For working parents, having a plan for what the kids will do over the summer when they are off from school is important — and stressful. It’s expensive. There aren’t always a lot of options. My school aged daughter doesn’t even want to go to camp, asking me if I could stay home with her instead. And my son with Autism needs a camp that can accommodate him, which is even more expensive!
As I talk with other parents, we all share the same stress, whether you have a child with special needs or not. Here’s my advice on how to approach, and conquer, this very daunting task.
Set a Deadline.
My deadline is the end of March. In the Seattle area, and probably any larger city, there’s a sweet spot between when registration opens up for summer camps and when registration fills up. In the case of summer camp, I sign up for emails from the camps I’ve used in the past and I sign up for them on any camp that looks interesting. As Spring approaches, I look for these emails to help remind me that I need to sign up.
I like to involve my kids in the decision on where they are going to camp. Do they want to do the same camp as last year? Do they want to try something new? Since my daughter continues to beg me to quit my job for the summer and stay home with her, involving her makes it easier to get her into a place where she’s actually looking forward to the summer.
Involving the kids in planning includes figuring out where their friends are going to camp. Encourage your kids to ask their friends what they are doing. Reach out to the parents you know. This is a great way to discover great camps you don’t know about and potentially sign up the kids for a camp they can attend with their friends from school. And as your kids understand that many of their friends are doing summer camp as well, this helps with their enthusiasm.
Finally, planning ahead involves figuring out any summer vacations you’re going to take. You don’t want to sign up for a week of camp if you’ll be away on vacation. This adds to the complexity of planning but once you’ve got that detail figured out, not only do you get child care covered for the summer but you also have your summer vacation to look forward to.
Camps for Kids with Special Needs
This situation is a lot trickier. Just like with typical camps, doing research and asking friends is important. In the Seattle Area, I’m lucky to have many options, though they are expensive. My son has attended summer camp with Outdoors For All for 3 summers now. It’s a relief to have this option.
If you live in an area that doesn’t have camps for kids with special needs, there are still options. Before I discovered Outdoors For All, I found a local daycare that had a summer camp program. I met with the director and explained my situation. The group of kids was small enough that she felt she could accommodate my son. I also arranged with her to get the schedule in advance so that I could communicate that to my son. At the time, having him know ahead of time where he was going and how the daily schedule would break down was half the battle. I kept a tight communication loop with the daycare provider and the summer worked out really well.
For a working parent, the other element of summer is focused around logistics. Drop off times and locations are different than the school year. To simplify things, we work out a schedule for this in advance. For example, I’m taking the kids to camp on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and every other Monday. My ex-husband is taking them on the other days. The babysitter is picking up in the afternoons. We add the drop off and pick up times to the calendar, including addresses of pick up and drop off locations, so that the first week, everyone knows where they are going.
As the dates get closer, we also agree on a plan to put details of field trips into the calendar and work with the kids so that THEY remember the things they need to bring. Swimming stuff for swimming related field trips. Camp t-shirt for field trip days. Hiking boots for fields trips that need that item. By putting this responsibility on the kids, they learn to be responsible and it takes some of the burden off of you. Trust me, it only takes one field trip of them sitting beside the lake rather than swimming in the lake for them to remember to bring their swim suit the next time.
Register and then Relax!
If you’re like me, until I have camps all set up, Spring just brings me anxiety. Once registration is complete, I can relax, enjoy Spring and look forward to the Summer!