Summer's here, and before you start planning your vacations, pool outings, and barbecues, you’ll need to figure out what to do with your kids now that they’re out of school. If you work, finding quality childcare is a must. Summer camps can be a great solution in many ways, since they can keep your kids busy and entertained while you continue to work and take care of other household responsibilities.
Managing the Costs of Summer Camps
There’s one major issue parents run into when considering summer camp for their kids: It can get incredibly expensive. Especially if you have more than one child who needs care.
Full-time summer camp (five days a week, for at least five hours a day) can cost anywhere from $300 or $400 per week to thousands of dollars for a summer-long sleepaway camp.
This month, I’m starting monthly payments for my son to go to private school in the fall, so summer camp just isn’t in the budget. And sleepaway summer camp will probably never be in the budget because the costs are outrageous. But I still want him to have a fun experience and get to go on field trips and meet other kids. So I went to a resource fair in my area and sought out some cheap summer camps.
Turns out, there are plenty of affordable summer camps to choose from that won’t cost me an arm and a leg.
In the end, I signed my son up for a free day camp at his school that runs five days a week and includes small field trips and activities.
If you’re also seeking out free or cheap summer camps for your kids, here are a few resources you should look into:
You’ve probably heard of the YMCA before. It’s a charitable organization that offers tons of community resources. Among those resources? Affordable summer camps nationwide. The Y offers overnight camp options, but if you’re budget-conscious, you should go with the day camp option, as it will be more affordable.
The Y’s summer camps provide trained staff, accredited camper-to-camper staff ratios, meals, and fun activities. The earlier you sign your child up, the more discounts you receive. But even if you don't get a discount, YMCA summer camps don’t usually exceed $200 per month, depending on where you live.
2. Communities in Schools
Communities in Schools (CIS) is an organization that helps serve children all over the U.S. by providing quality resources and programs for them. CIS is active in 25 states and has 155 affiliations throughout the U.S. They served 1.48 million students last year and offer free summer camp options for low-income families.
Local churches are another great place to look for affordable summer camp options for your kids. Even if you aren’t a member of a church, you can still sign your kids up for camp and pay a fraction of what you would pay for most other summer camps.
4. Your Local Park District
Most towns have a local park district. If your town doesn’t have one, the next town over might. Park districts are great for families because they tend to offer tons of events throughout the year, as well as fitness facilities and summer camps for kids of all ages.
However, I’ve found that while certain park districts offer a variety of camp options, their prices are still a bit high and tend to be in the $350 to $500-per-week range — sometimes more!
You can cut costs with these types of camps by checking if your local park district offers scholarships. That said, there may be income requirements to qualify for scholarship funding. You can also see if your park district offers any free outdoor camp programs. My local park district offers free nature and art camps in the park for a few hours per day.
5. Search Online Databases for Cheap Summer Camps
Looking for a specific type of summer camp for your child? There are plenty of online databases you can use to search for the best camps in your area that will fit your budget. Check out sites like the American Camp Association, SummerCamps.com (for free summer camps), and the Camp Channel. When you find a camp you like, check to see if the camp is accredited by the American Camp Association.
Whether your child loves fishing, horseback riding, STEM, or sports, weigh all your options when looking for the perfect cheap summer camps.