Summer is around the corner. For my children, it’s an exciting time as they anxiously await the end of the school year. As parents, it can be stressful trying to figure out where our kids will be while we’re at work. To add to the stress, research demonstrates that kids often experience summer learning loss, or the loss of academic skills over the summer. This makes finding an affordable and enriching summer program more important.
As a single mother raising my son on a very tight budget, finding the right programs was even more challenging. I usually began the process by clarifying the goals for the summer. I often did this with my son, so that I had his input. There is nothing worse than your child coming home from the first day not wanting to go back. My requirements were usually the following: a safe place for my son to be while I worked, hours that aligned with my work schedule, time for academic enrichment, time for physical exercise, and affordable. Yes, an ambitious list. I would take my priorities and his desires into consideration and then begin my search.
In the Bay Area, we are fortunate that there are a vast array of programs. Many are very expensive though. I did not limit my search to those programs within my budget. If I found a program that fit my needs but was outside my budget, I found out if that program offered scholarships. Throughout my child’s educational experience, I received many scholarships for full or partial tuition assistance. It was sometimes embarrassing to ask, but worth it in the end. Make sure to check with each program and see if tuition assistance is available.
I have found that the most affordable programs are those offered by your school or though the city parks and recreation department. The city programs often have fees for residents and non-residents. Residents typically receive priority sign-ups, such as being able to enroll early. These programs also usually have extended care opportunities for a nominal additional charge. Park programs can be found here for Oakland, Berkeley, and Richmond.
There are also many nonprofit organizations, museums, zoos, libraries, and universities that offer programs. Local YMCAs are another great resource. These are often more expensive, but again you can see if they provide half or full-tuition scholarships.
There are science programs such as at the Oakland Zoo, the Lawrence Hall of Science, and the SMASH program. Arts programs include MOCHA, Destiny Arts Center, East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, and Richmond Art Center. There are also plenty of academic programs. These include the UC Berkeley Academic Talent Development Program and the Bay Area Writer’s Program. Don’t forget your local libraries since they often have summer programs.
It’s also important to remember that your summer outings and vacations can be learning experiences. When we go camping or on vacation, we visit museums, historic sites, art galleries, or nature centers to sneak in learning opportunities. One year, I got very creative. My son was going to Los Angeles to spend a month with my parents. I looked up half-day programs at the local park and enrolled him in chemistry and cooking classes. He was able to visit family and get a little learning in during the trip.
While this is not an exhaustive list, it should provide a good starting point for your search. Here’s to a fun and hopefully less stressful summer!
Raquel F. Donoso
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