“I refer to it as ‘the summer shuffle,’” says mother of two Jill Ferguson. Her daughter, Camryn, used to enjoy going to a home daycare over the summer. But now that she’s nine, Ferguson says, “she likes to be stimulated and on the go, and just isn’t content being in home care all the time.”
Daycare arrangements were probably simpler when your child was younger: You might have used a full-time nanny, home daycare or daycare centre. Preteens, though, may not be satisfied with care they consider “babyish” or “boring,” and many parents end up with a patchwork of plans to fill in the eight or nine weeks of summer vacation. Ferguson, for example, says her summer schedule works out this way: “We are lucky enough to have grandparents who are willing and able to take Camryn (and six-year-old Evan) for a couple of weeks, then we sign them up for a couple of day camps, and then my husband and I split the rest of the time by taking vacation time. We always take one week off together as a family.”
Summer shuffle indeed. And Ferguson says she worries that as Camryn gets older, she’ll be less willing to spend those two weeks with her grandparents and it will be more difficult to find camp programs that appeal to her.
Fortunately, communities are responding to this growing need. “More and more there is recognition that parents just don’t have the flexibility in their work situations to look after their kids all summer,” says Wayne Perkins, president and CEO of YMCA Canada. YMCAs have responded by creating a variety of camp programs, both day camps and residential, to help meet that need. More than 92,000 kids attended a YMCA camp in Canada last summer, according to Perkins.
At most of these community YMCAs, there is also the option of before and after care, so that when parents need to be at work for 8 a.m. and camp doesn’t start until 9, there are workers to supervise the kids.
“The majority — about 70 percent — are day camps held in either the YMCA or a school or other location right in the community,” says Perkins. Other programs bus children to conservation areas or other outdoor settings. YMCAs also have 28 residential camps across the country.
“Your child can do a week in one camp, maybe a sports camp, and the following week in a science camp, and then maybe two weeks in a residential camp and so on,” explains Perkins. Finding activities that interest children in this age group is often challenging, he adds, so having lots of variety helps parents match the program to their children.
Of course, YMCAs aren’t the only game in town. Day camp programs (the word camp is somehow more appealing to a preteen than daycare) may be offered through your town’s parks and recreation department, a nearby university or college, local museums and some school boards. Privately owned residential and day camps abound, including those offered by dance schools and riding academies, among others.
But all that comes at a price. “There are some good options, if you can afford them,” says Ferguson. “Camps can be very expensive, especially if you have more than one child and if you have to put them in for most of the summer.”
Some help with the cost may be available. Perkins points out that the YMCA “believes very strongly that all families should have access to these programs. More than 10 percent of the kids who attend our camps get financial assistance from us to do so. We have fundraising campaigns going on every year to raise money for this purpose.”
Still not finding what you need for your child? Perkins also suggests parents contact their local YMCA (or parks and rec or other camp provider) to let them know what their needs are. “We’re always looking for feedback and new ideas,” he says.
Some parents may find that informal arrangements work well. Talk to the parents of your children’s friends. If you’re home for two weeks in July, maybe it would be worth planning activities that include your son’s friend Ryan during that time, if Ryan’s dad is willing to reciprocate when he’s on vacation. Or you might know an older teen — say a university student home for the summer — who’d be willing to provide supervision for your child and a couple of friends, with all the parents chipping in enough to add up to a decent rate of pay. An older sibling could also take on this role.
For most parents, organizing summer daycare for their preteens is still a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, while juggling several priorities. “My first priority is, of course, Camryn’s safety and happiness,” says Ferguson. “My other priorities, however, have to be practical: I’m working — I need a place where I can drop the kids off and pick them up with some flexibility.”