Now is the time to make some decisions to keep the kiddos busy and safe when school is out.
According to a survey from the American Express Spending and Saving Tracker, last year U. S. families spent an average of $856 per child on summer activities. Two kids? That’s over $1700. And that was last year. Last year’s expenditures were up 40% over the previous year. If this summer is also up by the same amount – 40% – you can expect to pay, on average, about $1200, per child.
That’s about $400 per month in June, July and August. About $100 per week. Not exorbitant by any means – what would you charge to watch a group of seven-year-olds for 10 hours a day every Monday-through-Friday? In fact, you certainly could find programs that cost a whole lot more. But when you see the entire cost for even an inexpensive summer all upfront as a lump sum, and then multiplied by the number of children in your household, that cost represents a real hit to your budget.
That’s assuming you can find suitable activities for your kids. If you’ve already reserved your children’s summer camp slots, you’re not worried. But if you haven’t got things line up yet, realize that your options are shrinking fast. Let’s think about this, right now.
You and your children have several broad choices.
- You can stay home with them and spend only what you like for occasional movies, games of miniature golf, and swimming pool fees.
- You can hire someone to stay home for you, paying that person plus whatever he or she needs for occasional movies, games of miniature golf, and swimming pool fees.
- You can send your children to any of several sorts of childcare programs, including day camp, sleep-away camp, and summer school.
What to choose?
Face the fact that each of these costs about the same. If you stay home with your children, you are “paying” whatever wages you lose by not working full time yourself, as well as paying the incidental costs of fun activities. Paying a babysitter frees you up to go to work, but incurs costs for the sitter as well as for those fun activities fees. Paying for organized away-from-home activities seems the most expensive on paper, but that’s because all the costs are visible up-front. Camp experiences, especially day-camps that are in your own town and run by your local park district or YMCA, may actually be more cost-effective than they first appear.
So your choice is less an economic one than one of safety and suitability for your child.
Safety should be your Number One consideration. Whether you choose an in-home sitter or a park district day camp, make certain that the people who actually interact with your children are well-trained, mature, and experienced. Often “camp counselors” are teens not much older than your kids, are paid just minimum wage, and are quite variable in their ability to see dangerous situations, intervene in cases of bullying and intimidation, and manage individual issues as they come up. You can luck out and get a real gem of a camp counselor or in-home babysitter, or you can wind up with a situation that creates real headaches, for you and your children.
Do your due diligence. Check things out. Ask for references and call them before you choose. And act quickly. The best-run programs and the best babysitters will be booked solid soon.
Second to safety but also important is suitability for your children. You want your children to be happy with whatever arrangement you choose. You don’t want daily issues with kids who complain about going, who make excuses to keep from going, or who cause caregivers to call you midday with issues your child is having. Pick a summer situation that fits your children’s age and maturity level, their interests, and their need for physical activity, friendship, and guidance. The independent kid needs a different situation than the more retiring child. While it might be great to drop all your kids off at the same place each morning, the same place may not be the best option for each of them.
If you hire an in-home sitter, find someone who can adapt to each of your children. It’s not helpful to hire someone who is great with toddlers when your oldest child is nine. As a parent, you know that keeping children of different ages engaged and happy at the same time isn’t easy. Find a babysitter who is up for this challenge.
Naturally, there’s no better in-home sitter than yourself and no one who is safer or more suitable for your kids than you are. If you work full time, see if there is a way to flex your schedule so you can have more time this summer with your children. Can you work a four-day week so every Friday is your kid-day? Think creatively. You and your children will be happy you did.
Whatever you decide to do this summer, the time to get things figured out is now. If the snow is gone, summer is right around the corner!
© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.