Navigating The Summer Camp Maze

Summer camps are a great experience for many children, but finding the right fit at the right price can be a challenge. Here is some advice on finding a summer camp that is just right for your family.

Look for camps in your budget: 

If money is no object, you are in great shape.  But, for those who are on a budget, there are a few places to check for more affordable camps.

Some cities and townships run camps that are very affordable in local parks and recreation centers. Often these are run through the local Department of Camps and Recreation. Many allow children who don't live in their town to register (sometimes at a slightly higher price) so check nearby towns for options as well.  YMCAs often run affordable camps as well. They often offer a discount if you are a member and membership allows you to use the YMCA facilities, including a pool if they have one, so this option is worth looking into. 

Some great deals on camps can also be found on deal sites, especially over the winter when many spaces are still available, so be sure to keep an eye on those as well. Some schools also offer HOST summer camps while the students are out for the summer, so ask at your local schools and you may find an affordable option. Finally, ask about financial aid or scholarships if you find a camp you love but can't afford.  

summer camp
Image via Unsplash/ Michael Nunes

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Ask for advice:  

There is no easily accessible rating system for most camps, so asking friends and neighbors for advice is a good bet. Start with those who have kids around your kids' ages and those who share your child's interests. Ask what they like and don't like about each camp and about anything that is important to you, such as if they have nap time or have swimming. Also keep in mind that it's important to find a good fit for your child. So even if someone else raves about a summer camp, still ask about details to make sure it's a good fit for your child.  

Ask about options at your child's regular activities:  

If your child loves her dance school or basketball league, ask if they are running any summer programs. Many activities that may be limited to an hour after school during the school year, like karate or art class, may expand into all-day camps over the summer. Even some places that offer children's activities like trampoline parks and adventure zones, offer summer camps. Many preschools offer camps as well and this is a great option for young children who might appreciate a familiar environment. Both girl and boy scout programs have camps for some age groups as well.  

Attend camp fairs:  

Often held at elementary schools and community centers, camp fairs bring many local camps to one location where they can share information about their camps with interested parents. This can be a great way to learn about all of the different options in your area, get a feel for what is and is not available, and ask questions. Hopefully, after you visit the fair you can narrow down your choices and follow-up with any that seem like good possibilities.    

Visit potential choices: 

Many camps will allow you to take a tour and visit. It can be helpful to see the campgrounds, meet staff, and ask questions in person. A tour may also help you gauge better whether it will be a good fit for your child.  


Register early:  

In many areas, camp registration starts early, sometimes as early as January or February. To make sure you have as many options available as possible, it's really never too early to start looking. If you find a good fit, register as soon as you make your decision to ensure your child gets a spot. Keep in mind also that many camps offer discounts for early registration as well.  

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What to consider:  

In addition to cost, consider how your child will get to and from camp, whether the hours work for your child, whether your child is likely to enjoy the activities offered, and whether the session length is a good fit since some camps may run for only a week and others for the full summer.  

What do you think?

Navigating The Summer Camp Maze

Jamie is a Beltway Insider who loves channeling her pre-motherhood love of traveling into spending time exploring all D.C. has to offer with her brood of two girls and two boys ages 9, 7,5, and a baby. She is a reformed lawyer turned full-time kid wrangler who enjoys photographing her everyday chaos and anything salted caramel. Since life is never dull, she loves writing about the issues and events going on in her life at any given time, including caring for a daughter with special needs and th ... More

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