Selecting Summer Care for School Age Children

When it’s time to select summer care for school-age children, there are many factors to consider. However, at the top of the list should be the desire to find a program that is an ideal match with the child’s needs and interests and their overall development. Use this checklist of questions as a guide for ensuring that you and your child have a safe and productive summer!
Step One: Talk To Your Child.
Begin looking for summer care in early spring. Before visiting or enrolling your child in a summer care program, consider the following questions as they relate to your child:
  • What are their favorite activities, hobbies or interests? 
  • What subjects do they enjoy most in school? 
  • What toys and games do they use most often? 
  • At what level are their socialization skills? 
  • What summer care environment would be most conducive for their personality? 
  • What previous summer care program experiences did they enjoy most?
Step Two: Assess Summer Programs for Quality.
As you visit various summer programs, the directors and staff should be able to answer the following questions:
  • Is the program licensed or accredited? [Summer programs are not required to be licensed. However, licensure and accreditation ensure specific quality standards.] 
  • What are the hours of operation? Fees and payment procedures? [There may be additional fees for enrollment, special activities, late payments or late pickups.
  • What is the staff/child ratio and group size of the program? [The state of Florida’s maximum staff-to-child ratio for school-age children is 1-to-25. National quality standards recommend between 1-to-10 and 1-to-15.] 
  • Is the staff well-trained? [Ask about staff experience and education in early childhood, recreation, serving Special needs children, CPR/First Aid, etc.] 
  • What are the program’s health & safety policies and procedures? [Ask about the sign-in/sign-out policies, Field trips, transporting children, handling sick children, etc. These policies should be in writing and should be in compliance with local and state legal requirements.] 
  • Is there a daily lesson plan? [Ask to review a typical lesson plan. Quality programs provide more than continuous free play. Plans should be consistent with the philosophy of the program and should include indoor, outdoor, quiet, active, staff-planned, child-initiated and free choice activities.] 
  • Are meals and snacks provided? 
  • Are Families welcome to visit unannounced? What about family activities?
Step Three: Shop Around. 
Don’t hesitate to visit several programs and compare how well they meet your needs and the needs of your child. Here are some things you should look for:
  • Upon observation, you should be able to see a caring staff engaging the children in interesting and challenging activities in a safe and sound environment. 
  • The children should be generally happy and engaged in activities. The program should offer choices in child-selected activities. 
  • The staff should be actively working with the children, encouraging choices of activity and using positive techniques to guide their behavior. Activity and safety rules should be followed. 
  • The staff should show respect for and communicate well with the children, Families and other staff. 
  • The indoor facility should offer adequate space for multiple activities, and numerous materials should be accessible to the children. 
  • The outdoor space should offer equipment and games for both quiet and active play, and playground equipment should be suitable for the sizes and abilities of all children.
Step Four: Stay Involved.
Once you have made a decision about summer care for your child, stay involved in their summer care experience by doing the following:
  • Keep the lines of communication open with the staff and help to get to know your child better by informing them of your child’s likes, dislikes, and needs.
  • Spend time playing with your child during daily pick up or at scheduled family events. 
  • Try to visit your child at the summer care program during lunchtime, chaperone a field trip or spend an afternoon with them at the summer care program.
There are many different types of summer care programs to choose from. You will find a range of programs offered including:
  1. School-based programs
  2. Youth Service Agencies
  3. Specialty camps
  4. Parks & Recreation
  5. Churches
  6. Family early care and education homes
Explore your options carefully and take the time to research the quality components of each potential summer care program that you are considering. Make sure your decision is a QUALITY decision for you and your child.
For information on summer care options in your area, contact your local Child Care Resource and Referral office at 772-595-6363. This information is provided to you as part of the School-Age Quality Initiatives Program of the Florida Children’s Forum.
If you have questions, would like to have additional information, or would like to receive a free copy of the National School-Age Care Alliance Standards for Quality School-Age Care, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to:
Florida Children’s Forum – SAC
c/o Jennifer Faber, School-Age Care Coordinator
6973 Kimberly Terrace
Ft. Myers, FL
P: (941) 489-4386 
If you publish electronic or print mail, permission is granted to reprint this article with acknowledgement.