Summer break is no vacation for parents of school-age children
By Nancy Koeneman
While many school-age children eagerly anticipate their summer break, many parents face the three-month hiatus with dread as they try to find child care for their soon-to-be-freed youngsters.
"We definitely get lots of calls from parents looking for child care for their children who are in school," said Rhonda Zehr, resource specialist with the Child Care Resource Service at the UI.
And more than a handful wait until the last minute, she said.
For parents who plan far enough in advance, Champaign and Urbana park districts and the YMCA offer a number of general day camps and activity-specific day camps for youngsters interested in sports, art or music. These programs fill up quickly, Zehr warned.
"But there are a lot of options available," Zehr said.
Day-care homes and day-care centers are generally always available and some centers have special programs for school-age children. Boys and girls clubs have summer programs and the UI has summer classes for school-age children. Some schools also have summer-school programs.
And every year some area businesses and organizations offer camp programs. A sports-equipment store might offer a sports camp, for example, Zehr said.
But for many parents, it means patching together a hodgepodge of activities, with part of the day and part of the summer at a camp, then at a home day-care provider or center.
"A lot of programs tend to be part days," Zehr said. "People also have to remember that when they are signing up [their child] for a day camp they are signing up for a session." That can mean the program runs as few as two weeks. So parents must enroll their children for consecutive sessions, make other arrangements, or find themselves without a place to send their offspring after just a few weeks.
There are also other issues parents must consider when seeking summer options for their school-age children. Parents should look at the program, center or day-care home carefully, to see the level of supervision, and the kinds and number of activities available. In the case of day camps, parents need to ask whether they need to make arrangements for bad-weather days.
"Parents should always have a backup for emergency child-care situations," Zehr said. Some centers have drop-in programs for emergency circumstances, but if a neighbor or relative is willing, he or she also could serve as an emergency child-care option.
Another question parents must ask, especially in the case of child-care homes and child-care centers, is what kind of vacation policy is in place because many families take their vacations in the summer.
"Check if and when the provider is taking vacation, especially in the home day-care situation, and prepare a backup for that, or take your vacation at the same time," Zehr suggests. "Also find out what the [day-care provider's] policy is on being paid for that vacation time. Do you have to pay even though your child is not there?"
The Child Care Resource Service has a variety of brochures and leaflets, offering parents a checklist of things to ask about in day-care centers, home day-care programs and summer camp programs to ensure youngsters have a good experience. The service also has a list of day-care providers, centers and day-camp programs that have been listed with them.
Costs for all summer programs vary, whether it's an activity camp, regular day camp or child-care center or home, Zehr said.
For a two-week stint with the boys and girls clubs, the cost is approximately $140 per session. Day-care centers run about the same, from $68 to $115 a week. Day-care homes sometimes cost less and can still provide activities and events as day-care centers do, Zehr said. The cost is $45 to $100 a week for day-care homes.
Some parents also might be able to hire a college student to come into their homes to provide child care. The Child Care Resource Center has a list of UI and Parkland College students who are willing to provide child care, and some may be able to do it full time, Zehr said.
For more information about available programs and how to find a child-care program right for you, call the Child Care Resource Service at 333-3252.