I can’t believe I am already typing this post… where has the time gone? I swear it was just Christmas. However, I will admit, after the amount of rain we have had this winter, I am ready and willing to welcome the summer. School is almost out, which means it is time to pick a summer childcare program for your kiddos. This always seems easier than it is. There is so much to consider when picking a perfect summer program for your child. I decided, as a previous director of a child development center, I would put my experience and knowledge to work and give you my best tips for picking the perfect summer program. Here are my 15 Tips for Picking Your Child’s Perfect Summer Program:
1. Program or Facility Licensing
Is the facility you are enrolling your child in licensed by the State? This is important, because the State ensures things are being conducted the way they are being presented to you. The State also verifies certifications, background checks, and ensures that the program or facility is following the required rules.
It is important to note that each state is different and so it is important for you to understand the laws for your state. For example, in my state, a program running three months or less does not have to be licensed. This means nobody is checking on the facility to ensure it is safe, if the instructors are qualified or background checked, or that child to teacher ratios are being followed. Does this mean you shouldn’t enroll your child? No, but it should be another item of consideration.
Another thing to consider is if the summer program’s location has required fire and health inspections. Again, depending on your state, often licensed programs are required to have fire and sanitation inspections every year.
2. Background Checks
Is everyone working at the program required to be background checked? Does this include parent helpers, volunteers, janitors, and maintenance workers? Or is it only those who directly work with your child?
3. Staff Certifications
What type of certifications are required of the staff (including volunteers)? Are staff required to have their food handler’s card? What type of education is required to run the program? Is any continued education required to maintain their position?
4. CPR/First Aid
Is CPR/First Aid training a requirement? Does each staff member have to have CPR/First Aid training? Does this include parent helpers or volunteers? If so, what type of training does this include… infant, child/adult or just one or the other?
5. Costs & Payments
Nobody wants to put a price on their child, but the reality is it takes money to run a program and you generally (there are always exceptions) need to pay for your child to attend. So, are you able to afford it? If so, how do you pay for it? Are their payment due dates? Does the cost need to be paid all up front? Are there incentives to pay ahead or in a lump sum?
These are important questions, because you don’t want to lose your spot due to a lack of knowledge, nor do you want to rack up late fees for not knowing the due dates. I always recommend asking about discounts. Worst case scenario is they say no… however, they could say yes and save you some money!
5. Snacks and Meals
Who is responsible for providing the snacks and lunches? If the program provides any, what type of food is it? Is it an additional cost? What times are the snacks provided and when do the children usually eat lunch?
These may seem like silly questions, but if your child is used to eating every two hours and the program has a bigger gap, it is something to consider. Maybe you still enroll, but work with the program director to ensure your child has access to snacks if they get hungry.
6. Child to Adult Ratios
What is the child to adult ratio? Does this ratio account for volunteers? Are there times during the day that the ratio can change?
It is important to note that ratios are mandated for licensed programs by the state that I live in. For example, for infants we had 1 adult to 4 infants. You could always have more adults to the 4 infants, but never more infants to the 1 adult. Also, the ratios changed if age groups were mixed or if children were sleeping during nap times.
No matter where you live or what your state requires, it is best to know and understand how the program works so you know what type of care your child is receiving as well as what you are paying for.
7. Age Groups
Will my child be placed in a group according to age or will it be based on something else? What is the age span of the kids in the program? Are there times that the groups are mixed together? If so, for what length of time?
What form of discipline does the program practice? As the parent, do you agree and support this type of discipline? Does your child need any extra type of care when it comes to disciplining? If so, this would be an incredibly important topic to discuss with the program director prior to enrolling.
9. Schedule & Closure Dates
Are there days that the program will be closed? Are you being charged for those closure dates? Also, what time of day does the program open and what time does the program close?
I would highly suggest getting a calendar of the closure dates so you can be sure you have them marked on your family calendar. It is also important to know how early you can drop your child off and how late you can pick them up. Some programs will charge a late fee if you don’t pick up your child by a certain time. You also don’t want to repeatedly frustrate the staff by being late, because that means they don’t get to go home on time. Ain’t nobody happy when that happens!
10. Education vs. Playschool & Screen Time
Is it an educational program or is it more of a play school environment? Is there screen time allowed? If so, for how long?
At my facility, we did not have any screen time allowed other than the day before a holiday, which was a special treat. We usually had some type of party with treats and fun holiday focused activities and then we would maybe watch a movie. This only applied to the older children, not the babies. However, screen time on a day to day basis was not allowed.
This means you need to decide what you are looking for in a program. Is screen time okay with you?
11. Facility Safety
Is the program you are enrolling your child in a safe building and is it an adequate environment? Do they have appropriate toys and an outside area for your child? Are there enough bathrooms and do they have the appropriate supplies needed to run a program?
These are all questions to consider when selecting your child’s summer program. Some of these may seem obvious, but you might be surprised when looking for your child’s perfect summer program.
12. Parent Responsibility
As the parent, do you have any additional responsibilities to the summer program? Do you have to volunteer a certain number of hours while your child is enrolled? Are you required to provide snacks based on a rotating snack calendar? Will you be expected to help with field trips?
I can’t stress this enough… it is very important to know and understand your side of the agreement when you enroll your child in a program. The more you know and understand, the less likely there will be an issue down the road.
Are you responsible for buying supplies (art supplies, paper, glue, pencils, markers, etc.) for your child to attend? If so, when do they need to be purchased?
14. Field Trips & Transportation
Will there be any field trips? If so, what type of transportation will be provided? What type of supervision will be on the field trip? Are there additional costs for the field trip?
15. Does your Child Like it?
I know this seems like a silly question to consider, but I cannot stress how important it truly is. Your child is going to be spending a lot of time at this summer program, and if they don’t like it, I highly doubt it is going to work… no matter how perfect the program is!
I realize the above list seems long and overwhelming, but it’s a big deal leaving your child in someone else’s care. It is important for you and your child to feel comfortable, and that you know your child is being left in a safe and loving environment. Knowledge is power!
Cheers to summer!