged children, not babies.) I see that you have a really wonderful view of teens - are you going to think the same thing about your kids when they're that age? That they're cheating, lying, lazy slobs?

And if it's not about making sure they're stimulated, why is there so much emphasis on what the activities are at these camps? Safe and fun can mean playing in the backyard with a responsible person overseeing. Walking to the park. Taking the bus to the library. But no.....those things won't get your child into Harvard, so you must find the situation with the most amount of enrichment and stimulation possible.

Posted by: SAHM | February 5, 2008 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Well, I wouldn't put it quite (but almost) like the 2:00 pm commenter...but you have to admit this is a pretty "privileged" problem.

Posted by: Me | February 5, 2008 02:18 PM

So those parents who have elementary aged children who are actually needing daycare (which is what the full day camps are as well) are "privileged" (this includes single as well as married parents, and parents at all levels of the economic spectrum)?

Someone mentioned the SACC program which for you non - Fairfax county people stands for School Aged Child Care, notice the name. This isn't just about making sure your child is getting ready for Harvard (though I am sure there are some parents who do use some summer camps that way) It is about having your child safe and having fun in the summer when there is no school.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 5, 2008 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Yes, people are thinking about camps here too. And my DH doesn't like to plan ahead, so it's me who finds everything. And this year DS is the magic age of 6, so more options for him, more headaches for me.

The not yet 3 YO is my big issue. Where he is now, the director told me they have a program, but the kids need to be potty trained. He'll be 3 in May, and he should be trained by then, but who knows, and I think it's a lot of pressure to sign him up NOW thinking he will be. *sigh*. But then I'm thinking that maybe he will have to be for any other program? Ack.

It's not his fault he was born right before summer - most of his friends will almost be turning four - or will at least be 3 1/2 and he'll just be turning 3. We're trying, but...
Thankfully we've decided to keep the au pair for another year...

Posted by: atlmom | February 5, 2008 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Um no, it's not a privileged few problem, summer camp.

Sure there are expensive camps - the sleepaway one I worked at sort of fell in that category, but now that I pay for full-time daycare, it's actually looking cheap in comparison.

The downtown daycamp I worked in was specifically set up because working-class and working-poor parents in the area had nowhere to send their kids while they worked in the summer. (It cost $30/wk, which didn't come close to covering costs - it was funded through a grants programme.)

If I remember right, the original funding proposal came about because an 8 yr old had been left at home and burned herself terribly.

Finding care in the summer for school aged kids can be really hard.

Posted by: Shandra | February 5, 2008 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Well, if kids are such an absolute burden and you can't wait to get them into pre-K at age 2, why the hell do you have them in the first place? Didn't think about that before they were born, did you? Somebody has to take care of them. Somebody has to work to feed and clothe them. I'm all for the breeders/achievers system. Those that want kids can stay home and take care of them. Those that don't can work 24/7 and it wouldn't hurt anybody.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 5, 2008 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Having a bad day, 03:03 PM?

Want to know who mostly accessed that camp? Single mothers, who never thought that they would be sole support for their kids.

Of course if you're a mother who works, you suck for looking for daycare or daycamps. If you're a mother whose husband works but you don't, you're a sponge. If you're a single mum who makes close to minimum wage, you suck for needing summer programmes and you suck for not having worked & planned better. And if you are a single mum on welfare because it's hard to find daycare, you are the epitome of evil.

So basically, no one should have kids unless they have $500,000k in the bank. Except then you're a trust fund brat seeking to reproduce for narcissistic reasons.

Posted by: Shandra | February 5, 2008 3:08 PM | Report abuse

I went to day camp until 5th grade, and my parents sent me to one camp for the whole summer (YMCA or Girl Scout). They had 4 2-week sessions over the summer, and we did pretty much the same thing in each session, so it got fairly boring for me, especially during the third summer at the same camp.

In addition to safety issues, you should ask where your money is going. When I worked at the NVJCC camp I got frustrated with their refusal to spend money on the younger kids, with whom I worked. We figured out that, given the cost of the camp, it took maybe 6 kids out of the 14 in our group to pay counselor salaries, arts and crafts supplies, wear and tear on sports equipment, facilities, and specialist counselors. That left about 8 kids who were paying for camp at a non-profit organization, whose money we couldn't account for. Still, they would only send us on field trips to free places, wouldn't bus us to a playground, and were cheap with arts and crafts materials. When we asked the director where the money was going, she told us that it paid for the senior citizens' programs, because they would be offended if they were asked to pay for it. She also said that it was standard procedure at JCC's to use the really expensive children's programming to pay for the (free, or nearly so) senior citizen programming. With all due respect to the senior citizens, it's really rotten to cheap out on the kids, and "standard procedure" doesn't make it right. This was 15 years ago, and it might have changed, but still, I would recommend checking it out.

On the plus side, the JCC had full-day camp for rising kindergartners.

Posted by: Susie | February 5, 2008 3:16 PM | Report abuse

If you're a mom, there is most likely a sperm donor somewhere nearby and he can help support the kid. Ever hear of child support? Ever hear of being married to produce children in the first place?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 5, 2008 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Shandra way to go!

This is a pretty big issue for those who work. Luckily this summer I have a rising 1st grader and a rising third grader so it's a bit easier to find camps for both that will do extended care. Sure, I wish that I could provide my kids with the carefree summers I remember but I can't. And if you ask my kids, they love their suimmer camps and are already excitedly talking to their friends about who will go to which camps.

Posted by: montgomery village md mom | February 5, 2008 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Guess I am old...way back when I was a kid, we spend the summer at the pool or on our bikes with the neighborhood kids. Summer camp was where the rich kids went. I do know things of course have changed, wish the kids today could enjoy summertime the way we did back in the "old days".

Posted by: Me | February 5, 2008 3:38 PM | Report abuse

"But no.....those things won't get your child into Harvard, so you must find the situation with the most amount of enrichment and stimulation possible."

Wouldn't it be nice if we could all bus to the library, walk to the park, lollygag around all summer long? But we can't, some of us need the extra paycheck and can't take the summer off.

I was just expressing my concern about hiring a teenager for the summer. You are a SAHM, so you don't have the need to look for summer plans. So I thought maybe I'd share some information. As others have mentioned, day camps need certain certifications and licenses. Teenagers don't. Maybe that would work for older kids not quite ready to be on their own, but IMO, not for elementary kids.

The emphasis on activities in camps is so you can choose the one your child will enjoy the most. Not to get into Harvard. What a stupid thing to say.

If you think the best way to accomplish planning summer is to hire a teenager to watch your kids play in the back yard from 8-5, then fine. Do it.

Posted by: prarie dog | February 5, 2008 4:08 PM | Report abuse

3:03 is a troll. it is basically spouting the "daycare is evil" theme. my son loves his summer camp. interesting field trips. plenty of time to play pokemon with his friends. he has fun. i'm happy that he is happy. he's been going to the same summer camp for 4 summers. i'll stop when either i stop working or he complains about being too old.

Posted by: quark | February 5, 2008 5:06 PM | Report abuse

For those worried about hiring teenagers for the summer, please know that not all of them are lazy or novices. I made a tidy sum of money babysitting when I was a teenager. Babysitting was my business so I channeled part of my earnings back into the business by taking Red Cross classes in First Aid, CPR and lifesaving and purchasing craft supplies on a regular basis.

Yes, we went to the pool and the library and to the park to play. We made crafts 2 or 3 times a week. We volunteered for local community projects, put on plays, raced bikes, decorated the sidewalks, read books and ran through the sprinkler. They had chores to do at home, too, which I supervised. More often than not, the only issue with friends was the kids having friends over to play, which meant I was effectively babysitting 4-6 kids, not the 2 I was hired to care for.

A responsible high school or college student who really enjoys children could be a blessing to you and your family. Ask colleagues and neighbors for recommendations. Also, you can place an ad in the local college newspaper or contact the college if they have an early childhood education major (great baby-sitting candidates there!).

Posted by: E. Wallace | February 5, 2008 5:41 PM | Report abuse

To 03:17: It's really nice to think that a) your marriage (or marriages in general) will never break up or b) if they do, everyone pays support on time on budget, c) that even if people do pay support and work hard, they somehow won't need camps, whether low-cost or not.

Divorced families are especially at risk just because the financial situation often is rough - paying rent in two places costs more, even if there are support payments. I think you're being way, way off if you think that the "sperm donors" pay enough for their ex-wives to STAY HOME ALL SUMMER. Which in a lot, if not most, fields, would mean not working at all.

But my point was actually that NO women seem to be able to make the-likes-of-you happy. Staying home with the kids (therefore not needing camp) isn't ok (sponging off husbands), daycare isn't ok, camp isn't ok, so what is? Honestly.

(For the record, I was married 10 yrs before I gave birth to my first, and am still married.)

Posted by: Shandra | February 5, 2008 9:55 PM | Report abuse

I am the mother of 3 very happy, successful grown children.
I certainly agree that summer should be a time for a break from school. Camp is a wonderful experience and can offer many opportunities to learn something different than children learn in school. I also believe that parents should play an active role in their child's vacation time as well as in their educational time.
I recommend down time and camp time as part of the summer vacation curriculum.
Please visit for a fun, creative, fulfilling, learning, summer experience.

Posted by: Cecile Gumenick | February 6, 2008 1:33 AM | Report abuse

2:00 pm and 2:18 pm - this is a working poverty problem, actually. That is who takes their kids from vacation bible school to vacation bible school all summer long because it is free. Do you think that a mother who works all day can take off to care for her kids in the summer? Yes, some schools have camps here that will take your kids - sometimes only if they are in aftercare. But my problem is that there is a waiting list for after care at my school, and I can't even get ON this list until I succeed in getting a job (which I'm trying to do). So I need to get a job to get on the list, but I can't take that job until my kids have reliable day care.

Day care is the back breaker of most working-class families. I am not rich. We struggle month to month. But until I've been unemployed here, I've struggled every single summer to come up with what to do with my kids, pay for it, and get them there. Camps are what is available - that's what they call it, but really it is summer day care.

Yes, there are some expensive, chi-chi options around here. Picking among those things does look a lot like a luxury. Annoyingly, a lot of them cater to getting some entertainment during the summer rather than being a safe place to keep your kids 40 hours a week. But don't you mistake for one second what this is really about: we have to be at work, and somebody has to have our children. So quit with the sanctimonious nonsense. Working mothers is not a "rich" issue, it is a "keeping your head above water" issue.

Posted by: Bad Mommy | February 6, 2008 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Well, Bad Mommy, maybe you shouldn't have kids at all if they are such a burden.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 6, 2008 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Prairie Dog -

The original questions were how to find childcare for school aged kids during the summer. You poo poohed my idea, which would have solved all of the problems:

1) what to do with the kindergartner
2) how to find care for kids in different age brackets
3) geography
4) dead zone in August

If you're worried about any of those things, I suggest you read E. Wallace's post and not be so quick to judge teenagers.

Posted by: SAHM | February 6, 2008 1:16 PM | Report abuse

I was a single parent for approximately 9 years by no fault of my own. My husband and father to my children died of cance. Some people don't realize that things happen and some of us women are single by circumstances outside of our control.

As a result of being single mom, my kids did daycare, and after care, and lots of summer camps. Now that I am remarried, my younger son still wants to do summer camps because they are fun and engaging. Some of the camps mean that he has to commute to work with me as the camps are closer to my office than home. Other camps are sleep away which he loves. This son would not like staying at home all summer.

The other son only does one camp but is involved in church and school activities. Put in a couple trips to the grand parents, and he has a pretty busy summer too.

It isn't easy figuring this all out and I have most of our summer already planned. Yes I work, but my kids have great summers. We are all busy, but I make an effort to talk with them and spend time with them. I feel as close to my kids as ever.

Posted by: CBS | February 19, 2008 8:06 AM | Report abuse

Nice site!

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