Phew! Well we made it through our first summer vacation for our 6-year-old, Nina. It was a great summer, but at times figuring out where she’d be when (and how she’d get to and fro) felt like quite a feat. As many parents with young children feel, it can be a difficult task balancing work and child care during the summer months.
For her first summer, we mixed it up pretty well. She went to some camps, visited family out of town, had family come into town to care for her, and relied on local family, friends and neighbors to fill in the gaps. When all else failed, she tagged along with me to work.
Many working parents turn to summer camps when looking for care for their school-age children. I noticed that there was a constant flow of information about camps beginning in the spring. Camp schedules first came out in April for parents who like to and are able to plan ahead. I also noticed information published throughout the summer for those who are more apt to take it as it comes. I suppose we fell somewhere in the middle -- by the time school got out in mid-June, we had an idea of where she’d spend about half of her summer. What we were going to do with the rest of the time we had to figure out along the way!
All of Nina’s first summer camp experiences were wonderful. She learned about gnomes and how to do printmaking with plants at Hilltop Montessori’s Summer Fun program. It’s a beautiful setting high up on a hill with a magical forest on the ridge and Memorial Park at the bottom. I appreciated how easy it was to set up her time there. They are one of a handful of summer camps that participate in Vermont’s Child Care Financial Assistance Program and they offered an early bird discount if you signed up before the end of May. I took advantage of that opportunity by scheduling those weeks first, then planning her time around them.
She also attended an art camp at River Gallery School where each day she came home with multiple creations. She’s always been very artistic and it was important to us that she have more opportunities outside of our home to create art, other than her once-a-week 40 minute class at school. She fit right in and now has some wonderful first memories of that special environment up those steep stairs on Main Street. I’m thankful our community has a place like this for children of all ages to express their creativity.
I had heard great things about Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center’s camps, so Nina also spent time there, along with 14 other 5-7 year olds. It was another beautiful setting for children to spend their days outdoors -- journaling in the woods, learning about local plants and animals and ending each day with a couple of runs down a refreshing water slide.
Some of my favorite moments of the summer were visiting these sites over the weekend. She blossomed during those weeks and she was very proud to lead us around the different forests in our area, telling us all about her imaginative play and the new friends she made. Summer is a wonderful time, for both children and parents, to deepen our connection with our community and with our natural environments (both of which are quite rich in the Brattleboro area!)
Nina made lasting memories of summer camp and summer fun, but it wasn’t without it’s challenges. Just as the cost of child care for infants, toddlers and preschoolers is expensive, the cost of summer camps can add up for families as well. There was a wide range of price tags -- the town of Brattleboro offers care for under $100 per week. Most that I saw ranged from about $180-$250. Other specialized camps can be much more. Someone quipped to me that they had to take out a second mortgage on their house to send their child to a horse camp, though "it was completely worth it," they said. There are dozens of camps to choose from, but only about 10 are licensed through the Child Development Division and can therefore accept state subsidy. But many do offer scholarships or discounts to families who need assistance.
And then there was the timing of it all. Naturally, each camp has their different hours, 9-3, 8:30-4:30, 8-1 -- you name it. Some offer before and after care, just like during the school day. But figuring it out with two working parents can take some serious organization! I think I clocked more miles doing pick-ups and drop-offs in those 10 weeks than I did for the entire winter and spring.
In the end, we found our balance with scheduled camps, vacation time and, thankfully, flexible working environments. Every family has their own story. Some have less flexibility at their work and need to schedule back-to-back camps from the time summer vacation begins straight through to their return to the school year. Others struggle to afford the weekly cost and rely more heavily on family and friends. We all find our way and if we’re lucky, our children remain oblivious to the daunting task we as parents face each summer and are left to create their own lasting memories of adventure, exploration, relaxation and a welcome change of pace from the school year routine.
Sarah DiNicola is the Communications & Events Coordinator at Windham Child Care Association and mom to Sylvia, age 4 and Nina, age 6. She welcomes comments, questions and feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-5332 ext. 310.