By Cari Wira Dineen, Care.com contributor
Summertime and the living’s easy. Or at least it will be — once you line up a smorgasbord of your kids’ activities and lock in your childcare. With the kids off from school, you may find yourself stressed-out, scrambling to organize an often complicated and shifting schedule of multiple camps, activities and childcare. In fact, in a recent survey conducted by Care.com, over 50 percent of parents say that they need more childcare for their kids during the summer months. And, you are not alone in fretting about whether to send your child to camp all day, hire a nanny or do both. Cobbling together a summer schedule that can change daily or weekly can overwhelm even the most organized mom.
During the school year, Faith Richardson, a writer and mother to two in St. Louis, Mo., only has a babysitter a few hours per week — mainly to ferry her kids from school to gymnastics and other activities. “But during the summer, I need to a sitter for at least 6 hours a day and it stresses me out every spring trying to figure out how to keep my kids occupied,” says Richardson.
Here’s how to keep your cool while making sure your kids are well cared for this summer:
Get local. Check out your library, your community center, your parks or recreation department, the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, YMCA, nearby museums or place of worship for summer-fun child care camps. “Many centers structure the fees on a week-by-week basis, which is great if you only need a few weeks of care,” says Michelle LaRowe, executive director of the International Nanny Association, author of Working Mom’s 411 and mom to two in Cape Cod, Mass. Also consider getting your kids season passes to nearby attractions, such as museums or zoos, which they can visit regularly with their nanny or sitter.
Go to college. That is, consider hiring a college student who is on break for summer. University students are often hungry to make money during the summer, so they can be great to help out with your kids. During the month of August when camp is out, Richardson hires a NYU student who is around for the summer. “We do ‘babysitter camp,’ where I pay the sitter a little extra to take them out on a different adventure each day, such as the zoo or the water park,” says Richardson. And the kids’ activities can often border on the entrepreneurial. “Last summer, my girls set up a lemonade stand in front of our apartment building on a really hot day and made close to $70_almost enough to pay the sitter for the day!” Consider calling the career center at your local college and asking if there is a job board you can post on or check out summer care providers on Care.com.
Start your own camp. In a recent Care.com poll, 61 percent of parents said they have higher expectations of their caregiver over the summer to plan activities and keep their children entertained. But how do you get your caregiver on board? Take a cue from Michael Salort, a dad in Maplewood, N.J.
“My kids didn’t want to get carted off to a big camp every day during the summer, but my wife and I didn’t want them lazing around the house all summer, either.”
His solution: He paid his full-time nanny extra to become a camp counselor to his three kids and a few other neighborhood children. The nanny had a completely scheduled day, with arts and crafts, creative games, pool-time and playing group sports — just like a regular day camp.
“The kids were home, but they weren’t bored. In fact, they loved it,” says Salort.
And because the other families pitched in to pay for the nanny camp, Salort actually saved money on his summer child care.
Consider summer school. Some school districts offer summer camps to utilize their facilities that otherwise would go empty. Tuition usually provides revenue for the school district and the camp staff is comprised of teachers and assistants. Check out half-day summer school classes for older kids which can give them a leg-up academically come September.
Enlist your momtourage. Round up parents of similar-aged children in your neighborhood and alternate care on assigned days.
“Babysitting co-ops are extremely cost effective,” says LaRowe. Instead of paying for child care, everyone equally takes turns to watch the kids. You might need to take some time off of work during your turn, but it should be minimal as other moms and dads are rotating turns, too. Here’s an online resource to start your own babysitting co-op or find one near you.
Take care of your tweens and teens. “Older kids who are just left on their own can get into trouble,” says LaRowe, “but tweens and teens often balk at a having a babysitter.” Instead, consider hiring a college student as a “driver” for your 11- to 15-year-olds to get them to and from various summer activities, such as sports camps or the community pool.
Older teens can also stay busy by becoming babysitters or mothers’ helpers themselves. Encourage your teen to organize neighborhood families at a local field to coach a softball game or take tots to nearby playgrounds to give stay-at-home mothers a much needed break.
Let kids be free to just play. It can be tempting to schedule every minute of your kids’ days, but don’t. “Less can be more,” says LaRowe. The summer provides an ideal opportunity for kids to engage in free play. “Downtime is just as important as uptime. In our fast-paced world, kids need to learn how to relax and do nothing,” she says. And taking the time to savor the lazy, care-free days of summer can go a long way toward making the summer break more fun for your kids — and less stressful for you.
Care.com is an online service that matches families with great caregivers for children, seniors, pets and more.