7 Steps for Finding a Great, Affordable Kids Summer Camp

Summer is right around the corner, and soon we will get to send our kids away to summer camp. Yay!

I love summer camp for so many reasons. I have awesome memories of going as a child. As an adult, I anticipate a semi-quiet house once my kids head out the door.

But let’s be real here: There is one part of summer camp that’s not so awesome, and that’s the price. Fortunately, you can find a perfect camp at a perfectly good rate if you’re willing to put in a little legwork.

Here are seven tips to help you out:

1. Consider your kid

4 kids laughing
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Remember this is not about you. You may have fabulous memories of Camp Crystal Lake, but that doesn’t mean your kids will have the same experience. Rather than force them into what could be a terrifying week, take some time to discuss their expectations of camp. You have plenty of choices:

  • Science camps
  • Sports camps
  • Adventure camps
  • Bible camps
  • Scout camps
  • Art camps

Your children may hate the idea of rock climbing or swimming, but could be geeked about the chance to study robotics on a local college campus. Figure out what makes your children tick, and look for the type of camp that fits their interests and personalities.

2. Decide whether it’ll be a daytime or overnight experience

Kids playing tug-of-war
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Along those same lines, decide whether an overnight camp or a day camp will better fit your child and family.

Overnight camps are what typically come to mind when you think about summer camps, but a weeklong excursion with strangers may be too much for some kids. Day camps will require more driving and coordination on your part, but they might provide a more positive experience for kids prone to homesickness.

3. Check out community and nonprofit camps

Kids playing soccer.
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As we’ve said earlier, going to camp isn’t necessarily cheap, with fees often running into the hundreds of dollars. However, you can certainly find a quality camp for less money.

To locate good bargain camps, look to your community and nonprofit organizations. The prices may be as low as free for a half-day vacation Bible school through a church, or as much as a $200 for an overnight camp run by a YMCA or recreation department.

4. Search online resources

Kids at camp.
sydarikova_foto / Shutterstock.com

Maybe the perfect camp is one you’ve never heard of before. To find it, you may have to do more than ask for recommendations from Facebook friends.

Instead, head to the internet, where you can search by price, location or camp features. Here are some summer camp websites to try:

Also, check out the websites for your local YMCA, Scouting organizations and area universities for other opportunities.

5. Make sure the camp is awesome

Kids at campfire
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Every summer camp website is bound to tell you it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. As a parent, it’s your job to make sure that’s true.

First, find out more about who oversees the camp. Is it run by a local or national organization? Does that group have a good track record of quality?

Once you feel comfortable with the camp’s parent organization, it’s time to find out more about the specific location you plan to use. If you don’t know anyone personally who has sent a child there, ask for references.

Searches of the web and Facebook can also help you ferret out the inside scoop on a camp. But keep in mind that people are more likely to complain than compliment, so online gripes might not give you the whole story. A better indicator of how the camp is run may be how it responds to those complaints.

6. Ask about fees, scholarships and incidental expenses

Boy on horseback
nuu_jeed / Shutterstock.com

The weekly fee or tuition rate is probably front and center in your mind, but it might not be the amount you end up paying.

On the one hand, many camps offer financial assistance to offset fees. The American Camp Association (ACA) reports that 90 percent of camps offer some type of aid, from total to partial scholarships. Some offer this money on a first-come, first-served basis, so it’s best to apply early.

On the flip side, you could end up paying more than the advertised price if the camp tacks on a lot of incidental expenses. Activities such as horseback riding and archery may cost extra, or there may be a camp store at which your child can rack up a healthy account balance.

7. See if you can get your money back

Magnifying glass
iQoncept / Shutterstock.com

Last, but not least, ask about the refund policy. If your child gets sick or there’s a family emergency, can you get your money back? What if Junior decides he hates camp on Day 2? Do you get a partial refund?

In my experience, it’s rare for a camp to offer refunds for sickness or a change of heart. However, it’s good to know upfront what the policy is. Then, if you find a summer camp that is generous with refunds, it might deserve a bump to your short list.

Will your kids be attending summer camp this year? Share with us in comments or on our Facebook page.

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