Having a hard time finding child care during school holidays? Here are four great options to consider.
By Anita Sharma
It is holiday season, which means that there are lots school breaks coming up. For kids it’s exciting they do not have go to school or do homework for a short period of time while they spend time relaxing. But what happens when parents have to work during the school holidays and there is no one to help them watch the kids?
Here are some choices that parents face when school is out:
Parents can try to entertain kids by using screen time to distract them and keep them entertained while they work. This way parents will not have to pay extra money for child care and they will get to spend more time with their kids. We’ve all seen kids with iPads at store and restaurants in an effort to keep them out of trouble while their parents shop or enjoy their dinner.
Cons: Kids may only be entertained for a limited amount of time. Phone meetings may be challenging if the child needs your attention in the middle of the call. According the American Association of Pediatrics, there are concerns around too much screen time use because it is addicting, increases BMI, and makes children lose valuable sleep.
Many local activity providers host day camps on the school holidays such as Veterans Day or Thanksgiving Week. They usually offer full day sessions that allow parents to work from 9-5. You can find a wide variety of day camps for school holidays on ActivityHero. These camps are guaranteed to excited and engage children whatever their interests might be and give them useful skills for the future. At camp kids will make friends with other kids who have the same interests and are a similar age. ActivityHero makes it easy for parents to find and book camps for their kids, making it simple for parents. Parents can even pay for the camp through the ActivityHero website.
Cons: Parents will have to drop off and then pick up their kids.
Price: $8-18 per hour
Sitters will take care of your kids at your house, which will make it easier for you to run out of the house while your kids are eating breakfast in their pajamas. Neighbors and friends can be a good source for sitter recommendations. And the babysitter website Urbansitter taps into your network to find recommended sitters that fit your needs.
Cons: The sitter you like may not be available for the dates and times you need.
Price: $10-20 per hour for one child. Prices vary by region.
Day care is the middle ground between camps and sitters. The caregiver may be hosting several kids at a home or center, and there are usually fewer kids per caregiver than you’d have at camp, which may be a plus if your child is less than 5 years old. You can often find daycares through your local county resource center, such as Children’s Council in San Francisco. The Children’s Council even helps families pay for childcare if they cannot afford it themselves.
Cons: Parents will have to drop off and pick up their children from day care. Not all day cares will accept new families who need care for only a few days or weeks.
Looking to put some “spring” into your home cooking routine? We asked the head chef at a kids’ cooking school to share handy tips and a delicious recipe.
By Wendy Chou
Cooking for kids can feel like a thankless task. When kids reject new foods and haven’t got a clue how much effort went into prepping a meal, it’s easy to get frustrated. Now consider cooking with kids. Having your kid help in the kitchen can break down some of their prejudices and teach them to appreciate where real food comes from. ActivityHero talked with Chef Cindy Roberts of the popular Bay Area-based “La Toque De Cindy” cooking school to hear how an expert helps kids learn to cook.
Cooking is Fun… and Practical
Each of Roberts’ weekly summer camps showcases a different type of cooking: chocolate, world cuisine, and handmade pizzas and pastas are just some of the tempting offerings this year. She likes to emphasize the joy and creativity inherent in cooking. Cindy Roberts started cooking at the age of 3 and believes cooking can inspire as well as educate. “I focus on the “fun” aspect of cooking,” Roberts points out, “but it’s my sneaky way to teach them the health, cost and taste benefits of home cooking.”
Getting Kids to Try New Things
Roberts knows one way parents can broaden the palette of picky eaters: give them a say. “Have them taste test something… and suggest improvements,” advises Roberts. In her cooking classes, asking the kids to experiment directly with ingredients “gets even the most finicky eaters trying out what we made and giving it a second chance.” In other words, the more they know about how a dish is put together, the more they can keep an open mind, even about foods they weren’t keen on at the outset.
When asked what the kids in her classes find most surprising about cooking, Roberts says that young chefs are completely “surprised at how easy it is to make some of the products they buy packaged at the grocery store,” including basics like chicken stock and mayonnaise. The homemade versions wind up being fresher and better-tasting. Empowerment and self-confidence: these two ingredients are welcome on any family menu.
Try It at Home
Here’s a savory spring-inspired recipe for you to try at home with your kids. The kid chefs at La Toque loved it (and ate their vegetables)!
Leek and Olive Tart
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Adapted by Cindy Roberts from Field of Greens cookbook
1 cup all purpose flour
2/3 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 ½ tablespoons vegetable shortening
2 ½ – 3 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 medium sized leeks, white part only, cut in half then thinly sliced
salt and pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 small whole olives, pitted and chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped Italian parsley
3 or 4 eggs (use fewer if using jumbo eggs)
1 ½ cup half and half
½ teaspoon minced lemon zest (optional)
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese, about 2/3 cup
MAKE THE SHELL: Mix flour, salt, butter and shortening until mixture has the appearance of small peas.
Add water a little at a time until dough holds together. Press into greased quiche pan (or pie pan).
MAKE THE FILLING: Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Saute the leeks for a few minutes until starting to wilt with ½ teaspoon salt and a few pinches of pepper. Add the garlic, cover and sweat for about 7 minutes. Remove the lid and sauté 2 minutes more.
Mix leeks in a bowl with olives, thyme and parsley.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Beat the eggs with the half and half. Add ½ teaspoon salt, a pinch of pepper and optional lemon zest.
Spread the cheese over the bottom of the tart dough, followed by the leek mixture. Pour the cream mixture over. Bake for 40 minutes until set.
Chef Cindy’s Tip:
The amount of participation is easy to modify depending on age. “Kids as young as 4 could assemble. At age 8, kids could make the crust themselves. By age 10 they could make it all on their own!”
Ready to explore more cooking? Find cooking camps and classes near you by visiting ActivityHero.com.
Vote and Write Reviews to Help You AND Your Favorite Camp Win
Businesses who have earned parents’ trust and recommendations have the best shot of taking home the prize. Here’s how it works. You can vote directly from your camp’s ActivityHero listing (look for the logo), or you can search the gallery of contestants and click the “vote now” button under your favorite camp or class. Each vote counts as an entry. You can also write a review of the business, which counts as three entries. Here’s a bonus: Every vote and review you submit enters you in a drawing for ActivityHero gift card worth up to $100! Votes and reviews will be tallied from now until July 31. Votes received before May 31 will give the business the best odds, since there are 3 monthly drawings in total (May 31, June 30, and July 31) to determine finalists. In August, the judging phase of the contest will determine the ultimate winner based on whether camps stand out in innovative ways or make a significant impact on their communities.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can I vote for more than one camp or class?
A: Yes, you are allowed at most 1 vote per activity provider, but can vote for as many providers as you want.
Q: Can my kids participate in the Business Grant contest?
A: Unfortunately, you must be 18 or older to participate. You must also have a valid e-mail address.
Q: Where do I submit a review?
A: Go to the camp’s individual ActivityHero listing and scroll to the bottom where you’ll click on a “write a review” button.
Q: Can I write more than 1 review?
A: You may submit at most 1 review for a specific business. You may review as many businesses as you wish.
Q: I don’t see my favorite camp or class in the gallery. How can I support them?
ActivityHero.com is the leading online marketplace for camps, activities, after school classes, workshops, and kids’ nights out. More than 2.5 million families use us to find and book kids’ activities from a wide variety of local providers. Visit https://www.activityhero.comto start your summer camp search today!
With so many choices available, how do you find a summer camp that fits your family’s style? Here are key questions to ask when starting your search.
By Wendy Chou
Some parents see summer vacation as a chance to try new skills and challenges, and some would rather that their kids unplug and unwind from the pressures of the school year. Whether you are researching camps for the first time or looking for some refresher tips, these simple questions may come in handy when considering a camp for your child.
What is the ratio of campers to staff?
Is the program staff composed of college students, more experienced teachers, or a mix?
Do students roam independently or stick closely with one counselor throughout the day?
Does the camp offer more free time or more structure?
Is the focus on learning, on fun, or on a combination?
Do campers tend to return year after year?
What sets it apart from similar camps in the area?
Does the camp cover gap subjects (ones that your child sees less of during the school year)?
Special Features and Accommodations
For skill-based camps (for instance, coding or sports camps), how do you accommodate different ages or abilities?
How would staff try to accommodate the needs of my introverted camper, or my spirited camper?
If needed, is before or after care available (if so, how does it differ from the main day’s activities?)
Are transportation options (e.g., bussing) available?
A Camp Director’s Perspective
Parents should feel free to call or e-mail camp directors “if they want to know more,” recommends Rory Judge, who has 40 years’ experience with the Bay Area’s Adventure Camps. Chatting with parents one-on-one about their summer camp questions is the perfect way to help “even the most nervous first-time parents warm up to camp,” Judge explains. For starters, he likes to find out a prospective camper’s age, how much camp experience they already have, and what school they attend. With websites, reviews, and other online tools becoming more popular, Judge finds that parents today seem comfortable doing their own research online in lieu of calling in.
Whether you like to gather information online or talk to camp staff, keeping these questions in mind can help you narrow down the field of camps that really fit your family’s style. And to easily find camps that match your child’s age, interest and available dates, check out the search tools on ActivityHero. You’ll find reviews from parents and can book your camps with one convenient registration form.
Worried your child won’t warm up to summer camp? Here, top camp directors share secrets for helping shy kids step outside their comfort zone.
By Laura Quaglio
Worried that your child might be too “shy” to enjoy summer camp? Plenty of parents are. That’s what we do sometimes: we worry. Rory Judge, who started at Adventure Camps in 1978, says that he has talked to many fretful parents over the years, but he assures those of us with kids on the “quiet” or “shy” side that there’s usually no real cause for concern when it comes to enrolling them in a summer camp. “When parents inquire about shy kids, I just tell them to send them to us,” he says. “We can usually work with them to make them comfortable really quick.” In 38 years, Rory says he has never had to take a child home partway through the day – not even the ones who were crying, clinging, or even hollering at drop-off. That’s even more reassuring when you consider that his camp has a unique setup: as “the only completely mobile day camp in the Bay Area since 1971,” Adventure Camps boards kids onto counselor-driven vans each morning and heads out to various locales for a wide variety of activities including woodland hikes, beach play, swimming, nature crafts, and talent shows.
Tamar Hill, director and founder of the co-ed all-day sports camp Spartan Allstars (with locations in La Canada and Menlo Park, Calif.) agrees that most kids are quick to make friends at summer camp – even if they start the day hiding behind Mom. “I think ‘shy’ is something we tell our kids that they are,” says Tamar, who taught high-school biology for 16 years and served as a coach for the school’s women’s varsity basketball team. “Really ‘shy’ is an emotion, not an identity,” she says. “I think it’s a state of anxiety rather than a state of being.”
In fact, Tamar adds, most of us act a little “shy” in an unfamiliar setting, especially among complete strangers. She believes that it’s helpful to talk to our kids about why they’re feeling shy, nervous, or anxious about attending a particular camp or activity. By understanding their concerns, parents and camp staff may be better able to help that child feel at ease. And that, she says, is a much better solution than denying them all of the magical perks – emotional, social, physical, and academic – that summer camp offers.
Still a bit anxious? Remember that helping your child adjust won’t fall solely on your shoulders. Many camp directors and counselors really take pride in helping all children feel at ease, says CD Hullinger, owner of CD’s Kids Art Studio studios in San Jose. “When I get a shy kid, I immediately tell them that I am glad they are here because I need a helper,” she says. She asks these kids to hang out with her and let her know when they’re ready to participate. Once they warm up, she often has them, in turn, help befriend another camper who might be hovering at the fringe of a group activity. It’s a great way to encourage kids to make connections and to show children that they can make a difference in another child’s life.
Of course, these camp owners also have a few ideas of what parents can do to set the stage for a more successful start of summer camp. Here, a few of their top tips:
Get a Sneak Peek of the Camp
Summer camp websites often have class/camp descriptions, counselor bios, photos, and sometimes even videos of previous sessions. They may also have a Facebook page that shares highlights of special events and activities. Take some time to explore these sites with your child to familiarize them with the program. You can also ask the camp director if it’s okay to drop by during a session or if you can schedule a face-to-face meeting and a tour of the facilities. You can also request a more complete itinerary (if available) so your child will know exactly what to expect on a day-by-day and hour-by-hour basis. You could also sign up your child for a one-day drop-in session or an after school program at that camp. That way, when summer session begins, your child might already know some of the campers and counselors.
Ask What the Camp Does to Welcome Shy Kids
Rory says that his Adventure Camps program is set up to engage kids from the get-go. Before the campers even arrive at their first destination, they are greeted individually by counselors and are welcomed into “their” van – Great White, Snow White, or Cool Blue, which were given their names by the children. The fun starts as soon as the kids enter the van, which is not just a means of transportation but a great space for meeting new friends. By the time kids arrive at their first activity, any nervousness has usually disappeared.
Rory also tries to take kids’ interests into account. If one child is a fan of horses, Rory might bring outlines of ponies for that child to color … or the group might schedule a visit to the stable in Golden Gate Park. “We meet and greet each child by name, take an interest, and really pay attention to each one,” he says. “It’s the simplest thing, but that’s all it usually takes.”
Each camp director may have their own method of helping kids feel special. CD’s Kids Art Studio owner CD Hullinger has a “charming” secret that often works magic on apprehensive kids: “I have fused-glass trinkets that are small enough to fit in pockets,” she says. “I give one to the child and tell them that this little trinket is good luck! Usually by the first hour, they are hanging out and having fun.”
If you know your child is truly hesitant to make new friends, our experts advise trying to sign them up with a friend.(ActivityHero makes this easy to do: Once you register, just share your registrations with the parents of your child’s friends.)
Also consider enrolling your child in multiple sessions at the same camp, especially if that location hosts an array of activities and programs. Spartan Allstars, for instance, offers sports camps, as well as ones with a drama theme. She does advise against over-scheduling your child for camps that are heavy on physical activity, though, because that can be exhausting, even for energetic kids. Try to break up those sports-camp weeks with something artistic or academic, for example.
Help Counselors Understand Your Child
If you have any concerns or helpful information about your child’s personality, behavior, interests, or special needs, share them with the camp’s staff before the session starts. For instance, let camp counselors or directors know if your child has been diagnosed with a condition such as an Asperger’s spectrum disorder or ADHD, if they have an aversion to something (such as getting wet or muddy), or if they’re afraid of something (such as dogs, heights, or clowns). You should also alert staff if something stressful is going on in your household, such as a recent move, the death of a loved one, or a divorce – or even if your child is just having a bad day or didn’t get enough sleep the previous night. The more information counselors have, the better they can help your child feel comfortable at camp.
Tamar adds that it’s important to remember that summer camps are not an extension of school, and many are not equipped to make the same accommodations as schools do. If your child needs a great deal of modifications, consider seeking out a camp that advertises an expertise in working with children who have special needs. Find out more about camps that serve kids with special needs.
Prepare for the First Day of Summer Camp
Day One at summer camp usually means plenty of paperwork, traffic snarls in the parking area, parents with questions, and very young siblings running around wreaking havoc as only toddlers can do. If your child is already anxious, all of this won’t help. That’s why Tamar suggests making an extra effort to start the first day of camp with a positive attitude. If you’re anxious or stressed, your kids will pick up on that, but if you’re calm, they’ll be more likely to mirror some of your happy-go-lucky approach. Try this pre-camp preparation strategy:
A month before camp, clear your calendar for an hour before and after drop-off, so you won’t feel pressured during check-in. Also, make sure you’ve completed all of your camp forms. ActivityHero makes this easy, too, just go to My Registrations and you’ll see links to the forms that you need to complete, if there are any.
The Friday before camp, re-read all of the camp handouts and emails. Double-check drop-off and pick-up times and all requirements for paperwork, medications, behavior, clothing, and supplies. Have questions? Ask now; don’t wait until registration, when the director and counselors have a million other things vying for their attention.
The night before camp, lay out clothes and shoes, then pack lunches, backpacks, and gym bags with all necessities (including sunscreen, a water bottle, and a snack, for instance).
The morning of camp, if possible, carpool with your child’s camp buddies – or arrange to arrive at the same time so your child won’t have to walk in alone.
On the ride to camp, stay calm. Don’t stress about traffic or ask “Are you nervous?” or “Will you be okay?” Turn on some fun music, and chat about one of your child’s interests (such as a favorite TV show) during the drive.
When you arrive at camp, expect a significant wait time. Even at the most organized camps, it may take up to an hour to pass out T-shirts, introduce counselors, collect paperwork and payments, and the like. “If you lower your expectations, you’ll never be disappointed,” says Tamar. And if the process goes quickly, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Say a Quick Goodbye … Then Leave
At the start of the camp session, some parents would like to hang out and watch for a while to make sure their child is okay. While Tamar doesn’t mind, she says that lingering in the background may not be the best approach with anxious or clingy kids. “Half the time when parents do that, the kids are looking for them all the time,” she says. Instead, once your child is transitioned to the care of the counselors, it’s time to head out.
If you really don’t love the idea of being out of the loop during your child’s day, ask the camp director if there is anything in place to help you stay connected or informed. For instance, Spartan Allstars has partnered with Kinderlime, which offers apps for parents that allow them to view photos taken at camp and uploaded throughout the day.
Tamar adds that sometimes kids are less likely to try to manipulate an early pickup if they know Mom or Dad has plans for the day. She advises saying something like, “I’m really busy at work, so I can’t come and take you home, but if there is an emergency, the camp knows how to contact me.”
Imagine Them Having a Great Time
Generally, says Tamar, kids are happily participating within 5 minutes of beginning their first Spartan Allstars activity. So try to forget about the waterworks that your child turned on during drop-off. Believe it or not, Tamar says that kids who start out “kind of hiding behind their mom” are usually the ones who become the most attached to counselors and other campers throughout the week. “They break out of it really quickly,” she says. “Most kids do.”
Rory agrees, saying that – 9 times out of 10 – even the most distraught kids are fine before the parents leave the parking lot. In particular, he remembers a 4-year-old girl who came to his camp feeling excited but also very nervous. As the day progressed, he noticed she was participating and smiling, so he joked with her. “At one point I said, Are you okay? I can call your mom … and I reached into my pocket and pulled out a banana and put it up to my ear,” says Rory. “She just started cracking up. Her mom said she never stopped talking about that.” Sixteen years later, that girl is now one of Rory’s camp counselors.
Don’t Let Problems Fester
If you or your child has a concern about something that happened at camp, share it with the camp director right away, says Tamar. It’s often easier and more effective to mediate a problem in its early stages (especially if it’s a social one). And allowing more time to pass generally leaves parents and kids growing more frustrated and upset each day.
“We don’t want any child to have a bad experience,” agrees Rory. “We want every kid who comes to Adventure Camps to really love it. For them to be safe and have a fun time and go home feeling great about who they are.” Your calm and honest feedback can help ensure that this happens at your child’s summer camp sessions.
And Don’t Forget to Share Praise, Too!
“Parents often don’t say anything if they’re happy,” says Tamar. One year, she received complaints (but no positive remarks) about a “color run” type of activity, in which kids get powdered from head to toe with colored cornstarch. The kids loved it, but the negative feedback caused her to nix the event the following session … only to have many families beg for its return. (She reinstated the event, but now allows kids to opt out if they don’t want to wind up with hair that’s temporarily pink and blue.)
Also spread the word to other parents about what makes your favorite camps special, including the ways that they helped your child feel at ease. Of course you probably already offer this info to friends and family. But for a greater impact, take just a few minutes (literally) to write a positive review right on ActivityHero. It’s a great way to show your gratitude to a special counselor or camp director – and it might help another family find a new favorite summer camp for their shy or not-so-shy child.
Considering exploring overnight camps for your children this summer? Two directors share tips to prepare kids for the positive experience of a lifetime.
By Laura Quaglio
If your kids haven’t tried sleepaway camp, you’re entering uncharted territory for your family. That, however, is not actually a bad thing. “Doing something outside of your comfort zone burns memories that last forever because it won’t blend into the background of life,” says Michael Richards, founder and executive director of Science Camps of America based in Pahala, Hawaii. When kids spread their wings, they can grow as a person — and become more the person they really are, not limited by the perceptions and history of their classmates or even their own family.
“Campers all enter on this totally equal basis, and they can express their personality without the backdrop of their whole life, their whole history,” says Richards, whose camps are for teens aged 13 to 17 who are interested in exploring volcanoes, rocks, forests, oceans, and skies of Hawaii to learn about related sciences like geology, climate, and astronomy. “You can’t come to school and reinvent yourself — or even be yourself,” he adds. “In the camp, kids can express their personality and no one is going to judge them or say, ‘Why did you suddenly change?’ I think that gives kids tremendous empowerment.”
Being in a camp environment also helps prepare kids to function as positive and productive members of society during adulthood. At Camp Chrysalis, where kids aged 8 to 17 explore various outdoor environments in California, director Lee Tempkin takes pride in showing campers how “shared leadership” works. “Everyone calls me Lee, though it’s clear I’m the leader,” he says of his management style. “The staff and I have camp huddles, talk around the campfire, and discuss who would like to give the next camp talk,” he says. “Kids see that we are all part of an adult community. That we respect and work with each other and with them.” Being in a tight-knit group 24/7, even for a short time, helps kids build stronger teamwork skills and independence, all of which will serve them well when they eventually leave home as a young adult entering the workforce or college.
Still a bit hesitant? Worried if your kid will thrive and if you will survive? Here are some ways to tell whether you and your child are ready … and how to prepare them for a transformative, positive experience.
Think About Their Personality
Richards says that “the vast majority of kids love [overnight camp], even if it is their first time doing it.” The kids who do best, says Tempkin, are those who are open, flexible, and positive about new experiences. His camps expose kids to a variety of outdoor activities while living among redwoods, tide pools, marshes, and mountains and learning about ecology and our responsibility for our planet. Kids will get dirty and wet. They’ll sleep in tents with other campers and learn outdoor skills. Kids who are accustomed to spending most of their time in an urban area, indoors, or in solo activities may have a tougher time adapting. For them, as well as kids younger than age 8, he says it’s better to start with overnights or a weekend getaway at a friend or family member’s house. “Summer camp is not the time to have a kid be away from mom and dad for the first time,” he says.
Kindness, too, is key. “Kids who are mean to other kids may have a hard time,” says Tempkin. Campers will be interacting with each other in close proximity all day (and night) without breaks. Kids don’t have to like everything or everyone new, he notes, but they need to appreciate different experiences and different kinds of people.
In a way, this is good news, because it means that bullying is not generally a problem at either of these overnight camps, and probably many others. “Kids are amazingly open about it, and they won’t let anyone get away with the slightest bit of it,” Richards says. “Maybe because they’re not with their usual peer group. They think, ‘Let’s stop this before it starts.’ It’s really something to see.”
Let Your Child Choose the Camp
Richards says that telling a kid, “you’re going here” is one of the biggest mistakes parents make. Of course you won’t want to let your child have the only say-so: Sometimes kids don’t have the same concerns that you do. And if you aren’t comfortable with their pick, your child will sense that, and it might affect their stay. On the other hand, kids will be more invested in having a good time if they are allowed to select a program that excites them.
Some camps offer a range of activities that can include athletics, crafts, survival skills, and so on. Others center on a particular theme, such as a single sport, academic subject, or interest (like soccer, science, or computer coding). “Kids find us because they’re interested in science,” says Richards. “So they’re going to be in a group of like-minded kids. All of a sudden, these kids have that shared enthusiasm, and that makes it a very good social experience.” On the other hand, kids who don’t have a specific interest may prefer to dabble in a variety of activities, which can help them find a new hobby they’ll love. Either way, discuss these different options and be sure your child knows what “their” camp offers.
Encourage Their Independence
At Camp Chrysalis, kids learn to keep track of their gear, their toothbrush, their fork, and so on. They will spend 8 to 12 days at Big Sur, Mendocino, or Sierra. They will hike, swim, and hang out. They also learn camping skills like “how not to damage a tent,” “how to sterilize drinking water,” and “how to whittle safely.” You can help set them up for success by encouraging them to take more responsibility for such items and actions at home. Let them start packing their sports bag or packing their lunch for school. When preparing for camp, have them help you pack their labeled camp gear, too, so they know where everything is located.
At Science Camps of America, Richards likes to give kids as much choice as possible throughout the day, such as which bed to sleep in, which van to ride in, and what topic to debate that evening. If you don’t already do so, start encouraging your kids to make more of their own choices when it’s feasible.
Another tip: Once they’re at camp, leave them be. Both camp directors agree that kids will have a better experience if their parents aren’t checking in all the time. In fact, many camps take away tech, though they’ll certainly allow phone calls if a child is particularly homesick.
If you miss texting your kids, remember this: Taking that away will free them up to interact with the kids at camp. Richards says he gathers up the cell phones after each camp’s orientation. “The kids know that it’s going to happen and they’re all horrified by the prospect of it, but within a few hours, you’ve got 20 strangers who are best friends. It’s amazing to see how fast they socialize and connect without cell phones to distract them.” You can both get accustomed to the idea by easing up on the tech connections at home a bit, too. And if they do phone home, Richards says make sure to tell them you’re excited and happy for them. You may feel like you should tell them how much you miss them, but both camp directors agree that this often makes kids feel guilty about having fun, which can inhibit their ability to immerse themselves in the experience.
Fear of the unknown can be powerful, but it’s easy enough to dispel some of it. Richards, for one, believes in finding information that helps kids and parents “envision the environment” and understand what a typical day or week will hold.
“I encourage parents to look at the camp’s website with their kids,” says Tempkin. “We also have a family night in June, where we show slides. I think it’s reassuring to have some of the basic information so it’s not so scary for them to go off on their own.”
If you like, call the camp and see if a director or staff member can answer your questions. What do the facilities look like? What food will be provided? What will the campers learn? Work with your kids to create a list of things you want to ask.
If you learn something you think the kids won’t love, don’t withhold the information from them, advises Tempkin. “I’m a believer that kids are people who need to be respected to handle information, especially regarding an experience that is going to be their experience.” The more a child knows, the better they can picture themselves there, having a great time.
Talking to other parents can be helpful, too. Ask the camp director for references. Also look for written reviews such as the ones on ActivityHero or on the camp’s website.
Ask About Staff Numbers, Age, and Experience
For parents who are worried about their kid getting lost in the shuffle, it’s important to look at the size of the camp, says Tempkin. “We divide our campers into four small groups of 8 or 9 kids with 2 staff members, and they eat together and doactivities together on a daily basis, so the staff gets to know the campers really, really well.” Richards, too, has a smaller camp, with just 20 kids and 5 staff members per session. “We try to develop a relationship with each kid, one-on-one,” he says. “Our motto is: Don’t treat them as a group. Treat them as individuals.”
Maturity of the staff is important too, says Tempkin. Half of his staff members are adults, not college or high school students. “The maturity of the staff is reassuring for families who have never done camp before,” he says. Younger staffers can serve as great role models or mentors, but there must be enough adults available to deal with larger concerns and keep campers on track.
It’s also a good sign if some staffers are former campers, since they will know the culture, and they obviously enjoyed their stay when they were kids. Tempkin says that most of his staff grew up attending his camp, and he has known them since they were 8 or 10 years old. “They act as mature mentors who can be a positive factor in the kid’s life,” he says. “Kids need adults in their lives who are not their parents, especially as they become teens. A good camp can provide those mentors.”
Last, ask how long staffers have been with the camp. A low turnover rate means staffers know what they’re doing — and they enjoy it enough to return summer after summer.
Talk About How Kids Can Share Their Experiences With You
Kids love to teach their parents, and attending a summer camp offers them a chance to learn new things and then pass them on. Your child can do this by keeping a journal. Kids at Camp Chrysalis write in a “Bear Book.” In fact, Tempkin says that this can also help dispel some homesickness because kids know they can always write a letter to home and share it later. They also send a postcard to parents midway through the trip. This is fun for kids, most of whom have never written out a postcard before, and for parents who feel better when they receive even a brief communication.
Another option might be to revisit the locations your child explored and ask them to serve as your tour guide. Richards says that one mom and her son spent a few days in Hawaii after his camp ended, and she phoned a few days later to share how much her son enjoyed showing her around the island. Richards adds, “It gave that boy an opportunity to take what he had learned and teach it to his mother. And as we know, when we teach something, that’s when we really learn it.” Tempkin has similar stories of campers who became “great tour guides of the areas they’ve learned about.”
As for parents, knowing that our children have surpassed us, even in a small area of expertise, is tremendously rewarding. So when they share, listen closely and ask questions.
In the meantime, go ahead and start making your own list of what you want to do — or where you’d like to go — when your kids are at sleepaway camp. Who knows? Their getaway might be a transformative experience for you, too.
Did you know that some summer camps and after school activities qualify as childcare and can reduce your taxes? Find out more about what qualifies and how to get the tax credit.
by ActivityHero Staff
Your family’s after-school care and summer day camp expenses may lower your taxes as a Child and Dependent Care Expense. If you paid a summer camp, daycare center, babysitter, or other care provider to care for a qualifying child under age 13 or a disabled dependent of any age, you may qualify for a tax credit up to 35 percent of qualifying expenses of $3,000 for one child or dependent, or up to $6,000 for two or more children or dependents. Even coding camps and after-school language classes can qualify, as long as your child is under 13 and meets the other criteria.
Here are some of the key points you need to know to get the tax credit:
Expenses are deductible only if the main purpose is the “person’s well-being and protection.” Summer school, private school tuition, tutoring and overnight camps don’t qualify.
Children who required care must be under 13 years of age.
Both parents must be working, or looking for work (with some rare exceptions).
Only day camps qualify, not overnight camps.
Day care centers or after-school care qualifies if only if the center complies with all state and local regulations.
There is a maximum yearly dollar amount of $3000 for one child, or $6000 for two or more children.
To get the tax credit, you must file a form 1040 or 1040A (not a 1040EZ) and additional forms (at least Form 2441) are also required. Be prepared to include the care provider name (camp or child care center), address and taxpayer identification number. Tip: you can find tax ID’s, also known as EIN, by searching for the name on ActivityHero. If you are married, you must be filing a joint tax return, not separate returns.
Please keep in mind that we know a fair bit about summer camps and kids activities, but are NOT tax experts. There are additional restrictions to this tax credit, so read IRS publication 503 carefully or consult your tax advisor before claiming the tax dependent care credit.
When booking summer and school holiday camps, consider whether the camps will be eligible for a tax credit next year. The tax credit can cut the price of camp by up to 35%.
Hey Bay Area! Get a chance to meet summer camp directors and ask questions by checking out a local camp fair. It’s a great opportunity to discover new camps and plan a summer your kids will love.
By ActivityHero Team
ActivityHero is pleased to be co-hosting several SF Bay Area camp & activity fairs with local schools. These fairs will a blast for kids — with hands-on maker activities, giveaways, and more. Fairs are free for families to attend, but camp directors are making a donation to help support the hosting school. Scroll down to find the fair nearest to you.
We’ve also gathered together information about other summer camp fairs happening in the area. Please be sure to let us know if you’d like to host a fair at your school, or if you know of another fair we should include here.
Plan ahead for winter break. Discover popular winter camps in the San Francisco Bay Area.
By ActivityHero Staff
This year, several popular winter camps are offering single day options for the greatest flexibility if you aren’t planning to take the whole week off. One-day camps are the first ones to fill up, so if you see one still available, book it now.
You’ll find camps that fit all interests, like LEGO, art, sports, or chess to make the most of your winter break. Top winter break camps in SF Bay Area include:
Adventure Camp – San Francisco Fun filled adventures for kids 4 and up.
The winter season offers the perfect backdrop for introducing your kids to holidays celebrated by different cultures, both in the United States and abroad. And media can provide us with a window into their varied and colorful traditions.
Here is a collection of books, along with a few other media treats (a movie, TV show, and app) that will help your children broaden their horizons and learn more about others who share our planet. Enjoy these titles with your kids, and you all may learn something new!
Books About Favorite Holidays From Around the World
Let’s Celebrate Diwali
Diwali, or the festival of lights, is celebrated around the world. This book explores the different traditions and customs of many different groups. The colorful illustrations make this an especially engaging read.
Amma, Tell Me About Holi!
This colorful tale shares the story of the Hindu holiday of Holi, using colorful pictures and simple rhymes to make it easily understood by children.
Oskar and the Eight Blessings
As a refugee from Nazi Germany, Oskar finds the people of New York to be kind and giving on a day that is both the seventh night of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve. The people’s warm welcome shows Oskar that there is love and compassion in the world still.
Under the Ramadan Moon
In this picture book, a family’s month-long celebration of Ramadan is connected to the moon’s movement. The giving, sharing, praying, and caring for others that occurs during the month is beautifully conveyed.
Day of the Dead
Brightly colored illustrations and detailed descriptions draw the reader into the preparations, foods, and celebration of the Day of the Dead.
The Egg Tree
One grandmother’s childhood tradition of an Easter Egg tree is discovered by her grandchildren, who are quick to embrace the custom themselves. This winner of the Caldecott Medal is a true classic.
Marco’s Cinco de Mayo
Narrated from the perspective of a young dancer in a Cinco de Mayo parade, this book brings the holiday and its history to life.
Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story
The seven principles of Kwanzaa are brought to life through the story of seven brothers in an African village. When their father dies, they must cooperate and make gold from seven spools of thread. As they work together, they learn to value each other and their community.
A Movie About Favorite Holidays From Around the World
The Black Candle: A Kwanzaa Celebration
This documentary, filmed around the world, explores the African-American experience, both the triumphs and sorrows. Of particular focus is the Kwanzaa holiday, which now is celebrated by over 40 million people.
A TV Show About Favorite Holidays From Around the World
An App About Favorite Holidays From Around the World
A fully featured Hanukkah app with a menorah to light, a dreidel game, songs, and some foundational Hebrew. Included are “Eight Days of Happiness” tips for parents on teaching children about the meaning and traditions behind the holiday and expressing appreciation for the miracle of the oil lasting eight nights.
Many of the following movies, books, and TV shows will be familiar to you, bringing back fond memories of Christmases gone by, but they may be “new” for your kids! Take some time this holiday season to introduce your family to a title that made you feel like you just couldn’t wait for the holidays. There might even be a few titles here that you missed out on when you were just a “tiny reindeer” yourself.
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus
Part mythology, part fantasy, this tale of Santa Claus growing up as an orphan is well told by L. Frank Baum, the creator of the Wizard of Oz. An excellent choice for reading to a child.
Too Many Tamales
While helping with the annual Christmas Eve tradition of tamale-making, Maria finds herself giving into temptation. This is a funny, heartfelt story with lovely illustrations and strong messages about love and family and honesty.
The Gift of the Magi
This classic O. Henry story is a bittersweet tale of a husband and wife who sacrifice in order to buy presents for each other. Love for each other becomes all they have, and all they need. A true lesson about the meaning of Christmas.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Charlie Brown finds that love and friendship can overcome his holiday blues. Bonus: Now your kids will understand what you mean when you talk about buying a “Charlie Brown tree”!
Frosty the Snowman
This holiday favorite tells the story of Frosty, a snowman that magically comes to life on Christmas Eve.
Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas!
The original animated movie from 1966 is always worth watching during the holiday season. Family, friends, and togetherness are what’s important, and even the Grinch finally learns that.
Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town
The story of Santa Claus is creatively told in this excellent special from the 1970s with guest appearances (and a catchy tune) by Heat Miser and Snow Miser!
A Christmas Carol (1951)
Christmas Eve visits from three ghosts persuade miserly Mr. Scrooge to change his ways. Always a classic to watch during the holiday season.
It’s a Wonderful Life
This perennial classic is sure to remind you and yours what the holidays are about. George Bailey learns that he is, in fact, the luckiest man in the world because of the love of his family and community.
This is a bit of an unusual choice for a holiday movie, but the messages of selflessness, giving, and kindness will resonate with the whole family. Note that this is best for ages 10 and up, as there is some language, along with a few iffy situations.
Arthur’s Perfect Christmas
In this special, all different ways of celebrating are explored by Arthur and his group of friends, including Francine, whose family celebrates Hanukkah. Everyone has a different idea of what makes a “perfect” holiday.
Yogi Bear, the Flintstones, and the Smurfs celebrate Christmas in this fun and nostalgic collection of cartoons.
Overnight camp can be an exciting adventure; however, going for the first time can cause some jitters for parents and kids alike. Soothe the nerves of your camper by sharing these interesting camp experiences — some completely silly, some true to life. In the media choices below, we explore nontraditional camps like spy camp and roller derby camp, as well as the more common sleepaway camp in the woods. Share them with your soon-to-be campers and see their excitement grow!
Books for Kids Going to Overnight Camp
This terrific graphic novel tells the story of a young teen learning to work hard and become a good teammate at roller derby camp one summer. Her ideas of friendship are tested outside of camp, but she comes through strong and inspired to do her best.
This sequel to Spy School reports on spy summer camp. A thrilling adventure awaits the main character as he heads to camp for high-stakes survival training camp, but encounters much more. Please note that while there is violence in this book, it is cartoon violence.
Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy
Supernatural creatures run the show in the wacky summer camp portrayed in this comic book series. Five girlfriends band together and have a great time dealing with strange critters and a tough camp counselor. Ultimately, they empower each other to have a summer full of adventure.
Bless the Beasts & Children
This classic novel tells the difficult but poignant story of boys sent away to camp because of challenging home lives. Set in the West, it shares how the boys unite and defy authority to do what is right. Beautifully written, this story will be best for enthusiastic teen readers.
The Parent Trap (1961)
Whether you prefer the 1961 original or the remake, the story is funny and engaging. Twins are separated by their parent’s divorce and raised as singletons. They rediscover each other at summer camp, scheme to reunite their warring parents, and chaos ensues. Quaint and old-fashioned, the actors in the original will charm you.
Girl power is the message in this documentary set at the Rock and Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Oregon. Several girls from differing backgrounds are featured as they learn to play an instrument and build confidence through their performances. These girls share their feelings and their creativity. It’s an empowering movie, at times infuriating and sad, but with a powerhouse of a message.
This movie shows a stylized world like no other. It’s a quirky movie with laughter, sadness, and hilarity. The pair of runaway tweens are decent and devoted. Not your usual camp experience, but entertaining and lovely.
Great love for the theater supersedes any differences that this group of campers discovers about each other. Every two weeks, campers put on a Broadway show. Personalities are strong but, always, the show must go on! Be aware that there is strong language and situations in this PG-13 rated movie.
A spin-off from the popular Disney series Jessie, this fictitious camp experience is full of pranks, silliness, and friends.
Completely imaginary, this camp is run by monsters, with very few rules and regulations for the campers. Bathroom humor is popular and frequent. Obviously, this is not what overnight camp will be like, but it’s funny to imagine.
Holiday dinners and cleanup leave parents tired … but kids still want something to DO! Here are quick, clever crafts to spark playful fun and learning.
By Anne Carey, from Left Brain Craft Brain
Why Craft with Your Kids?
It’s already busy during the holidays, and it might seem like a chore to prep craft projects for your children. But it’s well worth the few minutes of simple setup. Crafting creates a break in the day that’s fun (for kids) and relaxing (for you). Also, art projects and sensory play help kids recharge their batteries and trigger creative thinking — both of which are especially helpful as the year winds down. Try these fall-and-winter-themed “5-Minute Crafts” to inspire your kids to create … and maybe even learn a little! Pumpkin Pie Spice Play Dough
Relive that heavenly smell of baking with this simple, homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice Play Dough. Free play with play dough encourages children’s creative problem-solving skills while stimulating their senses. Add some pinecones, acorns, and leaves for a natural “creation station” for the kids. Plus, did you know that washable markers can turn play dough into art?
Inspire the tinkerer in your kiddo with this fun tree-building activity. (It’s also a perfect way to start making the transition from autumn decorations to winter ones!) Nuts and bolts are great supplies for developing fine motor skills, math learning, and design thinking.
Pumpkin Pie Painting
You just might have a few pie pans lying around after Thanksgiving, right? Turn them into a fun art project and pretend-play combo with Pumpkin Pie Painting. Kids will love this unique sensory art especially once they add the “whipped cream” paint.
Tape-Resist Glitter Forest
Tape, paint & glitter … These are a few of our favorite things when crafting with the kids. Lay out the supplies for this Tape-Resist Glitter Forest, and let the kids explore the patterns that emerge when the tape is removed. Creating shapes for the trees is an opportunity for spatial learning, which has been shown to aid math-skill development in kids.
Whirly Twirly Flying Turkeys
Did you know that turkeys can fly? Up to 55 mph even! Kids can learn what makes birds fly with this easy balloon craft. It’s science made silly and fun!
These crafts are a great way to feed the creative spirit in your child, while building important skills and offering a little insight into the world of science, too. To keep kids’ creative juices flowing — and find a little extra time for your own holiday preparations — consider enrolling your child in a fun and creative drop-in art class or holiday STEAM-inspired session. Check out ActivityHero for local options near you. Slots fill up fast, so don’t wait too long!
Her daughter picked Art Camp at Art Bash Studios,
San Jose. At Art Bash, students get to unleash their creativity using paper-mache, glass, mosaics, paintings, drawing, and much more!
Art Bash instructor CD Hullinger has over 25 years experience as a children’s book illustrator and professional tutor. Kids can sign up for one or more days, or a full week. Come join CD and the rest of our friendly staff and have fun creating lots of art!
TechKnowHow offers fun and enriching Computer and LEGO® Summer Day Camps for students, ages 5-14, in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Classes include LEGO® and KNEX® projects with motors, Game Design, Electronics, Stop-Motion, and NXT Robotics. Classes feature high-interest, age-appropriate projects which teach technology and science skills.
Camp Marco Polo is a unique, hands-on, role playing summer camp experience for kids 8-13, interested in art, culture, languages and history.The program immerses kids into a different place and time each week during the 10 weeks of summer, as kids are asked to bring word of Marco Polo back to Venice from China.
Kids experience travel along the Silk Road in their imagination, accompanied by expert leaders who guide them in age appropriate Caravans, discovering many cultural wonders in a playful setting along the way. Each week the campers will discover age old secrets of paper, silk, ceramics, and much more with creative hands-on clay, paper textile art and food projects. They will enjoy live performances of beloved folktales and legends and create skits of their own to play out with friends.
Are you ready for spring break? Here’s a bucket-list plan that will keep the kids occupied and won’t break the bank.
Whether spring break is right around the corner or months away, it’s never too early (or late) to start planning what you’re going to do to keep the kids occupied, engaged in activities, and (shhh … don’t tell them) even learning. That’s why starting a Spring Break Bucket List today is a great idea.
Wondering why you need a special bucket list just for spring break? Isn’t one bucket list enough for a lifetime? Creating a specific list of spring break activities will help you be more intentional about your use of time. To put a finer point on it: You’ll be less likely to wind up glancing at the clock halfway through Day 3 and wonder how it got to be 4 p.m., what on earth you actually did for the last few days, and why you have virtually noting to show for it. Plus, your kids’ “what I did on spring break” essay can include more than a Netflix mega-marathon and junk food fest.
One last note before you let the kids in on your plan: While children love the idea of generating ideas for this bucket list, it’s probably best if parents have the last say on what makes the final cut. That way the elements included are more likely to be doable, affordable, and enjoyable for the whole family.
Get your creative juices flowing with the following guidelines and ideas.
Mix it up. Choose a variety of activities that will be fun for the whole family. If you’ve got kids that span a wide range of ages, maybe have one parent do something with the older ones while the other takes the younger kids elsewhere. For instance, half of the clan might go to a local playground, while the older family members go roller skating.
Keep tasks short and less expensive. That is, compared to what you’d put on a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list. So, for instance, a three-day stay at Disney is perfect for your “lifetime” list, but “visiting three parks” might be a better fit for spring break.
Don’t take on too much. Depending on how time-intensive your activities are, you shouldn’t aim for more than three a day. Since kids still will have to do all the usual things — meals, baths, maybe even homework — consider how much time you actually have before making any promises. You might also consider devoting a day or two to chores and schoolwork (if needed) and then designate other days for bucket-list adventures.
Give back to the community. You’d be hard-pressed to find a parent who doesn’t want to teach their kids to do random acts of kindness for others. And many schools, clubs, and religious programs require a certain number of hours of volunteer service. When generating your bucket list, include activities that allow your family to help others and give back to the community. To get started, check out the ideas in Volunteer Options That Teens and Tweens <3 (Love) right here on the ActivityHero blog.
Continue to collect ideas. Tack a paper to the fridge where kids and parents can write down a new bucket-list idea when they think of one. You certainly can’t do everything during one spring break, but you’ll have plenty of ideas to stay busy during summertime or on the next three-day weekend.
Ideas for Your Spring Break Bucket List
Fly a kite or teach kids another low-tech activity you loved as a child.
Choose one bookshelf and read all of the picture books on it.
Research authentic cuisine from a foreign country, then prepare some of the dishes as a family.
Bake cookies and take them to neighbors.
Make homemade cards and deliver them to a nursing home.
Go through a drive-thru and pay for the car behind you.
Try a new-to-you restaurant or cafe.
Park the car on the main street of a nearby town, and take a walk to discover hidden gems.
Stay at a hotel in your own town. Choose one with a pool, if you don’t have one at home, and ask the concierge for local activities to try.
Have a family slumber party, complete with pizza, games, and movies at night … and chocolate chip pancakes in the morning.
Invite grandparents over for a meal made by the kids.
Deep-clean closets and dressers in prep for a family garage sale.
Host a neighborhood ice cream social.
Go to a state or national park.
Plant seeds for a garden — veggies, herbs, and/or flowers.
Visit a zoo or aquarium.
Play mini golf.
Create a music video to a favorite song and upload it to Youtube.
See what special programs the local ski resorts and other tourist spots are offering during break time.
Take a class as a family, in art or cooking or something else you all enjoy.
How to Display Your Spring Break Bucket List
Instead of writing down your ideas on a sheet of paper, you can boost everyone’s excitement by typing up the list using fun fonts in bright colors. Put a small check-box beside each item so you can X it when it’s complete.
Another option: Write down each idea on a small slip of paper, fold the papers in half, and place them in a clean bucket or sand pail. Then when someone says that they’re “boooorrrrrrrrrred,” tell them to go to the bucket and select an activity.
Check out ActivityHero for kids’ holiday break camps in your area! There’s something for everyone, and you can find options that last for a few hours, a whole work day, or a few days at a stretch — whatever suits your family’s needs!