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Summer programs keep kids active

WORTHINGTON -- Summer vacation is here -- or is soon to come -- for school-aged children in southwest Minnesota.

For parents, it means making arrangements for child care and scheduling swimming lessons or other activities to keep kids busy.

Invariably, a child's summer vacation creates issues for working parents who wonder, "When is a child old enough to stay home alone, or care for a younger sibling?"

Karen DeBoer, director of Southwest Child Care Resource and Referral in Worthington, said it depends on the development of the child. She stressed that parents shouldn't push their child into staying home alone if they aren't ready or don't want to.

Fortunately, there are a variety of options available to parents who want supervision for their school-aged children -- from licensed family child care to child care centers and family, friend and neighbor care.

Each option varies in pricing, DeBoer said, adding that licensed family care and family, friend and neighbor care are generally less expensive because of the ratio of adults to children. Licensed family child care providers can have up to 10 to 12 children in their supervision at one time, and up to 14 children if there is a second adult present. Children are considered, for recordkeeping, as those ages 10 and younger.

Family, friend or neighbor care differs in that the care providers are typically not licensed. These care providers are limited to taking in just one family not related to them, in addition to their own children.

Child care centers are larger facilities, licensed by the state and set up to care for children by age group, whether infant, toddler, pre-school or school-aged. For a family with three children -- an infant, a pre-schooler and a school-aged child -- DeBoer said each would have a different teacher. Requiring a teacher for each age category in a child care center increases the cost of operating the program.

By keeping school-aged children in structured care during the summer, DeBoer said they have more opportunity to learn socialization skills, how to follow the rules and get proper nutrition.

"Those are all things that help develop a child into a responsible student," she added.

In Luverne, Karen Willers works with the Family U program, which began in 1999 thanks to collaborative effort and grant assistance. In the years since, Family U has become nearly self-sustaining. It's offered both as an after-school program and during the summer at the Luverne Public School.

Family U is again enrolling children who have completed kindergarten through the fifth grade for its summer program. Activities are from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Last year, Willers said it had to turn families away after reaching its maximum enrollment of 35 children.

The program is not only a benefit for parents, but also for children. Through Family U, children make weekly visits to the library and Rock County Community Pool, play board games, take part in a summer rec program and take field trips. The local grocery store delivers lunch and snacks each day.

Willers said children retain their math and reading skills during summer break through reading and games -- the result of which led to eliminating the district's summer school classes.

"The side benefit is that (the kids) are not sitting at home in front of the TV or video games," Willers said. "They are interacting with other kids and being physically active."

At Kids-R-It Childcare Center and Preschool in Worthington, director Pam Duffy is offering students who have completed kindergarten through age 12 the opportunity to attend a summer-long boot camp.

"To make it more fun with our school-agers, we wanted to make ... a camp," Duffy said.

The camp's teacher is a member of the National Guard, and has set a schedule for the summer that includes learning about loyalty, duty, respect, honor and integrity. Attendees will write journals, participate in activities and receive breakfast, lunch and a snack each day.

Kids-R-It, open year-round to care for infant through school-aged children, still has spots open for the camp. Children may attend on a part-time, full-time or drop-in basis.

"We're keeping the children active ... exploring and continuing to learn," Duffy said of the camp. "We just try to keep it fun so that you don't have to worry about if they're in front of the TV all day or riding a bike around town."

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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