This article was originally published in Metro Parent Magazine
Are you tired of watching your kid fritter away three months of the year every summer?
You have good reason. They aren’t just losing time plopped on the couch for six to eight weeks. They’re actually losing some of the smarts they gained throughout the school year – and you’ll be playing a whole bunch of catch-up in the fall if you don’t nip it in the bud now.
Luckily, there are plenty of engaging summertime programs in metro Detroit that’ll stop the dreaded summer slide.
For busy parents, though, it’s daunting to sift through the hundreds of options in our area. And you’d be here until Labor Day if you tried! So, to help narrow down your options, Tammie Jones, the vice president of education and economic prosperity at United Way – and the Summer Spark program lead – offers tips on picking the perfect program to get your kids off the couch and engaged this summer.
Summer is the perfect opportunity to let your child explore his or her interests and control his or her own learning, Jones says. Plus, activities that focus on learning and building skills in a fun way keep kids more engaged.
Talk to children about what they’re interested in and then look for a camp that fits those interests, from sports and science to art and music – and plenty more.
According to the Summer Spark program guide, a program’s environment should be clean and have facilities for your child’s basic needs. If you have questions regarding the program’s facilities, then you should feel comfortable enough to ask questions.
The guide suggests asking about security measures in case of an emergency, whether or not healthy meals are provided and if there’s a policy in place to protect children from bullying or discrimination.
Likewise, you should ask about staff, their training and the staff-to-youth ratio, which ideally should be 12-to-1.
“You want to understand the staff that are there,” Jones says. “They can make or break a child’s experience.”
In addition to taking a look at United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s Summer Spark database, Jones recommends checking with local colleges and organizations to see what options they offer kids.
“Wayne State University provides an array of fantastic programs around ecology, (and) the College for Creative Studies has some art in the summer,” she says of two Detroit-based options.
Local museums, like the Leslie Science & Nature Center in Ann Arbor and Detroit’s Michigan Science Center, and theater groups, like the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, are also great places to start if you’re looking for more specialized options.
No money? No problem – or at least not as big of a problem as you’d think, Jones explains. Plenty of programs offer scholarships, and many might be willing to work out a payment plan with you.
“The Summer Spark platform will give parents a chance to be able to search for programs that are free and have scholarships,” she says. “(But) don’t be afraid to call a program’s providers and ask if they have flexibility.”
Above all, Jones suggests that parents don’t give up on finding the right summer fit for their child.
“It always helps to plan in advance, but there are always opportunities,” she says. “The majority of camps we surveyed have open spaces, (so) there are summer camp providers that would love to have your kid.”
For more help on finding a summer camp for your kid, visit United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s free Summer Spark program at SummerSparkSEM.org.