Summertime means hazy days, backyard cookouts, and a well-deserved break from preschool or grade school for the kids. But if you’re a working parent, the unstructured days of summer also mean that you’ve got to find childcare. The many choices range from summer day camps, to hiring a summer nanny, to getting a teenage neighbor to babysit your child. As many structured summer programs only run for a few weeks at a time, you sometimes need to build a patchwork of these solutions to have care for your child all summer.
When planning summer care for your child, it helps to first do an assessment of your needs. Since most camp hours mirror a long school day, as opposed to an average 9-5 workday, you need to figure out whether you’ll need before and after camp care, and then weed out camps that don’t offer that service. If you work odd hours, or don’t work every weekday, you might want to consider a babysitter or a live-in au pair for the summer that could offer more flexibility.
You should also spend some time thinking about what you are looking for in a summer program. Do you want your child to have a structured program focusing on one area (e.g., academics, the arts, swimming), or do you think that summer childcare is all about having fun and field trips? Is your most important concern having your childcare needs covered, or does your job offer the flexibility you need to pick your child up early from a camp you really want her to attend? Do you need care for the entire summer, or are you planning a vacation? Consider all of these variables before you make plans.
Christopher A. Thurber, PhD, one of the authors of The Summer Camp Handbook, says that parents should ask their friends, the parents of their child’s friends, and others in the community about the quality of the local day camps. He also said that parents should be aware of some common red flags.
“If there’s been a lot of turnover in the directorship of the camp or if all of the staff is new, that’s a red flag," he says. It’s also a problem if the counselors don’t speak English fluently. “A lot of camps are hiring international staff. If you don’t understand my child, I don’t want to send my child to your camp,” Thurber says.
Nancy Randall, a single mother of a first grader in Northern New Jersey said that to find the best camp for your children, you need to listen to them.
“Don't assume that something you liked as a kid is going to be something they like. Make sure that the programs you are thinking about for your child are activities that they are physically and emotionally ready for, and something they enjoy. Talk to them about it."
Randall also suggested talking to your employer about reworking your office hours in the summer if your child’s camp ends earlier than your workday.
“For two or three weeks this summer I was only able to find programs that run from 9 to 4 in the afternoon. I got permission from my boss for those weeks to work through lunch and charge one hour per day of vacation time which permits me to leave the office at 3:30. I am able then to pick up my son right at 4 pm. I made this arrangement with my company in April so everyone had plenty of time to plan for my short days. You have to start this planning process early.”
If your child is younger or you would prefer to have your child cared for in your home, or among friends, you’ll probably want to get a summer nanny or share a nanny with another family. Along those lines, arranging a summertime babysitting coop among parents who work unusual or part-time hours may also be a good solution.
Jennifer Purrenhage of suburban Chicago has a four-year-old and an infant. She hired a summer nanny to ease the transition for her children as her husband was just returning to work after paternity leave.