11 summer child care options for any schedule and every budget

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11 summer child care options for any schedule and every budget

Looking for summer care for kids? Find or combine these child care options for when you don’t have coverage.

11 summer child care options for any schedule and every budget

Yay! Summer break is here … for your kids. For you? Not so much. For many parents, when school’s out, it means it’s time to find summer child care. Two popular choices that pop into parents’ heads are summer camps or hiring a nanny (and for good reason — they’re great options). However, depending on your schedule and your budget, these options may or may not be the perfect fit. 

“Every year, I register for a few camps and then assume I’ll make it work with sitters and grandparent help for the rest,” says Nora Esposito, a mom of three in Huntington, New York. “Every year, I wish I was better prepared.”

Whether you need care all summer or affordable ideas for filling in the gaps, these 11 summer child care options (or a mix of a few) should have you covered. 

1. Hire a summer nanny

Find a summer nanny

Hiring a summer nanny is one of the easiest options for parents that requires the least amount of coordination, as nannies will typically come to your home. You may find a college student or teacher looking for seasonal work, but summer’s also a good start time to hire a nanny who will care for your child all year. Some nannies may also be open to participating in a nanny camp, in which they can join forces with other nannies to plan regular activities for the kids throughout the summer. 

Benefits:

  • Convenient.
  • Personalized care. 
  • Daily activities planned around the child’s development and interests.

Cost: Based on 2021 Care.com data, the national average cost of a nanny for one child averaged $694 per week, or about $17.35 per hour, and $715 per week for two children, or about $17.88 per hour. Rates vary based on where you live, the nanny’s experience, what you need them to do and how many kids you have. For a better idea of what your costs could look like, try our rates calculator

To cut costs, make sure you pay your summer nanny on the books so you can take advantage of tax breaks. There’s a good chance the amount you’ll save will be more than you owe in taxes! 

Tips: Start looking early! Data shows most parents don’t start looking for a summer nanny until June — and by that time, most available nannies (especially the good ones!) have already lined up work. 

2. Bring in a summer sitter

Find a summer babysitter

If your schedule is more flexible or your summer care needs are more sporadic or less frequent, you may want to hire a part-time babysitter (or two) to fill in on days you’re in office or need child care at home. Babysitters often work year-round, and there are also seasonal sitters, often students and teachers, who need extra income.

Hiring a summer sitter your kids love is a great way to keep everyone happy and cared for, and many sitters are also available for evenings and weekends too. 

Benefits:

  • Flexible.
  • Cost-effective.
  • Personalized care.  

Cost: The hourly rate for a babysitter ranges anywhere from $13.25 per hour in San Antonio, Texas to $19.50 per hour in Seattle, Washington, based on current Care.com data. For a better idea of the cost of a sitter near you, try our babysitting rates calculator. Plus, you can apply these babysitting expenses to the child care tax credit next April and save up to $1,200. 

Tips: Again, start looking early! And, if possible, try to line up more than one sitter for filling in gaps. 

3. Consider a nanny share

Find a nanny share

More affordable than hiring a full-time nanny for your family alone is a nanny share, in which two (or sometimes more) families share one nanny and rotate homes. 

Benefits:

  • More affordable than 1:1 nanny care.
  • Daily activities planned around the child’s development and interests.
  • Socialization with at least one other child.

Cost: In general, the cost of sharing a nanny is about two-thirds what you’d pay to have your own nanny. Two-thirds of the national average cost of a nanny for one child ($694 per week) is about $463 per week, which adds up to about $231 in savings a week if you share a nanny with another family. And just like hiring a nanny on your own, paying on the books gives both families in a nanny share the opportunity to capitalize on tax breaks.

Tips: Check out The Complete Guide to Nanny Shares for everything from getting started to making it work.  

4. Find or create a summer child care co-op

A child care co-op is an especially cost-effective option that works well for families with a parent who has a part-time or flexible schedule. “Child care co-ops — swaps with friends and neighbors — are a great low-cost option,” says Leslie Forde, a working mom advocate, researcher and founder of Mom’s Hierarchy of Needs. “Everyone takes turns watching the kids, so that each person gets at least one or two days of coverage, free of charge.”

“Child care co-ops — swaps with friends and neighbors — are a great low-cost option.”

— LESLIE FORDE, WORKING MOM ADVOCATE

Benefits: 

  • Convenient. 
  • Extremely cost-effective. 
  • Socialization with at least one other child. 

Cost: In most setups, a child care co-op is free for the families involved. Hosting families may need to plan to pay for snacks or summer activities when they’re on duty, depending on the terms agreed upon by the co-op members.

Tips: There is a limit to how many kids the average parent will feel comfortable watching on their own, so this and the number of hours you can commit to providing care may put a cap on how much child care you can count on. The success of this model relies on regular, clear communication between co-op members.

5. Sign up for summer day camp

With options ranging from a few days to the entire summer, summer day camps are a fun way to keep kids busy in the summer months. 

“School-aged children thrive in the company of their peers, and summer camp programs provide them with the opportunity to continue social interactions throughout the summer months,” notes Donna Whittaker, vice president of curriculum and education at Big Blue Marble Academy.

“School-aged children thrive in the company of their peers, and summer camp programs provide them with the opportunity to continue social interactions throughout the summer months.”

— DONNA WHITTAKER, VICE PRESIDENT OF CURRICULUM AND EDUCATION, BIG BLUE MARBLE ACADEMY

Benefits:

  • Reliable care.
  • Social interaction. 
  • Age-appropriate activities and skills, which, according to Whittaker, can prevent “learning loss” in the summer.

Cost: The price tag on day camps can vary widely, from pricey sailing camps to budget-friendly day camps hosted by your local YMCA or Parks and Recreation department. According to the American Camp Association (ACA), the average price of day camp is around $178.49 a day this year, and for sleep-away camp, it’s $448.53 a day. You may qualify for the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit if camp is needed so you can work and if your children are under age 13.

Tips: If you haven’t capitalized on early bird specials, which can cut camp costs, inquire about financial aid options or research free or low-cost camps in your area.  

6. Enroll in day care

Find a day care

Enrolling your child in a local day care center is a great way to get reliable full-time summer coverage that will fuel their socialization and mind. 

“Young kids thrive in learning environments that provide meaningful experiences, supportive interactions and continuity in learning, and day care summer programs do just that,” says Allison Wilson, senior director of curriculum and innovation at Stratford School. “Between reading and STEAM activities that bring stories to life, students can continue their social-emotional and academic development through learning experiences during the summer months.”

Benefits:

  • Reliable care.
  • Social interaction. 
  • Age-appropriate learning activities.

Cost: In 2020, the average cost for one child in a day care or child care center was $340 a week and $300 a week for a family care center — and those figures continue to rise. You can help offset these costs by applying the expenses to the child care tax credit in the same way you would for a summer camp.

Tips: Start looking early, and put your child on multiple waitlists. Priority will always go to returning families, so finding a day care to take your child can be tricky if they’re not enrolled year-round. 

7. “Stack” online classes

If you have older kids who are comfortable using a computer, Forde suggests “stacking” online classes — aka, having kids take back-to-back online courses to fill chunks of time. While it’s not a viable option for the entire summer, it’s good for filling gaps, particularly when you’re working from home. 

“There are amazing online programs for kids that can keep them engaged and learning something new for an hour or two at a time,” Forde says. “I’ve strategically stacked two classes, such as a piano class followed by a math lesson, for my kids back-to-back at times when I need added coverage.”

Benefits:

  • Lots of availability. 
  • Summer learning on a wide variety of topics from home. 

Cost: Depending on the class and duration, prices vary widely. Camp Invention offers an online program — Camp Invention Connect — which costs $245 for a week of classes from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and includes supplies for each day. Outschool offers a database of smaller scale kids’ classes to choose from, including an Intro to Animation course that meets once a week for 55 minutes for five weeks and costs $160. 

Tips: Get kids involved in the process. They’re more likely to get excited — and stay put — when it’s a course they helped choose. 

8. Consider an au pair

Au pairs hail from foreign regions and stay with families for an extended period. In exchange for lodging (and usually a small allowance), they help care for kids and do light housework. While summer-only au pairs aren’t an option due to the specific nature of the visa, once you’ve had an au pair for 12 months, you can elect 6- or 9-month options thereafter.

“Last summer, we were in a bind, so we decided to try an au pair — best decision!” says Aimee Goldsmith, a mom of four in Greenwich, Connecticut. “I was nervous about having someone live with us — and worried she wouldn’t feel comfortable — but it was a unique relationship and helped us so much throughout the summer when my kids were off, but my husband and I were still working.”

Benefits:

  • Convenient.
  • Personalized care. 
  • Exposure to different cultures, languages and customs.

Cost: Trying to find an au pair without an agency is difficult, and not advisable. In addition to matching “host families” with an au pair, the agency sponsors visas, covers training and offers au pair accident and sickness insurance, among other things. Prices vary, but for reference, the agency Au Pair in America requires an annual program fee of $9,275; a match fee of $475; and a minimum weekly stipend for au pairs of $195.75 (which is required across the country). 

Tips: After the initial fees, a weekly stipend of under $200 may not seem like a lot, but there are other costs to consider, including food, transportation and auto insurance if they drive your car. 

9. Work in a play-friendly environment

For some parents, working while your kids play or do activities nearby is an option, especially if you can work remotely. 

“If your child has reached the age and level of independence where you can get some work done while they play,” Forde suggests, “try setting up a series of play activities or bring art supplies and books.” You can try this setup at a local cafe or community center, or even at the playground, if you have Wi-Fi or a portable hotspot. 

Benefits:

  • Free. 
  • Works in a pinch. 

Tips: Go prepared! Don’t expect your kids — especially if they’re little — to sit quietly next to you while you work. Bring activities (preferably ones they’ve never seen before).

10. Consider a hotel

Yes, really. “A friend of mine paid for a membership at a local hotel for access to their pool and fitness center — largely because they provide child care,” Forde says. “If you live in an area where there are some larger hotels, you might find a similar option where, via membership, you can take your child to activities there or to the on-site sitter while you can get work done.”

“A friend of mine paid for a membership at a local hotel for access to their pool and fitness center — largely because they provide child care.”

— LESLIE FORDE, WORKING MOM ADVOCATE

“There are also hotels that offer ‘kids clubs’ and programming for hotel guests,” Forde continues. “Even if you don’t actually choose to stay, it can be worth the money to pay for a membership or hotel stay in order to get access to the child care coverage for a short stint in the summer.”

Benefits:

  • Activities and socialization.

Cost: Prices vary, but the El Conquistador in Tucson, Arizona charges $45 for four hours of child care and $75 for eight hours (both include meals). That said, you also need to pay for a room, which averages $155 to just under $200 per night in the summer months. Go in on the room with another working parent, and it gets more affordable. 

Tips: Book far in advance if possible, for both availability and rate purposes. 

11. Build a hybrid summer care plan

Combining various care options may be the setup that works best with your budget and schedule. This could mean taking part in a co-op a few mornings each week, signing up for two or three camps and filling in the blanks with a favorite babysitter. Or you might combine a half-day camp with a half-day nanny share.

Cost: Pick and choose care options, based on your budget. 

Tips: Coordinating multiple care options requires advanced planning, so avoid winging it. Figure out what’s most important to you (such as participation in a particular camp or care at a consistent time), and then, build your summer care plan from there.

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