5 ways to solve the summer child care challenge

April 14, 2021

After bouncing around between a number of nannies and babysitters for my toddler, I finally found a great preschool with an opening in the spring. Hooray! No more juggling of care providers — just a steady schedule of learning and socialization for my little one so I could finally focus fully on work. And then reality hit: The school year ended in May, and I had to start a new search for summer care until classes resumed in September.

A quick look at my favorite child care resources told me I wasn’t the only one desperately looking to line up child care for the summer. Indeed, any working parent can spew about the struggles of filling in the summer child care gap. And when summer camps (at least the ones that are back open this year!) quickly book up — parents are left scrambling for alternatives.

Northern Virginia-based mom Amina Sarraf usually has three weeks each summer that need coverage, and she and her husband are forced to get creative with their schedules. One summer, her mom stepped in as a lifesaver, asking Sarraf to send her then-7-year-old “from Virginia to California so they can have ‘Camp Grandma’,” she says.

While finding summer child care can be challenging, there are several options for keeping your kid on a care schedule through back-to-school season. Here are five ideas to get started.

1. Hire a summer nanny

While many nannies look for a position that will last more than a few months, some are facing their own summer dilemma. Plus, college students and teachers typically have the summer months off and may be looking for an extra source of income.

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 and care for your child in the environment where kids are most comfortable. 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 children throughout the summer.

Katrina Wells, a mom of three in Mount Royal, New Jersey, hired a summer nanny over several years. “We pay her for our two kids plus gas money, and then my girlfriend brings her daughter over some days, so the nanny gets more money and the kids have a friend to play with,” she says.

When her youngest was 3, Wells left the toddler in day care for the summer because she says that allowed “more freedom for the other two.”

Over the years, she says she has found nannies through recommendations of a family member, her child’s day care center and a local nursing school.

Cost: According to 2020 Care.com data, the average summer nanny charged about $16.05 per hour, or $642 a week — but that can vary widely based on where you live, the nanny’s experience level, what you need them to do and how many kids you have. To cut costs, take advantage of tax breaks and ask around to see if you can find someone who’s interested in a summer nanny share.

Tips: Our summer hiring data shows us that 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 found work. Experienced nannies usually have their summer jobs secured by May, so try to start your nanny search before then if you don’t want to be left scrambling.

2. Hire a summer sitter

If your schedule is more flexible or your summertime 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 more seasonal sitters, often students and teachers, who need extra income but may not want the full-time work of a nanny.

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. That's a win-win for busy and exhausted parents. 

Cost: According to 2020 Care.com data, the average summer babysitter charged about $14.56 per hour — but rates will vary based on the sitter's experience, where you live, how many kids you have and what you ask them to do.

For a better idea of what your costs could look like, try our babysitting rates calculator, which can show you current rates for babysitters by location, years of experience, number of children and hours per week. 

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

An especially cost-effective option that works well for parents who don’t work full time, a child care co-op consists of a group of families who agree to take turns watching each other’s children, free of charge. Parents get regular time off while kids get to have regular playdates with their friends. If you've already created a play pod or bubble with other families during COVID-19, you may be already halfway there. 

Julie Burwell had her 8-year-old daughter in an Oak Park, Illinois-based co-op since she was a few months old. “Creating rules and systems are important, even in a temporary model,” she says. “At first, I wondered why a group of neighbors and friends needed bylaws. It removes emotion and any potential resentments or personality-driven conflicts. Plus, once you get them in place you can quickly pick the co-op back up every summer or break!”

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 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 children the average parent will feel comfortable watching on their own, which typically restricts the size of child care co-ops. This may also put a cap on how much time you can count on for child care, not to mention you’ll have to commit to a certain amount of time yourself. The success of this model relies on regular, clear communication between co-op members.

4. Sign up for summer day camp

With options ranging from a few days to several weeks, summer day camps are a fun way to fill the void in the summer months. You’ll likely have to enroll your kiddo in several camps to keep them busy all summer, but that can mean a summer’s worth of diverse, enriching experiences.

Rhiannon Giles, a Durham, North Carolina-based mom, makes a Google calendar to keep track of camp ideas for her 9-year-old daughter throughout the year.

“I list all of the possibilities each week of summer break to see how to best piece it all together,” she says. “Once I’ve gotten her officially registered for something, I change it to be on the regular calendar.”

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), day camps can be priced at less than $25 a day to more than $150 a day. If tuition is too expensive, you may qualify for the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit if you and your partner both work.

Tips: Consider your child’s age and personality before signing them up for too many camps, as bouncing around between too many activities may be stressful for some children, especially younger ones. If your child prefers a consistent schedule, you may want to choose a different summer care option.

5. Compromise with a hybrid summer care plan

Sometimes summer just calls for a little more flexibility than the rest of the year, especially when it comes to child care. 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: The beauty of this setup is it’s flexible, and you can pick and choose care options based on your budget. If you really want your kid to go to camp all summer, but it’s out of your price range, choose a lower cost option for a few weeks and participate in a co-op the rest of the time, for example.

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.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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