With fond memories of cabin mates, campfires, swimming pools, and s'mores, it's no wonder that parents who went to summer camp want their children to have the same enriching experience. Whether kids go to sleep-away camp or a day program, they can gain new skills, experiences, friends, and memories to cherish. There are pricey choices -- an average of $690 a week for an overnight camper and about $300 a week for a day camper, according to the American Camp Association -- and then there are cheaper choices, many run by municipalities, educational institutions, and nonprofit groups.
15 Things to Consider Before Choosing an Affordable Summer Camp
Look at your budget and decide how much you're willing or can afford to spend. In general, sleep-away camps are more expensive than day camps. And remember to factor in the cost of supplies and "extras" Sleep-away campers will need enough <a href="http://www.cheapism.com/cheap-luggage">luggage</a> to hold at least a week's worth of clothing. At more rural summer camps, your child may need gear such as a tent or sleeping bag. Either way, you'll need to stock up on <a href="http://www.cheapism.com/cheap-sunscreen">sunblock</a>, swimsuits, and other seasonal accessories.
If you're worried about costs, remember that summer camp programs can be within reach of families on a budget. Parenting suggests several ways to get help with the expense: Pay for camp the same way you pay for day care -- with a flex plan through your employer or taken as a credit when preparing your tax return. Check for summer camp scholarship programs and other financial aid. If you attended the same camp, your alumni status may warrant financial assistance. Finally, look for foundations that help families fund summer camp for kids.
Once you've established your budget, determine whether your child would prefer a sleep-away or day camp. Younger children and first-time campers may benefit from a day program that returns them home daily. Overnight camps offer a more immersive experience, but make sure the facilities, meals, and location suit the needs of your family.
Determine up front just how far you're willing to drive, either to ferry your child back and forth each day or to visit at an overnight camp. For a day program, also consider how much travel time your camper can tolerate, regardless whether you or the camp provide the shuttle service. For a sleep-away camp, figure out how often you want to visit (or how often your child wants you to) over the course of their stay. If this is your child's first time at camp or the child is not confidently independent, you may need to eliminate camps that are far away.
Talk to your child about the activities he or she wants to pursue and decide what your family wants to gain from the experience. There are many types of programs, ranging from coed and general-interest to single-sex, subject-focused, and academic. For instance, if your child is interested in theater, he or she may thrive in a performing arts summer camp with like-minded peers.
This worldwide organization is definitely worth checking out. Its weeklong sleep-away camps and day camps boast wide-ranging offerings, from camping skills to cultural enrichment to sports training. With more than 2,600 locations in the U.S., there's likely a "Y" in your area.
This national organization's goal is to foster youth growth and development, and it reaches out to all kids, including those who can't afford other community programs. All clubs offer enrichment programs with facilities such as a game room, sports area, and teen center. Many also offer arts and crafts, a learning/tech center, and classes such as dance, drama, and martial arts. There are thousands of clubs in the U.S., and many operate summer camp programs.
Summer camps organized by cities and local park districts are generally low-cost and convenient. Check with the city or municipal office or the parks and recreation department to find out what type of youth programs are available. Many city-sponsored summer camps run in conjunction with the public school system.
Many community colleges and some high schools and universities run cheap summer camps for youths in grades 1 through 12. Classes may include anything from archery, softball, and tennis to art, drama, and writing. Contact local schools to see what's on offer.
Cheap camp programs with a religious or faith-based focus might be half-day, daily, or weeklong. Check local community centers and houses of worship for options in your area.