Take My Kid, Please
What to look for in a holiday resort children’s program
Children’s programs are a big attraction at family-oriented beach resorts, ski resorts and cruises. Having a safe, flexible place for kids to play, create, socialize and be supervised lets Mom and Dad steal a few well-deserved vacation moments for themselves while knowing that the youngsters are in good hands.
More than mere babysitting, a good resort children’s program is carefully developed and designed to stimulate peer groups in a variety of age-appropriate activities, so most kids are happy to get involved, make new friends and hang out at the clubhouse.
Many family resorts, especially all-inclusives, offer children’s programs as part of the package, while other resorts may charge an hourly, half-day or full-day fee to participate (often with discounts for siblings).
Here are 10 tips on what to look for in resort childcare centers, kids clubs and teen lounges.
- Check ahead to see what ages are catered to at your intended resort. Some don’t provide any baby care and others won’t let children under 3 or 4 attend activity programs without a parent present.
- Ideally these facilities are staffed by certified, trained, experienced childcare specialists who know how to devise a daily program of engaging activities for kids in various age segments. For example, depending on how large the resort is, there should a separate curriculum for infants, toddlers, three to fives, six to nines, 10-12s and teenagers, so your 12-year-old won’t necessarily have to do the same lame seashell collage that her six-year-old brother does. Good counselors know how to adapt the activity plan according to the ages, number and temperament of the participants.
- You might want to call the resort’s director of children’s activities prior to booking and find out what the counselor-to-child ratio is. Ideally, it’ll be something like 1:3 for infants, 1:5 for toddlers, 1:7 for school age kids and 1:10 for teens.
- Make sure counselors are certified in CPR, first aid and other life-saving measures. Ensure the resort has a protocol in place for emergencies and how to get in touch with parents should the need arise. Some facilities provide parent pagers for communication purposes; others require parents to indicate their whereabouts when they sign their kid(s) in.
- There should be a signature security system in place so that only registered parents or guardians are authorized to sign a child in or out of a children’s facility. (Note, older tweens and teens may be able to drop in and out on their own.)
- Ideally the children’s program incorporates some elements from the local culture and environment to make the activities vacation relevant and memorable. For example, arts and crafts should involve natural materials from the area (shells, coconuts, drift wood, pine cones), nature walks should educate kids on native wildlife and plants, games and music should be of a local variety etc.
- A wide range of amenities and activity options should be available to appeal to various abilities, moods and interests. The daily roster should include time for physical and creative stimulation, indoor and outdoor pursuits, as well as downtime and snacks. The program may contain things like arts and crafts, nature walks, active games, sports, story time, board games, videos, excursions, talent shows, dancing, supervised water play and the like. Some resorts have elaborate facilities like water slides, splash pads, art studios, science labs, magic theatres, musical instruments and adventure playgrounds to partake in. A welcome pack or parting gift (hat, T-shirt, memento, etc.) is a nice touch.
- If you have teens in your family, look for a resort that has a special program for that age group – most teens would balk at the mere mention of going to a “kiddie club.” Family resorts are becoming more sophisticated than simply providing a room with a foosball table and a VCR and calling it a teen center. Look for programs and amenities like internet cafes, coffee bars, mocktail lounges, skateboard parks, music studios, video gaming, night time dances, movies and more.
- At some resorts you can arrange for counselors to escort your child through a meal, allowing parents to have the occasional civilized grownup dining experience together (a rare treat for many). These are usually coordinated group outings to a casual resort restaurant or a fun event like a pizza party at the clubhouse.
- Evening babysitting services may be available, but often at a surcharge (even in an all-inclusive resort). Something like a group pajama party or movie night at the clubhouse may be available or an in-room babysitter may be arranged. If the resort doesn’t directly provide this service, the concierge can probably link you up with a local sitting agency. Rates vary depending on location – there will probably be a minimum number of hours charged for and transportation will be additional. Check that babysitters are licensed and bonded.