- Do you need nine-to-ﬁve coverage, or an option for extended day care to cover working hours? Or will a partial-day program work?
- If you will be taking a family vacation, what week(s) will you be traveling?
- If you have more than one child, how important is it for you to be able to take them to one location?
- Do your children have any special needs that must be considered?
Preparing yourself with answers to these questions can save you from paying for a non-refundable week of camp and realizing it’s the same week as the annual beach vacation, or otherwise making the wrong choice for summer activities.
Also, when a program is restricted to children in certain grades, be sure to check if the grade referenced is “rising” or “completed.” For instance, a 5-year-old who will start school in the fall could participate in programs that take “rising kindergartners through ﬁfth-graders.” In programs that require grade completion, the same child would be considered a preschooler and would not be eligible. This is particularly important if you are hoping to get all of your children into the same program.
For families seeking full-time coverage, existing child care can be a great place to start. This option oﬀers continuity with familiar
“During the 11 weeks of summer camp, through ﬁeld trips, swimming, music, books and games, our campers make new friends, build relationships and create lifelong memories,” said Minnieland Director of Child Care Operations Belinda Thomas. “Summer camp is important because it provides children with opportunities to engage in exciting enrichment activities, enjoy their own areas of interest and explore new ones.”
In addition to “Let’s Set Sail,” Minnieland oﬀers several specialty weeklong mini-camps, where children can explore a variety of subjects, such as culinary skills, robotics and outdoor expeditions.
Select Minnieland locations in the area have also partnered with the Dominion Valley Country Club to provide sports and activities through the club’s Fit Tech Program this summer. Additionally, campers can enjoy ﬁeld trips to destinations such as Kings Dominion, National Museum of the Marine Corps and even Virginia Beach for dolphin watching. With locations throughout the greater D.C. area, Minnieland schools should be easy to ﬁnd along any commuter’s route.
“My daughter enjoys interacting with her friends, cooking, swimming and the numerous ﬁeld trips. Each summer they have a well thought out theme that the day’s activities revolve around. She is already talking about reuniting with the new friends she made when visiting other Minnieland locations,” said a parent about her child’s experience at a Minnieland summer camp.
Other after-school programs frequently oﬀer full-time camps for students who will need summer coverage. The Boys & Girls Clubs of America have three camp programs: youth, teen and sports. According to camp literature, the teen camp “helps teens to take charge of their future. Our unique programs and special ﬁeld trips help young people gear up for college and career.” Activities include lessons in ﬁnancial literacy, job shadowing and the Keystone Leadership Program. Locally, clubs can be found in Dale City, Dumfries and Manassas.
For younger children, individual centers oﬀer in-house programs, such as the Chinn Aquatics & Fitness Center’s “Hi-Five” camp exclusively for 5-year-olds. Activities include swimming, crafts and even oﬀ-site excursions. Also at Chinn is “Teen Scene,” with plenty to keep children ages 13 to 15 busy.
For families who only require part-time coverage, or if you just want to expose your children to fun activities during their school break, there are many options in various price ranges. A possible summer schedule could be one “oﬀ” week, a vacation week and then a “camp” week. This keeps everyone from burning out, and lets the kids try something new or indulge existing passions.
If you’re looking to get the kids out of the house for a few hours, but don’t want to spend a fortune, a good place to start is Vacation Bible School (VBS). Many local churches oﬀer these fun, and frequently free, half-day programs. Some have evening programs as well, great for working parents who still want their children to experience VBS, or for those seeking ﬁve date nights in a row. VBS typically caters to an elementary age group, but some churches oﬀer preschool or middle school programs.
All Saints’ Church in Dale City organizes an innovative backyard program where children can attend a small-scale VBS in their own neighborhood. All VBSs tend to ﬁll up quickly. Start monitoring churches near your home early, or check PwcMoms.com for a “Vacation Bible School Guide.”
As featured in the February issue of Prince William Living, outdoor swim teams oﬀer a great bang for your buck at around $150 for a two-month season. Many teams also have developmental programs for younger children.
For an outdoor focus, check out the local recreation centers and parks. One to try from Prince William County Department of Parks & Recreation is Prince William Forest Park’s “Camp Mawavi,” where children age 9 to 15 can try their hand at archery, hiking, canoeing and more. This camp also has optional overnight stays.
If your child has been itching to try an activity that you’ve been hesitant to commit to because he changes his mind every week, or because it’s expensive, summer camps can be a great way to indulge his curiosity. For budding Picassos, Edgemoor Art Studio in Lake Ridge has a fantastic half-day summer camp program for various age groups. The Center for the Arts at the Candy Factory in Manassas and the Lorton Workhouse both oﬀer a broad range of artistic experiences, including theatrical, musical and dance programs.
If your child already has a passion for a sport, a summer camp can be a great way to up her game, too. Check with recreational sports clubs, such as Prince William Soccer, Inc. (PWSI), to ﬁnd opportunities for your child to build her skills in soccer, lacrosse, basketball and more.
Or, to help them stay cool despite the heat, have your kids hit the ice. Prince William Hockey Club in Woodbridge is oﬀering hockey camps this summer, and both Haymarket IcePlex and Prince William Ice Center in Dale City have summer skating lessons and camps. Gymnastics and martial arts also make for fun summer activities with camp options conveniently located at many Prince William area facilities.
“Ice skating provides excellent aerobic exercise as well as critically important core muscle development necessary for balance and agility,” said Prince William Ice Center General Manager Bill Hutzler. “Camps and clinics help build life skills and provide a fun environment for indoor and outdoor exercise, crafts and games.”
Older children may also enjoy “going to college” over the summer, taking part in activities that Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) and George Mason University oﬀer. At NVCC’s College for Kids, tweens and teens can take courses, such as Cyber Security and Mad Science. At George Mason, they can explore a variety of topics, including writing, forensics and even comedy.
If your child has special needs, there are a variety of local options for summer fun and enrichment. Rainbow Therapeutic Riding Center oﬀers programs for children with various disabilities, and Swimkids Swim Schools throughout the area have adapted classes and private lessons. Matthew’s Center in Manassas has a full summer camp for children with autism.
Rainbow Riding Executive Director Debi Alexander explained that children with special needs respond especially well to experiential learning opportunities, the process of learning through direct experiences. “Horses are large and powerful. This creates an opportunity for our campers to overcome fear and develop self- conﬁdence. This new found conﬁdence is channeled into other intimidating and challenging situations in life,” she said.
No matter what activities you choose for your children this summer, be sure that you give yourself a break, too. There’s no award for parents who run their kids to the most activities over school break. Have plenty of summer fun, but allow for enjoying some down time as a family, too.
Kristina Schnack Kotlus is a local mother of three children and the owner of PWCMoms.com, a resource for parents and families in Prince William County.