Every year when it comes time to decide what to do with the kids for the summer, I get a little anxious. There is a seemingly endless array of day camp possibilities here in Des Moines. It was so much easier, when they could continue the summer in daycare or preschool.
Should we go with a school affiliated program, with the hopes that some of their friends will be there? Should we go with a parks and rec program and get them out of their comfort zone? Should we go with that specialty camp that they’ve been begging me to sign them up for? Ugh!
After talking with other parents, I am relieved to know that I am not the only one who struggles and am not alone in my frustration. There are a lot of day camps to choose from and the reasons for picking a camp is as varied as the camps themselves.
Where their friends are attending, location, convenience, cost and, hours of operation are all deciding factors for our family. We’ve tried several programs over the last few years and I thought I would share what types of day camps the kids have attended and what we’ve learned.
Many Des Moines area school systems extend their before and after school care programs to include the summer. Some of the programs are located at your child’s school, others partner with local organizations, such as the Y to administer the day camp. No matter how the program is run, drop-offs and pick-ups are at the same facility throughout the summer.
Typically field trips and pool outings are part of the weekly schedule. My son participated in our school’s program the summer after he was in Kindergarten. I liked that there was a designated place for the kids to be during the day and that they were well supervised. They also had access to the school library. I did feel a little guilty that he was at school all summer, though.
Parks and Recreation Programs
Local Parks and Recreation departments offer a wide range of day camps to select from. They offer full day and half day camps that include field trips and pool visits. They also offer specialty camps on varying interests such as sports, arts, nature, and cooking. We’ve taken advantage of several of these camps and I have found them to be very economical. I’ve also found their registration process easier than other camps. We’ve primarily participated in nature oriented camps and the counselors have been excellent.
For lack of a better term, there are several outdoor day camps that meet at local parks and then head off on field trips and adventures. The one drawback to these outdoor day camps is that they are at the mercy of Mother Nature. My son has attended this type of camp the last two summers. In fact, he loves it so much he has asked to go back next summer. The outdoor day camp he attends has the most enthusiastic instructors and he comes home exhausted and worn out every day. They even took the kids to the state fair! I can barely take two kids there!
Many places around Des Moines offer day camps to match the interest of your kids. Places like the Playhouse, Art Center, and Science Center. Again, both of my kids have participated in a few of these types of camps. In our experience, the instructors have been exceptional, as they are usually experts or share an interest in the specialized topic. The draw backs are that the locations may not be convenient to where you live and I think they tend to be a pricier option. Although some places offer scholarships.
Ultimately, our family’s choices usually come down to a mix of factors and a mix of day camps. I take a look at our summer calendar, figure out when we will be taking vacation, when the kids may be going to Grandma and Grandpa’s, and I try to find out what their friends will be doing.
After all of that information gathering, I start registering for the camps, that I know are popular and fill up quickly. Next I look at the dates of specialty camps and then I usually fill in at the end with the parks and rec camps. And then I have a big glass of wine!!!
How do you pick the right summer day camps for your kids?