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Our second COVID summer: Finding care and enrichment opportunities for your school-age child

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Our second COVID summer: Finding care and enrichment opportunities for your school-age child

By Lynette M. Fraga, Ph.D., CEO of Child Care Aware® of America, and Mindy Bennett, Deputy Chief of Membership & Programs at Child Care Aware® of America

It is tough to imagine a summer for our school-age children as so many of us are grappling with decisions about their current school options in an ongoing pandemic. However, as we are gaining hope in vaccine access and safe returns to in-person schooling, it must be said that summer is right around the corner, and it is not too soon to start planning how your school-age child will spend their days.  

While your need for child care may be year-round, summertime offers special opportunities as well as challenges. Summer child care arrangements can help your child develop responsibility and independence while also providing enriching hands-on learning experiences. This is especially important for children that have been experiencing virtual schooling for the past year.  

Making decisions about care for your child during the summer may be even more difficult this year because of the pandemic. According to the American Camp Association, 70 percent of summer camps did not open in 2020. More summer camps may open this year, but it is still likely that they will have lower capacity. The key to success for your summer care plans is to start early.  

In January, the CDC issued guidance on summer camps for camp administrators to consider how to reduce risk of COVID-19 among campers. In addition, there is CDC guidance for schools about safe return to in-person school, as well as updated guidance for COVID-19 mitigation in both school and child care. This information can help summer programs to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. Further, these guidance documents recommend that adult staff be vaccinated for COVID-19, which is in alignment with the White House directive to prioritize educators, including K-12 teachers and child care staff. Together, enhanced COVID-19 mitigation efforts and increased access to vaccines means families can consider safe options for their children this summer.  

Additional good news for families concerned for their child in regards to possible learning loss, came in the passing of the American Rescue Plan. As the Afterschool Alliance highlighted, the law provides investments that states can use to support young people during the time they are out of school, including additional support for afterschool and summer programs and for summer enrichment.  

Following are considerations for families as we approach the summer months:  

Camps 
 
Overnight camps are one summer choice for school-age children and may have several enrollment options. Some camps focus on one specific interest, such as baseball, outdoor adventures, creative arts, or coding.  

Local child care centers, family child care homes, schools, churches, temples, city parks, and other community organizations often sponsor day camps and other summer programs. Programs and camps are booked quickly and often require applications and deposits well in advance. Some even offer an early bird discount for registering early.  

You may also find that many summer programs have reduced their capacity this year to allow for social distancing and creating pods of children. Day camps that typically enroll 100 children during the summer may now only enroll 20 to 25 children. Virtual camps can be an option for families that are keeping their children at home or with a trusted caregiver this summer. These camps may happen online, but many will send packages with enrichment materials directly to your door.  

Making other arrangements 

Some families may need or have better success with summer care that includes a combination of arrangements. It may be possible to work together with trusted friends or relatives to meet your child care needs. For example, you may be able to share a caregiver with another family for half the day so that children can attend an arts and crafts program the other half. You may also try meeting your child's needs for summer by blending their interests and talents with a carefully planned schedule for care or camps. This summer, you may also see small community learning hubs opening to address families’ need for enrichment activities and care for their children with lower group sizes.  

Local Child Care Resource and Referral agencies, or CCR&Rs, are a resource for families that can help you think through your summer care options. Use the CCR&R search tool on Child Care Aware® of America’s (CCAoA) website to locate your local CCR&R agency. Contact the agency that serves your area to find out what summer care programs and camps are available.  

Once you have a list of options to choose from, you can begin to narrow down your choices. Selecting the right summer care arrangement is a matter of considering your family’s needs, asking the right questions about health, safety, and activities, and knowing your child.  

Questions to ask summer programs  

If you have decided to seek care outside your home, here are some questions about scheduling and cost to think through and ask as you consider your options.    

  • When and how often does the program meet?
  • If you need transportation to/from the program, how will it occur?    
  • Does the program accommodate your family's work or school schedule? 
  • Does the program's start date and end match your child's summer vacation, or will it leave you with a gap in child care?    
  • What is the cost, and is financial assistance available? Do they have a sibling discount or an early bird registration discount?

Your top priority is the health and safety of your child, wherever they may be. Learn about health and safety in child care by reviewing CCAoA’s one pager for families on Health and Safety Measures Child Care Programs May Take During COVID-19, as well as the CDC suggestions for youth and summer camps. Additionally, consider these questions related to health and safety in summer care: 

  • Is the program licensed by your state or local area, or is it nationally accredited?    
  • Does the staff have background checks performed when they are hired?
  • Do staff have current certifications in CPR and first aid?
  • What are the experiences and skills of the staff?
  • What is the ratio of staff to children?
  • Are meals and snacks provided, or do children need to bring food from home?  
  • Do the facilities and equipment appear to be clean and in good condition, with no safety hazards noted?  
  • What medical care is available?    
  • What is the program’s emergency preparedness plan?   
  • How are children and staff screened for COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival and throughout the day?  
  • If a child or staff member exhibits COVID-19 symptoms or otherwise becomes ill, what is their plan?  
  • Are the children and staff required to wear face masks throughout the day?   
  • Is the program practicing social distancing?   
  • Is the program keeping children within small groups and with the same staff and children throughout the day?   
  • Will the children have access to hand washing facilities and or hand sanitizer throughout the day?  

To get a feel for whether the program will be a good fit for your child’s interests and abilities, consider these questions:     

  • What are the camp's strengths and philosophy?   
  • Is the program a good fit for your child’s needs and interests?
  • Are some of your child's friends enrolled?
  • How does the program help children develop new friendships?
  • Are staff trained in how to guide and interact positively with children?
  • Are there field trips scheduled, and will those trips interest your child? (Also be sure to find out about how transportation is provided and the chaperone policy for field trips. Ask how many chaperones attend, and how many children each adult has in their group.) 
  • Is pool time offered at any point during the summer? If so, what is the adult-to-child ratio at the pool? Do you feel comfortable with this information, given your child’s swimming abilities?

Managing changes for children  

No matter what summer care option you choose, some children will be uneasy about the changes ahead, which may affect their behavior and anxiety levels. You can find resources to help your child on CCAoA’s emotional wellness page. Try to think about each transition as an opportunity to teach your child how to handle new situations. Talk with your child about the changes. Knowing what to expect and having support from trusted adults can help your child gain the confidence to manage the road ahead and have their best summer yet.   

Support accessible child care options for all children

The data is clear: access to affordable quality, child care options can be a struggle for families. This is especially true during our second COVID Summer. Child Care Aware® of America has a vision for the future of child care: that every family in the United States has access to a high-quality, affordable child care system. And you can help make that vision a reality by taking action today. Tell your members of Congress that child care accessibility for families must be a priority in order to strengthen and sustain our economy and increase the quality of care available to all families.

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By Bre Gentile, Ph.D.  and Molly Peterson, Msc. What do neighborhood scavenger hunts, family meals, talking about your feelings, and eight hours of sleep have in common? They are all ways that caregivers can help their families and young children lessen the impact of stress! Founded by...

BY: Guest Blogger      07/27/20

$1.35M for middle school out-of-school time programs

We’re thrilled to announce the winners of the New York Life Foundation’s 2020 Aim High grant competition, representing a $1,350,000 investment in middle school out-of-school time (OST) programs serving disadvantaged youth in communities across the nation. The Aim High initiative is part...

BY: Dan Gilbert      06/30/20

5 ways that afterschool buffers toxic stress

By Erin Hegarty and Lena Hoffman.  As we navigate new terrain during this year's Mental Health Awareness Month, the COVID-19 pandemic is opening up new conversations about how we can safeguard and strengthen the mental well-being of children, young people, and families. Thoroughout...

BY: Erin Hegarty      05/29/20

How to build empathy through virtual learning: Bite-size Empatico Skills

We begin Mental Health Awareness Month under unprecedented conditions. As we navigate this new terrain, the COVID-19 pandemic is opening up new conversations about how we can safeguard and strengthen the mental well-being of children, young people, and families. Thoroughout May, we'll be...

BY: Erin Hegarty      05/04/20

How Horton's Kids is serving kids in their community during COVID-19

Transitioning to Virtual Learning During COVID-19 Horton’s Kids is a 21st Century Community Learning Center program serving K-12 students from the Wellington Park community in Southeast Washington, DC. When schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Horton’s Kids quickly...

BY: Chandler Hall      04/27/20

Lessons learned & opportunities to grow after A Nation At Hope's first year

On January 29, America’s Promise Alliance held a Whole Child Movement Convening: A Year After a Nation at Hope. A day of panels and conversations followed, all focusing on critical questions building on the work of the initial report: what do we know, where have we come, and what’s...

BY: Jillian Luchner      03/03/20