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Choose the Summer Program That's Right for Your Child

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By GreatSchools Staff

Consider Your Needs - and Your Budget

If you need full-time care for your child all summer, the costs can quickly add up so you'll want to first consider your overall budget.

Many day camp programs end early in the afternoon or only last a few weeks. That means working parents need to include the cost of after-camp child care or babysitting in their planning. The cost of summer programs varies widely. The most recent estimate from the American Camp Association is that the average day camp costs $303 a week. But camps that are operated by local governments or nonprofit organizations often cost less. And there are plenty of camps that cost more.

"But the fee does not equate with equality," says Ann Sheets, executive director of the American Camp Association, which accredits day and sleepaway camps.

Miriam Silver, a mother of an 11-year-old boy in Sebastapol, CA, has sent her son to a city-operated day camp several summers that costs $125 a week, much less than the national average.

"It's at a beautiful lake with hiking trails," she says. "They get dirty. They get independent. He doesn't usually canoe. He doesn't fish. But he does that week."

The average cost of a sleepaway camp is about $597 a week, according to the ACA. If you're considering sending your child away to camp, you'll need to factor in transportation to camp for your child and for you, if you're planning to visit.

No matter what program you're conside

ring, be sure to ask about scholarships because many camps offer them.

Once you've figured out your overall budget, you'll need to ask at each camp you consider what the overall fee includes. Does it cover snacks and meals? Does it cover materials, such as arts and craft supplies, and all the activities the camp offers? Are you required to buy a camp uniform or sports gear?

Cost-cutting tips

Sometimes you have to get creative to stay within your summer budget. You may want to pool your resources with a few other parents to hire an energetic teenager for the after-camp care you need. Or you might want to join with a small group of other parents who are able to stay at home for a day or two at a time to create your own day camp. You can provide a fun yet inexpensive week by combining a trip to the lake, an outing at a science museum, story hour at the library, baking projects that incorporate math lessons and a nature walk or two. Trying this low-cost alternative might help you save for a week of the soccer camp your child has been begging to attend.

Comments from readers

"Do you know of any camps for learning disabled children or children with disabilities in the Flint Michigan area? How do I go about finding these types of camps?"
"This information is very helpful. I found the camp for my child that she and he will love. If your child loves to sing then next year send them to American Idol Camp that is where my children are going and i think they will have the time of their life."
"Most Michaels Art and Crafts store offer a summer camp program...its just for a couple of hours each day. But if your child loves to draw or do crafts this is the place for him or her...its only $8.00 a day for either 9:30-11:30 or 12:30-2:30!"
"Great article. I'm a year away from looking into camps for my young son. As many concerned parents it's a juggle to determine what would work best for your child and our schedules. One of the last options would be to hire a teenager to care for a young one. I remember my teenage years and looking back as a babysitter I wasn't the most attentive nor would I have known what to do in case of an emergency. It's always best to do your research way ahead of time."
"I am a stay at home mom and have 5 year old and 2 year old who will be staying home for summer from school. Any suggestions on what I could do with them?"
"Good day, I was interested in reading this as I operate a fashion design camp! Westchester Fashion Academy for Children! Quite different. The interested children select from 1-4 weeks of portfolio design, pattern making,sketching their creations in preparation to visit the fashion industry to share their work with the behind the scenes real pattern makers and boutique owners ! We also offer textile design, where they can create their very own textiles, to create a design using their fabric! This camp is for ages 9-17, we are located in White Plains N.Y.914-428-1047"
"I am so pleased to have access to this type of information. I am now a bit more informed on how to make a summer camp choice for the little ones in my life. Thank You."
"Hello, Thank you for this article. It was very informative and easy to read. I work away from home and reconized the need to have my son's summer plans set preferably as early as April and no later than mid May. It definitely brings peace to one's mind and lifestyle. One thing I did not feel comfortable with was the suggestion of hiring a teenager to watch a child or group of children. Granted my son has participated in a theater program that involved several young college students and older teens as the 'team leaders'. This was done under the supervision of qualified adults. I don't have Dr. Dobson's book in front of me to quote, but his suggestion to not hire teenagers, especially teen boys to care for children for long periods is worth considering. Please don't take this wrong, the article was very helpful. "