Facing Main

Spring and Summer Camps

In the Flathead Valley, finding childcare is like a competitive sport

By Maggie Doherty

My favorite spring wildflowers, yellow fritillary and shooting star, have bloomed in such an abundance at Lone Pine State Park, that I can’t help but marvel at the shocks of magenta and buttery yellow erupting from the soil. Spring, even with the snow squalls, is here.

For parents like me who insist that our kids wear their winter jackets to school because mornings are barely above freezing temperatures, early spring also marks the increasingly fraught season of “get your kid into some summer activity/camp/class/childcare before it all sells out.” If you sleep on this or even wait until the end of your workday to sign up for camp or a music class chances are you’ll discover that said program is full. In the Flathead Valley, finding childcare is like a competitive sport and instead of helmets and pads, parents are equipped with an internet connection and a wish list. You can’t sleep on this or else you’ll find yourself wondering what to do with your kiddos once school is out.

Last week, when many area day programs released their summer registration, I know of parents who asked permission from work to arrive an hour late so they could sign up for kid’s college the moment registration went live online. If you thought scoring a Going-to-the-Sun Road ticket for Glacier National Park was elusive, finding summer care is even more difficult. One friend who thought she’d be safe to wait until 5 p.m. to sign up her daughter up for a smattering of arts and STEM classes at FVCC. I received a panic-infused text: “Can you believe this happened? Registration only opened today!” All the classes her daughter wanted to attend were sold out.

It’s a stressful time as the reality for many families is that parents work full-time and require kid care during the summer. Even if parents and guardians don’t have a work schedule that is misaligned with their kids’ many want to have their children engaged in some form of camp or class to expand their imaginations, like an overnight nature camp, or a way to pursue a budding passion like acting or art. My two children, who are four years apart in age, quickly get tired of each other during summer vacation and crave interaction with peers of their age. Plus, they love getting to dig for fossils or taking a field trip to Woodland Waterpark with their fellow preschoolers. I am certainly no paleontologist and can’t offer the femur of a dinosaur to hold their imaginations.

Options, while expanding in the Flathead, are still limited.

Summer may still feel like months away but I’m busy coordinating with other families, hoping we can carpool to camps or help with pick-up if another parent will likely work late. Text messages include lists of options, even eyeing Missoula as an option if someone is willing to make the long drive in July.

Summer break may appear to be carefree and fun but behind the scenes, parents are wrangling calendars, plotting registration windows, and hoping new opportunities come their way if yet another camp is already sold out before the spring wildflowers unfurl their petals.