Although many families in Sterling Height, Michigan, are still shoveling snow, many, especially those who have school-age children, are already turning their thoughts toward summer. For KinderCare Center Director Monica Van Sumer, this is the time when she begins asking parents very specific questions in her monthly parent forum meetings.
“We ask them what they want from our summer program,” she said. “What are they expecting from the program? What are they worried about for their child’s new grade? It helps to have them feel involved. Our demography changes each year, so will their interests.”
By listening to parents’ concerns and wants, Monica and her team are able to structure their summer school-age program to best meet her center community’s needs, including field trips and Learning Adventures programs. Last year, after a parent expressed a concern that children would spend the summer sitting around, Monica and her staff made sure to gear the summer Active Adventures program activities toward fitness. Children learned about nutrition while making healthy snacks and practiced yoga and kick-boxing. Another parent worried about the summer slump – that her child would lose ground in writing and math – so Monica’s team created Homework Camp. Three times a week the school-age children involved in this program met in their very own Learning Adventure program where they reviewed the concepts they learned in the previous school year and worked ahead toward concepts they would start to learn in the fall.
Monica and her team also make sure to include school-age children in the summer program planning, particularly through a community service project.
“We want them involved in the community,” Monica explained. “Last year the school-agers created a play with a local playhouse and collected blankets for the animal shelter across the street.”
To help the students take pride in their work and have a sense of ownership, Monica makes sure the community program is something children can run: from choosing a charity to support, learning about the group’s work, and determining how they can best help.
“We want them to be involved and understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.” Moncia said.
According to Monica, engaging parents and children in program planning is all about finding a connection with things that are important to them. Combine that with a bit of preplanning and any center can tailor their programs to meet their families’ specific needs.