In just a few days, children will be hearing the school bell for the final time in 2008 and running as fast as they can for the exit. That's right, the winter holidays are nearly here.
And with the holiday comes the task of finding a place for your children to stay while you work, shop or wrap gifts. In other words, here is your chance to test drive a camp before the much longer summer break.
It's always a good idea to check out your local YMCA to see if they will be offering camps, especially since those facilities offer after-school programs. And most cities will be offering winter camps to help working parents stay on the job. Here are a few choices.
• St. Pete Beach is offering a Holiday Kids Camp program — arts and crafts, movies, gym games and field trips — Dec. 22-24 and Dec. 29-31 from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each week at the city's Community Center. Kids in grades kindergarten through fifth are able to attend but space is limited. And if parents pre-register by Friday, they get cheaper rates — $60 per week with membership card and $75 without the membership card vs. $30 a day ($90) for the three-day camps.
• St. Pete Beach is also offering up some specialty camps for the holidays. The In the Zone Hoop Camps two-day basketball clinic will be Dec. 22-23 at the center's gym and will teach basketball skills and fundamentals to girls and boys ages 9-13. Cost is $50 with membership card and $62.50 without. There also will be a three-day skateboard camp Dec. 22-23 and Dec. 29 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the center's skatepark. Register by Thursday for the camp, which will teach basic skills and new tricks. Cost is $100 for all three days or $40 per day. For more information, call (727) 363-9245.
• The city of St. Petersburg is also offering holiday camps for both weeks but the camps will offer a fourth day — Dec. 26 and Jan. 2 — for those parents who can't get the day off after each holiday. The camp fees are done on a sliding scale and depend on whether the child is on a free- or reduced-lunch program. Call (727) 893-7441 for more details.
Rick Craft, manager of St. Petersburg's recreation centers, says most parents don't register their kids until the week they need to go so right now about 600 kids are registered for one of the two weeks. Last year, 1,182 kids attended the city's winter camps. Craft said it's too early to tell if they will equal that number.
• In Tampa, the city is offering camp activities from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at several recreation centers. Camp times are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 22-24 and Dec. 29 — Jan 5. There will be no camp at those facilities Christmas or New Year's Day or Dec. 26. Children ages 5-14 can attend and the cost is $40. For more information, go to tinyurl.com/64nfxf or call (813) 274-8615.
• In New Port Richey, a Youth Adventure Camp will be offered Dec. 22-24 and Dec. 29-31 for children ages 10-15 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Week 1 costs $60 for residents and $70 for non-residents; week 2 is $50 for residents and $60 for non-residents. Or if you sign up for both, the cost is $100 for residents and $120 for non-residents. For information, go to tinyurl.com/5qbuz5 or call (727)841-4560.
If you prefer not to go the city route and you want to check out some facilities that also offer summer camps, there are some choices.
• St. Pete KidzArt is offering a couple of holiday mini camps at Bounce U, 7209 112th Ave. N, Largo. The camps are 9 a.m. to noon Dec. 22-23 ($25 each day) and Dec. 29-31 ($65 for all three days) for children ages 3-5. Children should bring a morning snack. For more information and to register, go to www.stpetekidzart.com or call (727) 823-0123.
• Winter camps are being offered at Lowry Park Zoo on Dec. 22-23, Dec. 29-31 and Jan. 5 for students in kindergarten to fifth grade. The camp costs depend on the number of days you attend and whether you are a zoo passholder. Camp hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with extended care available for $15 per child for mornings and afternoons. The price includes a T-shirt for campgoers, which must be worn daily. Call Elaine Rodriguez, registrar for zoo classes and programs, at (813) 935-8552 , ext. 232 for more information.
• At Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, four camps are being offered Dec. 22-24 for a variety of age groups. Jungle Boogie is for kids ages 3-4 who must be potty trained; Wild Adventure is for ages 5-6; Florida Wildlife Camp is for ages 7-11; and Pioneer Camp, ages 7-13. The three camps for older kids are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and extended care is offered. Click on tinyurl.com/5ecevj for price. Jungle Boogie camp is from 9 a.m. to noon and no extended care is available. Call (727) 893-7326 for more information.