Summer camp and cheap rarely appear in the same sentence, especially for working parents who need full-day programs that run throughout the summer. For many, summer camps have become as integral a part of childhood as school. They provide a safe place for the children of working parents, allow kids to explore new activities and retain and continue their learning, and so much more. However, if you’re looking for some week-by-week enrichment camps to keep your kids busy, active and socializing with others, with the right research, you could save some serious bucks. Or with some ingenuity, you can create your own awesome summer camp for your kids, saving money and earning memories.
Finding a Summer Camp
First, think about the type of camp experience that you’d like your child to have, what you can afford and which camp can accommodate your needs/schedule. Here are some avenues to explore:
Check with the city, county, public schools and universities in your area for lower-cost programs as compared to private summer camps. Often, such institutions may offer an arts or science focus.
Vacation Bible School (sometimes called VBS) is a good option for those who want to infuse a little religious instruction into their summertime fun. Offered by local church groups, these experiences are usually less expensive.
Zoos, museums, libraries and state parks also sometimes have summer camp programs, as do Boy and Girl Scout troops or councils for kids who enjoy nature and outdoorsy type activities.
If you’re raising athletic kids, sports camps that are associated with leagues/teams they play for could be another summer camp alternative to consider.
Once you narrow down your list of potential camps, you’ll want to ask some questions up front so there are no surprise costs.
Does the schedule suit your needs? In other words, if you’re shelling out money for summer camp because you need child care, will it be cost-effective? How will your child get to and from the camp? Are early drop off and after-hours care available if needed?
Next, be sure to ask about what is included in the camp price. Are meals and snacks provided? Are there activities that make the cost worth it (such as built-in swimming lessons or field trips), or will such extras cost more out of pocket?
Are there sibling discounts? If you have two or more children attending camp, these savings can help.
Look into possible ways to not have to pay full price, including early bird registration, or if you have some affiliation with the summer camp, whether it’s being a past participant or from being a year-round member (such as in clubs like the YMCA).
Whether summer camp is a necessity or just a way to break up the long break from school, start your research now to find some options in your area so that you can comparison shop for the one that offers the best value for your family.
Creating a Summer Camp
Summer camps can be expensive, from $100 to $400 or more per week. That’s pricey for one child, but if you have more than one, ouch! There is a solution: Do-it-yourself summer camps. Team up with other parents to create a summer camp plan. It’s simple: Each parent takes a turn having all the kids at their house. In my situation, we had three moms who each had two kids (our oldest and youngest were all the same age). We chose to have two camp rotations, meaning we selected two weeks over the course of the summer. Each week, one of us had all six kids for one day and therefore each of us had two days without any kids each week.
The most obvious and biggest perk is the cost, FREE! However there are other benefits to making your own summer camps.
Time: You can choose whatever hours work best for you — could be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., or any other time frame that fits your schedule. You may choose one or more Monday-through-Friday weeks or you may choose two to three days a week over two or more weeks. Maybe Wednesdays are the only day that will work for some of the parents; you may choose do camp every Wednesday all summer or throughout July.
Again, this is DIY so it’s all up to you! After you’ve gone through the calendars and chosen your dates, it’s time to organize your camp. It’s nice to have some planned activities as well as some free time.
These are great to keep kids’ bodies and minds moving. Mini obstacle courses are always fun — jumping in and out of hula hoops, jumping rope, popping water balloons on a chair, crawling under broomsticks balanced on sets of chairs and other athletic options. “Freeze Dance” or “Sharks and Minnows” are great activities, too, as are simple things like Frisbee, bubbles and sidewalk chalk. Check Pinterest for summer game ideas.
As a group, decide if you are going to include water games, such as swimming, water guns, or other activities. One parent may not want to pick up a child in damp clothing, so make some guidelines about activities in advance.
It’s always nice to have one craft project thrown into the mix. Crafts give the kids a little rest and they love bringing their projects home to show Mom and Dad. Using recycled items can help make these activities cheap — think gluing remnants of ribbons to empty paper towel rolls to make ribbon wands, or filling empty water bottles with water, a bit of food coloring, glitter and spare buttons (be sure to glue the lids on when done to prevent leakage) to make sensory bottles. Look for fun summer craft ideas online.
Depending on how the length of camp days, you may need snacks. Decide in advance if parents will supply the snacks for their children or if the host does. Popsicles, popcorn and cut up fruit and veggies are good options. Get creative by making homemade juice popsicles in paper cups or homemade pudding pops. As with traditional day camps, campers should bring their lunches and drinks and have sunscreen already applied. Kids may also want to bring hats and swimsuits and towels (in case of sprinkler time). Let the fun begin!