With summer vacation on the horizon, Lauren Leeds recently sat down to explore day camps for her year one student.
As she browsed through the listings in the Lansing area, she grew concerned. Many were already full.
“I had a moment of absolute panic,” she said. “I need child care options.”
That’s not the only reason summer camps are important to Leeds. She sees them as a way for her son to continue learning over the summer and gain social and emotional skills with other children.
“After the last two years of the pandemic, this helps bridge the gap between the end of the school year and the start of next year,” she said. “It is extremely important.”
Demand is strong among parents this year for summer camps. Many no longer work from home. Others want to keep their kids engaged after two tough school years.
This demand is being met head on by staffing shortages in many organizations, which limits the number of camps offered.
Leeds eventually found a place for her son at the Educational Child Care Center, which runs summer camps for children entering kindergarten through third grade. It was a relief for her – and exciting for her son.
“He’s really excited,” she said. “He loves summer camps.”
Demand has been high for summer camps across the city, said Elisabeth Tobia, CEO of Educational Child Care Center. She noticed it both within her own organization and at Potter Park Zoo, Impression 5 Science Center, and Michigan State University.
“Interest is growing,” she said of her center’s program. “We had people asking about it even before the program was ready.”
Most years the center has around 15-20 children in the camp. Tobia expects registration to fill up quickly once they open to the general public next week.
“Families just want to enroll their kids in a program that’s not just fun…but has an educational component to it,” she said.
Lansing Parks and Recreation expects similar demand for its summer camp programs.
“People need to start thinking about summer programs now,” said Brett Kaschinske, Lansing parks manager. “I expect these camps to fill up.”
Each week of the city camps, offered to children from 5 to 13 years old, is thematic. Campers take day trips to places like Sleepy Hollow State Park, Impression 5, the Capitol, and the Lansing Lugnuts games.
Week eight ends with board game competitions and a cardboard boat race at the Hunter Park pool.
“It sounds simple, but being crowned Connect Four champion for your age group for the city is a big thing,” Kaschinske said. “Our summer camps are really about creating memories that last a lifetime.”
This year, the city is offering two eight-week summer camps limited to Lansing residents due to demand.
“We’ve limited this to Lansing residents due to the numbers we’re anticipating, but we’re really looking for staffing assistance so we can serve more kids,” Kaschinske said. “We are suffering on our summer staff, especially for our summer camps,” he said.
To help with staffing challenges, the city is launching a volunteer program for teens ages 14-17.
“It really builds our people base for future service with children,” Kaschinske said. “We can pair the under 18s … with the adults who are there, and that’s one way to increase the adult-to-child ratio that we need for our camp programs.”
The volunteer program also gives teens who are too old for camp but too young for many jobs something to do during the summer.
“It really gives parents an option for teenagers they don’t just want to stay home,” he said. “You spend a week or two weeks, or the entire eight-week season, volunteering with the parks and recreation program.”
Staffing is less of a concern for Educational Child Care Center summer camps because their year-round employees work summers, but Tobia says she knows other programs face staffing issues. . She cited salary as one of the reasons it’s hard to hire people.
“These are important jobs,” she said. “You can’t pay people like it’s not important.”
Carrie Rosingana said finding summer camps for her 8-year-old daughter has been a balancing act over the past two years as she tries to prioritize safety, education and fun .
This year, her daughter will attend the Early Childhood Education Center camp, but this is the last year she will be eligible for the program.
Rosingana is grateful that the Lansing area has had so many options for children so far during the summer.
“Knowing that there are resources in the city is great,” she said. “I am incredibly grateful.”
Contact reporter Elena Durnbaugh at (517) 231-9501 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ElenaDurnbaugh.