As we approach the end of the school year, you can feel the excitement in the warm spring air. While children across the city eagerly anticipate summer break, many working parents are experiencing the opposite feeling — dread.
A few years ago, I too had this uneasy feeling about school ending. For me, in addition to childcare, I also had to make sure my newly diagnosed autistic child had opportunities for social interaction over the summer months. During the school year, he was enrolled in the tot time program at the Bridesburg Recreation Center. Fortunately for my family, I found that the Bridesburg center offered summer camp programs for children from ages 2 to 12.
I clearly remember the first day of “big boy camp” (as my son called it). My 5-year-old lugging his milk crate (camper’s storage) up the walkway, wearing his bathing suit, his skin glistening from the loads of sunscreen I had applied. I gripped his hand tightly as I scanned the scene, wondering if he would be properly supervised throughout the day (there are bigger kids, and they have a pool!).
I immediately sought out the camp director to introduce myself and explain my son’s situation. I think I became teary-eyed during my introduction. With a warm smile, she asked for my number and promised to let me know immediately if something went wrong, speaking as if she didn’t have 100 other kids and staff members to worry about. She sent my son to line up his crate and take his spot at the picnic table. After lingering far too long, I headed back to my car. That afternoon I received a text from an unknown number. It was a picture of my son holding hands with a little girl, with a note: “This is what summer camp is all about.”
Small gestures like this make a huge difference in a family’s life. Both of my sons, now ages 7 and 4, are looking forward to the start of camp this summer at the “Rec."
Bridesburg is one of 130 neighborhood summer day camps that parents like me rely on for safe, affordable, and high quality summer care that our kids enjoy. The average rec center summer camp costs about $60 a week, and prices range by center and programs.
Many rec center summer camps hire local teenagers to work as lifeguards and camp counselors. My sons love running into their old camp counselors in the neighborhood throughout the year, and the summer jobs keep teenagers busy and productive during the hot summer months.
At camp, my sons will have a summer filled with swimming, field trips, activities, and time with their friends. And my husband and I will be able to focus on our work and family without the additional stresses of worrying about costly or unreliable child care.
That one text from Bridesburg was all I needed to calm my nerves. One day at camp was all my son needed to become a fan. When he ages out, he has every intention of applying to be a camp counselor.
To find a summer program near you, visit phila.gov/parks and enter your zip code in the PPR Finder.