As the traditional school year closes for students across the country, parents face a decision about what their children will do all summer. Options depend on factors including age and interest. Some parents will elect not to involve their children in anything structured. Others will seek programs such as camps or summer schools. For parents looking for such structure, below are some considerations to guide the search.
1. Early Registration – Mid-June probably isn’t the time to begin searching. While some camps and other programs might have slots available at this point with others possibly having rolling enrollment, many of the most coveted openings will be gone by the time summer begins in earnest. The search should begin in the winter months or earlier, especially for the more popular programs. Application deadlines could be months before the first day for some programs, so searching, selecting, and applying should happen while the air is still chilly.
2. Cost – This one might seem like a given, but it could be the most significant factor for some families. Finding free or at least affordable summer programs that retain an echelon of quality can be a challenge in some communities. Parents don’t always have to settle for what they happen to be able to afford, though. Scholarships often are available for qualifying families. Much like registration, the search for scholarships should begin early. Should scholarships not be available for a family facing few free options, schools usually offer some form of summer programming that isn’t strictly tied to credit recovery or make-up work.
3. Location and Transportation – These also seem obvious, but could make the decision for working parents. A camp or other program that is either easy to reach or that offers transportation can save parents significant hassle. Along with cost, this likely will be one of the primary determinants.
4. Eligibility – A program might seem perfect on paper. It might offer exactly what a family is seeking. The parents might be satisfied with their find. The child might be excited for it to begin. Then everyone realizes it has entrance criteria that can’t be met. Certain programs will require a particular GPA or portfolio for admission. Others will require particular residency or income restrictions. During that early sifting of programs, parents need to be mindful of all small print.
5. Sleepover or Not – With some of the basic considerations out of the way, parents can decide the nature of the program. Residential programs are often shorter and more expensive than day programs. That said, these residential programs might provide an experience that simply can’t be offered in a day program. Selecting sleepover programs broadens the selection range as well, taking daily transportation out of the equation and allowing parents to look at more remote programs. Such programs can present more of an issue in the event of an emergency, but they might give children the most enriching opportunity.
6. Age Range and Organization – Some camps and summer programs are designed for specific grouping based on age, ability, or even sex. Others let more or less anyone in, but are organized internally to provide appropriate groupings. Then there are camps that essential are a free-for-all of children at disparate developmental levels. Parents should know as much as possible about how children are grouped in a given program, which could make a monumental difference in the effectiveness of any purported programming.
7. Focus – Parents and children might want something more specific out of a summer program than supervision, some activities, and a meal or two. The whole family might be seeking an acting or music program. Perhaps the family will seek a program with an emphasis on academics or that has the potential for earning college credits. A program or camp specific to a particular sport might be sought. Instead of all this, families might simply be seeking a program promising little more than a good time. Searches for programs might begin with focus in mind and end up being whittled down to a few select programs based on other considerations on this list.
8. History – Programs that have existed for many years at least have longevity as a credential. They’ve had the opportunity to develop over years and respond to scrutiny. When choosing a program, going with the one that has a history over a colorful pilot program might be wise.
9. Staff Ratio and Experience – To the greatest extent possible, parents should know who the staff will be for a program. Some items to consider include the number of adults per child, the training these adults have, and their relative experience and expertise. Background checks should be requisite. Additionally, parents might have reservations about programs staffed by teenagers or volunteers. Any program that hesitates to share such information might need to be reconsidered.
10. Accommodations – This goes beyond the cleanliness of facilities or lodging. In this case, the accommodations in question refer to accessibility for children who might have disabilities or other health conditions. How accessible are the facilities? How inclusive are activities? What options are there for children with allergies or dietary restrictions? Of course, camps and other programs exist that are specifically tailored to children with particular needs. Parent might prefer these, or they might directly oppose them, seeking instead to have their children participate in more generalized programs. In either case, knowing that a program can meet a child’s needs is vital to any decision.
Considering these points will help narrow the search. A point omitted above is what the child wants out of a program. Clearly this would underscore any decision. Parents will need to make practical considerations, but ultimately a child’s program should be a boon to a happy, memorable summer.
Written by Jeff Hartman