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Quality Summer Programming for Kids

I can remember my mom looking through Calgary’s Child Magazine every Spring to find summer camp programs for me and my sister. That was many years ago, and since then, I grew from a camper to a leader, and most recently, a coordinator, providing summer camp programming to children across Calgary.

Over the years, I have seen firsthand the explosion in the number of summer camp programs being offered in and around Calgary to meet almost every need, interest, and schedule. As a parent of twins, I too, find it overwhelming wading through all of the options, trying to figure out which ones will be a great fit for my family.

Before you register your child, here are some questions you can ask your potential summer program provider to ensure your child has a great experience.

Program staff

Staff who are engaged and passionate about working with kids are the key to any amazing program experience. In fact, research tells us that the most important factor in quality sport and recreation experience (and long-term participation) are the leaders of the program.

  • What training do the program staff receive? What topics are included in the training program?

  • Are staff required to have current certifications while working in the program (i.e. First-Aid, HIGH FIVE, National Coaching Certification, etc.)? Do they require a Calgary Police Check and/or Vulnerable Sector Check?

  • Does the program use volunteers/counsellors-in-training as a key part of the summer program? How are they selected and what training do they receive?

  • How many staff are returning from the last year? (The average return rate of program staff is 40 to 60 percent - anything lower may be a sign of poor management.)

  • How does the program manager/supervisor directly communicate with parents (i.e. newsletter, social media)?

Safety

Safety is usually the top concern for parents when choosing a summer program. Rest assured that any quality summer program will be happy to share how the safety of your child is always a top priority.

  • Does the organization utilize a comprehensive list of policies and procedures (as well as regularly review and update them)?

  • Do the policies and procedures protect both the physical and emotional safety of each child (i.e. activities that take into consideration risk and physical harm, programming is inclusive, bullying is not tolerated)?

  • What are the COVID protocols for staff, campers, and caregivers including the use of masks, physical distancing, and hygiene (i.e. hand washing)?

  • What are the ratios of children to staff (i.e. 8 children to 1 leader)? How are these ratios maintained throughout the program?

  • Will children be participating in higher risk activities or environments (i.e. near or in water, going off-site, working with animals)?

  • What policies are in place to maintain each child’s safety?

  • What safety protocols are in place during drop-off/pick-up? Are caregivers required to sign children in and out, show ID, etc.?

  • How are transitions supervised when children move between activities, different programming spaces, to and from the washroom, etc.?

  • Is there a procedure for bad weather? If the program is outdoors, is there an alternate space?

  • What policies are in place for use of technology by staff and/or children in the program?

Program elements

This is the ‘nuts and bolts’ of every program and should always take a child-centred approach to maximize opportunities to actively participate, learn new skills, make positive connections between children, and have fun!

  • Do staff develop and use a detailed program plan to make the most out of the time children are in the program? Are caregivers able to view the program plan ahead of time?

  • Are there opportunities throughout the program for children to develop friendships and work together?

  • Is there balance, variety, and choice in activities? Are the children’s needs, interests, and ideas taken into consideration when staff are program planning?

  • How does the organization, staff, and programming meet the diverse needs and abilities of each child in the program (i.e. inclusive program planning practices, additional staffing and/or options for aides)?

  • Are activities, program spaces, and equipment developmentally appropriate and safe (i.e. tables and chairs made for small children, equipment is in good working condition)?

The life skills, experiences, and memories that are made when children participate in summer programs can last a lifetime. You can make sure these are positive ones when you ask the right questions to find quality programming for your kids.

Jen is a mom of twins, avid adventurer, and co-owner of WordPLAY Consulting Inc. She has worked in education, sport, and recreation for over 25 years as a teacher, leader, and advocate for positive child and youth development. 

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