It seemed like such a great idea in May. Caught up in the school-is-almost-out-for summer euphoria, I strode confidently into the director’s office at my son’s preschool and announced that he wouldn’t be attending the optional summer program. We were going to soak up the lazy days of summer, and I was going to enjoy every possible second with my precious children. Within about five minutes of leaving the office, I wondered if I had lost my mind. My freelance work wasn’t taking a break for the summer, so why did I think my childcare should?
I wish I would have known about the growing trend of co-op camps–it would have saved me countless pleas of “Please just let mommy finish this and then we’ll play with your race car ramp.” Touted in the August 2010 issues of FamilyFun magazine and Parenting Early Years magazine, these parent-run camps are the perfect way to save money, entertain your children and give yourself a few child-free hours a week.
They work differently for different groups, but for the most part a group of parents gets together to take turns hosting children at their house for the day. The schedule rotates so that for every day you have kids at your house, you have several more free days while your child is somewhere else. Those who’ve tried it say it builds community and that kids end up liking the parent-run camps 10 times more than the pricey day camps in many cities.
Here are a few tips from the moms and dads who’ve done it before:
- Pick the right people: This rule applies to kids and parents alike. Who wants to deal with a bratty child all day, and at the same time, don’t pick a parent who isn’t dependable. The story in Parenting Early Years magazine mentioned a mom who sent her child to camp for four days then bailed when it was her turn to host. Not cool.
- Set rules up front: To save headaches and neighborhood friendships, getting the specifics worked out first is key, say expert parents. Should the camps have a theme? A price limit for the host? Who provides snacks and lunch? And here’s a really important one for the summer: Who is responsible for applying sunscreen and bug spray–the host or the parents who are dropping off their kids? FamilyFun magazine recommends scheduling dates as far as six months in advance. (Note to self: That means I should start thinking about next summer around Christmastime.)
- Create a schedule: For people like me, who have never worked in a day-care program or preschool, knowing what to do with six or seven little ones for hours at a time sounds a little daunting. Moms and dads say creating a general schedule that each house follows helps keeps kids in order (color first, then snack, then outside play, etc.).
- Choose a structure: Many of the parent camps profiled in the magazines’ articles had specific themes so that it’s more educational for kids (in other words, no sticking them in front of the television). They sounded so fun that I wanted to go–space themes, circus themes, cooking and gardening classes. Crafts, snacks and games were centered around the day’s theme, and the parents who participated say they had just as much fun coming up with the ideas.
It’s such a fun idea that I’m already ready for next summer… and we haven’t even had our first day of school!