Thursday, 7 May 2015

School is out for the summer, but that doesn't mean parents don't have to go to work.

Finding summer options for school-age children that will leave you with enough money to buy school supplies in the fall can be challenging.

Most parents want their children to enjoy themselves during the summer while continuing to learn and avoid the "summer slide," educators' term for the academic regression that sometimes happens over the summer. Many areas offer an array of options for summer childcare, and the trick is deciding which ones you can afford and will keep your child happy and engaged. Here are six things to consider when you're weighing the options:

1. Find a part-time program

A number of churches and preschools offer part-time summer programs for school age children. These programs may meet two or three days per week or for a few hours a day; they offer organized activities for children that can be supplemented with a babysitter. Part-time programs can be cost-effective options if you (or your spouse) work part-time or you and your spouse can stagger your schedules. But using part-time programs means arranging lots of logistics.

Last year, Kanisha Jaynes, a minister in Florence, Ala., sent her children to a three-days-a-week program at a local church, where they went on field trips and participated in fun activities each day. On the other days, she and her husband took turns taking off work to stay with the boys or filled in with babysitters. The program was ideal for her family because of her flexible work hours during the summer months, she says.

2. Try a summer day camp

Local science museums, art centers, martial arts locations, history museums, nature centers and city parks often offer summer day camps for a week or two during the summer. Some parents book their children's summer with an array of all-day camps.

Doing so can give your child an educational and often enjoyable summer – without breaking the bank. You can, for instance, send your child to that pricey soccer camp for one week – and then fill in the rest of the summer with less expensive camps. The downside? Some kids find it difficult to make transitions, and they may not enjoy all of the camps. Also, signing your child up for multiple camps may have logistical challenges for you, as there will be different locations and times for pick up and drop offs.

3. Hire a nanny

If you have more than one child, it might be more sense to hire a nanny, rather than signing up your children for different camps. A day camp that costs $150 a week can quickly add up if you have, say, three children. Ask around, or look for help on sites like  Care.com or Nannies4Hire.com. If you hire a college student or recent grad and pay her by the hour, it can be cheaper (and easier on you) than paying for each child to attend camps. Add in a membership at the local zoo, pool or science center, and your kids can have a fun and economical summer. One thing to keep in mind: you will need a backup plan in the event your nanny gets ill.

4. Share a nanny

If you won't need a nanny every day, the summer is a perfect time to partner with another family and share a sitter. It's a good way to save money if you're working reduced hours or if your kids want to go to a camp for a week or two. Sharing a nanny is always cheaper, but it also means you will have to coordinate with another family. You won't have the complete flexibility that having your own nanny offers. "Many families who hire nannies do so because they need the flexibility of having a nanny," says Michelle LaRowe, executive director of Morningside Nannies, a nanny placement agency in Houston.

5. Consider residential camps

For older children, sleep-away camps are always an option. Residential camps allow your child to develop independence and meet new friends. And while you won't have to worry about childcare during the weeks they are away at camp, you will have to adjust to not seeing your child for days or weeks on end. And residential camps are pricey: Many residential camps cost more than $1,000 per week, per child, but include room and board.

6. Create a hybrid plan

Many parents design a summer that includes many of the above options. It requires careful management skills and backup plans in case one of your arrangements falls through.

Lisa Armstrong, a nurse practitioner and mother of one in Huntsville, Ala., sent her daughter to a full-time summer program for a couple of years. But by the time her daughter was eight, she had grown bored with it, Armstrong says. Now, Armstrong plans her child's summer with a hodgepodge of different activities – a horseback riding camp one week, a church camp another week, a visit with her grandmother for another week, and days with friends scattered in here and there.

 

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