I know your kids are still praying for the next snow day. As a full-time working mom of three school-aged children, I need to get moving on making plans for the summer. No, not fun vacation plans—who-is-watching-the-kids plans. My husband and I have tried a few different strategies over the past few years and settled on a summer nanny and a couple of weeks of camp for each kid to “shake things up.” This plan has worked well for us. Using summer camps for my oldest while the two younger ones were still in daycare was somewhat manageable. As the boys entered school and had summers off, we found it too difficult to use summer camps as childcare given our kids’ ages and different interests. The logistics were overwhelming—locations all over Charlotte, different start and end times, etc. Now, to keep us all straight, I developed a cool color-coded spreadsheet which prompts my husband to kiddingly throw an “L” up on his forehead every time he sees me working on it.
Whether you decide to go nanny, camps or a combination of both, don’t wait. Just like everything the good ones go first. Here are a few “best practices” to help you plan your summer.
* How do you find a good nanny? Don’t look too far. Try your kid’s school. We have been very lucky to have found a great nanny who is a kindergarten teacher at our school. It is a great fit for a teacher who wants to work a bit over the summer. I know that folks sometimes post jobs at local colleges; I didn’t find much luck with that. We also had luck getting good contacts through friends (or their friends) with college-aged kids looking for summer jobs. Both the teacher and college student worked well but I would say that the teacher option is easier because they already have a handle on managing kids, keeping them busy, etc. The college student required more instruction and direction—essentially more work on my part.
* Camp as childcare v. summer enrichment. If summer camp is more an enrichment opportunity for your kids or a complement to a nanny—your primary consideration is probably working around potential vacation plans. But, if you need childcare, be aware that many camps run a half day or 9a-4p—not quite business hours. The good news is that many camps help out by providing pre-care and post-care. The bad news is that this care can run an extra $25-$80/week. The Y day camps seem to be geared more to help working parents based on the hours and they are less expensive compared to other camps in the area. Girl Scouts also have full-day camps as well—not sure about Boy Scouts.
* How do I find out about camps? If camp brochures aren’t already arriving in your mailbox, get online and start pulling together information. Personally, word-of-mouth has served me well. Not only endorsements from parents, but the kids who attended camp too. We’ve had great experiences at Children’s Theatre, Providence Day, Inner Peaks and Y Sports Camps. If your child is interested in sports, ask his/her coach or league manager for recommendations. For good old-fashioned summer camp, more than a few moms have mentioned Camp Whip Poor Will. All the big sports places—Sports Connection, Velocity, etc.—have camps. The Charlotte Observer will be running a special Summer Camp insert in mid-to-late February—so watch out for that. Other organizations that run summer camps include Discovery Place, Queens College, UNCC and Country Day. There is a camp for everyone and every interest.
* Don’t put off registering. Popular camps fill up fast, e.g. Children’s Theatre, Providence Day, Harris Y specialty camps. That said, check out the fees and refund policy if your summer plans still up in the air—they vary quite a bit. If your child wants to attend with a friend, don’t be timid about prompting the other parent to get their registration in on time and certainly don’t wait to put yours in or you may miss out.
* Search out bargains. Talk about sticker shock! Camps can be expensive—especially if you are looking for several weeks at a time, adding pre/post care, etc. This is another reason we chose a nanny. With three kids, the nanny gives us more flexibility for less than or equal to the cost of sending the 3 of them to camp each week. Several churches in the area offer Vacation Bible School programs. VBS is relatively inexpensive and, from first-hand experience, a fun week—especially for kids 3rd grade and younger. We’ve had good experiences (as have friends) with Harris Y camps—especially the sports camps. Again, the Y camps are less expensive and have long hours which helps if you need to register for several weeks over the summer.
* They don’t always know what’s best for them. Each summer my oldest and youngest know exactly what they want to do. My middle guy—not so much. And, so it goes…Mom, “Do you want to camp?” Son, “No.” Mom, “Hey, what about this cool lacrosse camp?” Son, “No.” A few more suggestions follow. He and I have had this conversation for the past 3 summers. It ends with me declaring, “Well then here is what I am signing you up for,” and him shrugging indifferently. When the time comes, he always loves camps and has a great time. If you know your children are interested in something. Sign ‘em up!
Have a smooth, well organized summer!