This is the time of year when you are bombarded with all kinds of local summer camp offerings. Summer time isn’t vacation time for many parents and you either have to find ways to keep kids occupied or maybe you just want to occasionally. No parent wants to hear the dreaded “Mom, I’m bored!” from their kids. I am one of those mean moms that tells my kids to get creative and use their imagination if they are bored. I don’t feel as though it is my job to entertain them. Yet, I do want to facilitate some special moments and memories during the summer and summer camps are usually out of our budget, at least for all three kids. The next best option may be a co-op.
What is a co-op, and what does it have to do with child care and/or child entertainment during the summer? A co-op can be various things, from a homeschool organization to a group of people who share similar interests. But we are talking about summer co-ops that will act as child care if you need to work or child entertainment if you just want to give your kids some fun summer experiences. This kind of co-op is basically a conglomeration (or co-operative) of parents who get together and share child care/entertainment duties. It’s very much like a do-it-yourself summer camp!
How Can You Start a Summer Co-op?
First, you’ll want to decide what the co-op is all about. Will it have a theme that changes weekly? Are you going to integrate learning, educational projects, fun activities, or a combination of these? Is there a point besides just babysitting? Other parents might be more inclined to commit if you have a general plan in place for what the co-op will look like. However, it may be off-putting if you have every detail worked out and other parents feel as though they have to follow your blueprint without any input of their own. The best approach is probably a loose outline or idea and a request for ideas and feedback.
Next, you will need to start contacting parents in your area. You can start with close friends, then move into your child’s school directory if possible. Based on a 5-day work week, you will need at least ten families who are willing to commit to once a week care (with at least two adults present at each co-op). Invite parents via email, phone, letter, or whatever works best for you. You can also create a private Facebook group for all involved parties so that you can organize better and stay up to date on planning and schedules.
What Activities Should We Offer?
There are all kinds of activities you can offer during your summer co-op! Because of the favorable weather, outdoor activities are possible. You might find it works best to have a theme for each day (Monday is Art Day, Friday is All About Animals, Wednesday is Water Fun, etc.) Here are some ideas.
* Birds – Bird-watching, crafts, and art projects are just the beginning with bird-oriented activities. You could also visit an aviary, collect feathers, make bird feeders, and go on hikes to watch birds in the wild. A field trip to a farm to look at chickens would be fun, or the kids could do a bird theme scavenger hunt.
* Art – This is a broad and almost endless subject for activities! You can paint outside (try throwing washable balls at a big sheet of paper!) and use the hose to clean off. Create a sidewalk or driveway mural with paints and chalk. You could make your own sidewalk chalk as a project. You could also plan a visit to a museum and create artwork inspired by what you observe. Use colored water to spray-paint the surface of sand in a sandbox, sculpt with clay, and create nature crafts like twig picture frames. There are so many ways you could do art with kids that you could incorporate it into all kinds of other activities.
* Water – Make sure that water play is safe; if some kids can’t swim, a trip to the pool could be disastrous. Instead, have a water day with hoses, sprinklers, wading pools, and, to help out parents, car-washing. If the cost of water is a concern, parents can pool their money to cover the cost of the water use. Alternatively there many localities that have parks with water features and splash areas you could take the kids to visit.
* Picnics – Plan an outdoor meal or cookout, and then include games like Frisbee, hopscotch, badminton, horseshoes, cornhole, and other move-about games.
* Parks – Groups of kids can have a great deal of fun at a state forest or park. You can take them all on a wildflower walk, wading in streams and creeks, or just let them play on the playground equipment and partake in the park’s resources (such as miniature golf, paddle boats, etc.).
If you need or want help with daycare this summer or you just want an affordable summer fun experience for your kids, a co-op may be just what you are looking for.
Further Reading: The Kids Summer Games Book & The Kids’ Summer Handbook