City parks and recreation departments are gearing up for summer by offering more options for working parents and more variety for kids out of school.
In Gilbert, “Kids Kamp” at Freestone Recreation Center has always been popular, said Mike Leppert, senior recreation coordinator at the center. The camp offers a morning and afternoon option for children ages 5-12. Last summer, 720 kids participated.
Last year, the staff added a “pit stop lunch” option for parents who needed care all day. This year, parents have the option to sign up for “overtime” to extend the day. It will be offered 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., Leppert said.
“We do surveys every year for our kids’ camp. Obviously there are a lot more working parents, both mom and dad or single parents. A lot didn’t want to participate in the past because of not being able to drop them off early because they had to get to work,” he said.
After seeing registrations drop with the economy, staff at Gilbert Community Center and McQueen Park Activity Center also made changes this year. Rather than offering just a similar “summer camp” option with arts, crafts and games like Freestone, the centers are offering “specialized” camps. Themed options include dance, basketball, cheer, farming, music, “movie star,” robotics and more.
“We decided to offer some alternate type of camps,” said Stephanie McMullen, who oversees the program at McQueen. “We looked at classes popular in the past.”
Dance and cheer classes have always filled up, so McMullen asked her staff about offering those options for camps.
Fees for Gilbert parks and recreation classes were raised 10 percent last fall. There is no price difference for nonresidents, but they do have to wait until April 26 to sign up.
A big change for Mesa options this year is financial aid. After getting a late notice that fee assistance was available last summer, Mesa Parks and Recreation Department received donations early to help families this year.
“Last year we were able to (offer assistance), but it was the day the camps started that we found out,” said Cindy Hunt, with the Mesa department.
Families can receive assistance if they qualify for assistance elsewhere, such as the federal free and reduced-price lunch program at schools, Hunt said.
One new camp being offered this summer is “Healthier You,” for kids ages 9-14. Nurses from Cardon Children’s Medical Center will weigh campers and do blood work at the start of camp. Then each day they’ll learn about healthy eating, yoga, water aerobics, reading labels, and more.
“There’s no arts and crafts,” Hunt said. “It’s all about fitness. We’re going to do all those things to help kids continue with a healthy lifestyle.”
Fees are similar to last year, Hunt said. All day camps cost about $100 a week. Those are traditional programs with swimming, field trips, board games and more.
But most of the options run in the afternoon so they don’t compete with summer school or summer swim lessons, Hunt said.
“Our whole goal is to provide a safe and affordable place for kids to go to in the summer,” Hunt said. “We believe play is important and we don’t believe kids play as much because of technology.”
Cell phones and gaming systems are banned from camps.
Summer means the opening of public pools for many cities.
Chandler has seen an increase in students enrolling in summer swim lessons and attendance at the public pools. More than 337,000 visitors came to the city’s six public pools in 2009, said Angela Lorenzo, recreation coordinator for the city.
There was an increase in enrollment for swimming lessons as well, with 8,332 registrations in 2008 and 8,601 registrations in 2009.
In Mesa, the Flow Rider will be open at Rhodes Junior High School’s public pool, which opened just a few days before summer ended last year, said recreation supervisor Darla Armfield.
Swimmers can “surf” on a Flow board and classes and camps will be available during the summer to learn how, she said.
Registration is underway for all of Mesa’s aquatics programs.
A lunchtime fitness swimming program is also new this summer at Fremont, Rhodes, Sheperd and Stapley pools.
While there are no camp programs for older students in Queen Creek, there is a drop-in program at the youth and teen center, said Katie Sipes, management assistant for parks and recreation.
Most of the programs are free for children ages 6-17, and there is a fee for field trips.
Kids are supervised, but they are allowed to come and go as they please.
Last year, between 40 and 60 children a day visited the center during the summer.
The department is also continuing its popular preschool classes during the summer.