If you’re a parent who needs full-time child care this summer but your child has outgrown your daycare provider, transitioning to summer day camp can be truly distressing.
At daycare, you enroll once and then drop off and pick up your kids at your convenience, enjoying operating hours that typically run from 6 or 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., at a place that bills you monthly.
With summer day camp, you face a system that expects you to register anew for each week you use, usually doesn’t open until 9 a.m., ends as early as 2 or 3 p.m., charges you extra for “before” and “after” care (and the aftercare still ends earlier than daycare), and demands full payment upfront whether you’re registering for one week or — gulp — 11 weeks. (And we could write a whole separate column on the vagaries of some of the online camp registration programs we’ve encountered.)
Every family’s situation is unique when it comes to summer camp. But here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind, courtesy of Nancy Hauth, Portland Public Schools’ program manager for pre-K and K support and child care, and working moms in The Oregonian newsroom who were only too happy to vent on this topic.
Do start early.
Don’t procrastinate. Oregonian senior reporter Anna Griffin strongly recommends getting summer camp squared away before spring break, saying, “A lot of the camps my kids like offer good discounts if you register in January and February.” Adding to the pressure: Certain camps are very popular and fill up quickly.
Other camps don’t open registration until March or later, but that also means their early-bird deadlines may not have passed yet.
Do look for discounts.
In addition to the early-bird discounts, camps run by museums and similar organizations often offer discounts to members. Some camps offer discounts for enrolling more than one child or signing up for multiple sessions.
Don’t assume you can’t afford it.
If the cost seems beyond your means, ask about scholarships. summer-camp-art-projects.JPG View full size Summer camp art projects sit on a table at Zimmerman Community Center in the Pearl last summer. John M. Vincent/The Oregonian/2012
Do use your benefits. If you have a Flexible Savings Account for dependent care, save your receipts — you can use your FSA to reimburse your summer day camp costs for younger children. Check with your FSA administrator on whether there are age limits for summer day camp reimbursements; some FSAs won’t reimburse for middle and high schoolers because they can legally stay home alone. And note that sleepaway camp is generally not considered child care.
Do set aside money in advance if you can.
Many camps require you to pay upfront, which can mean a gigantic credit card bill months before your child brings home his first fuse-bead project. Some smaller camps take only checks.
Do start at school.
Portland Public Schools contracts out nearly all of its aftercare programs, and those providers often offer summer camp. Hauth says such camps have the advantages of familiarity in terms of the location, the staff and the other kids attending. And school-year caps on enrollment often go away during summer break, she says.
If there isn’t a summer camp at your child’s school, the school may still be able to direct you to another child care program in the neighborhood, Hauth says. “Kids might get on a school bus during the school year and transport over to another school … they can connect with that summer program,” she says.