Shared Care: An Alternative to Summer Camp

With summer nearly upon us, the days where kids wake up and leave the house for the day are nearing the rearview mirror and new plans must be laid.  For some of us (hello BC residents), those days are firmly in the rearview mirror and we are left with days to fill and no real options on how to fill them.  Although most parents use camps for the summer, that’s not always financially feasible for every single week.  For example, although after school care can run parents close to $500 per month during the school year, many camps will cost $300 per week and that doesn’t include the before/after extra care that many families need.  The question we have to ask, especially when families may be struggling economically, is how else can we provide good care for our kids without breaking the bank?

Enter the old school system of shared care.  It’s amazing sometimes to think that we used to have a community whereby people worked together.  Today’s society – as large as it is – is often more isolated with individuals expected to take care of their own with little to no help.  Yet this isn’t historically normal.  We survived and thrived as a species in large part thanks to shared care and it’s possible for it to make a comeback if we allow it.

What does it look like?  Well, whatever you like but one model that can work well is for a group of 5 or so families (or less or more) to take turns taking the kids in.  It may be one place for a week and then they move on, or one place each day for a week, depending on how long you plan on using shared care and the capacity of the other families to help out.  Some families may not be able to take any time off work or work from home and may need care the entire time, but can offer either some payment to the families taking on the care or taking kids in the evening or weekends to make up that time.

What this offers is a cheap alternative where kids end up spending the summer with their friends.  For the families who are taking the children in, it can be hectic, yes, but often children are easier to handle when they have their friends around – especially at the school age.  This also has the added benefit of allowing kids something that is in very short supply these days: Free play.

Many of us can think back to our own childhood and know that we had some weeks at camp and they were fun and exciting because we also had our weeks just hanging out in the neighbourhood with friends.  My own memories include many a games of capture the flag, riding bikes, pick-up baseball games in the park, and much more, but all within the confines of my neighbourhood.  Walking out the door to meet up with friends was simply what we did and if one parent couldn’t be home for the day, the other parents agreed to keep an eye out until that parent was home again.  Often all it meant was making lunch and opening up your bathroom, and then we’d be back out again.

Camps have taken over likely because parents (a) want to feel as though their children are getting something valuable from the summer, but (b) because there isn’t that sense of community that used to exist.  Although camps are great for learning certain skills, they are regimented the same way school is and can end up creating a stifling summer when your kids have to be on the same school schedule all summer long.  When kids just have their friends over they get the experience that includes just playing with your friends using what you have around and your own imagination.  Shouldn’t that be what summer is at least partially about?

By Tracy Cassels

June 23, 2014