Grandparents an alternative to summer camp

Over the river and through the recession to grandmother’s house they go. The lingering recession is forcing cash-strapped parents to cancel camp for the kids. Instead, they’re being packed off to their grandparents.

CHICAGO — Over the river and through the recession to grandmother’s house they go. The lingering recession is forcing cash-strapped parents to cancel camp for the kids. Instead, they’re being packed off to their grandparents.

For five-year-old Ashlyn Preston, this summer’s agenda includes familiar activities such as swimming and cooking. But this time, there are no counsellors, canoes or costly registration fees — just Grandma and Grandpa.

The hundreds of dollars a week that would have paid for camp are being diverted to more essential needs — groceries, electricity and house payments.

The arrangement shifts the child-care burden to grandparents, many of whom enjoy the extra time with their grandchildren. The kids’ parents save money and get some time to themselves. And the grandkids get more love and attention, and better food.

“If this economic trouble is bringing people together, that’s a positive,” said Georgia Hope Witkin, associate professor of psychology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York and a contributing editor of the website Grandparents.com.

The American Camp Association reports registration numbers are down at some of the 12,000 camps in the U.S., but it’s too early to estimate overall attendance this year. Reports from around the country point to lower turnout from Maine to Florida to Texas and elsewhere.

Summer camp fees nationwide range from under $100 a week to $800 or more. Some moms and dads are opting just to keep their kids at home until school resumes, but others are taking up their parents on offers to help.

“Grandparents are the new summer camp,” Witkin said.

Ashlyn’s dad, Jason, said he and his wife, Roseann, could not afford to send their daughter to camp or daycare. He’s an experienced land surveyor in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., but the sour economy has cost him job after job. He and his wife now work at a fast-food restaurant.

Ashlyn is spending the entire summer with her grandparents, Anita and Neal Preston of Kennisaw, Ga. A full slate of “camp” activities is under way: swimming, campouts, museums, movies, parks, libraries, reviewing school workbooks, cooking with Grandma, helping Grandpa in the yard.

“The best part? Just getting to be with her!” said Anita Preston, 52.

Of course, having an extra person in the house for the summer merely shifts the burden to the grandparents’ budget. Anita said they should probably have set aside money in preparation for the visit but did not. Her husband works for a web development company. She isn’t working.

“So when Ashlyn visits,” she said, “we just take things as they come along, and try to do things that won’t cost us a lot.”

Tamara Bolerjack of Midwest City, Okla., is having a similar experience this summer. She recently opened what she calls Camp Granny for grandson Marlee, 4, and granddaughter Maleah, 5.

Her son-in-law, Maurice, finds it hard to get regular construction jobs because of the economy. That puts pressure on her daughter Rachel to take on extra hours in her nursing job so they can make ends meet. She’s also going to school, so even though they live nearby in Oklahoma City, the kids will be with their grandparents for all but one week this summer.

“They don’t have to pay daycare this way,” Bolerjack said. “And some of the camps around here are a little expensive, so they just come to Camp Granny.”

Despite the extra cost, she said, the long summer visit is well worth it because “makes you a lot closer to your grandkids.”

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