Summer is almost here! Hopefully your summer is already (mostly) planned. But if you still need to arrange some summer camps, don’t panic. It’s not too late!
Follow the handy step-by-step guide below to choose the best summer camp for your child.
Step 1: Decide what type of summer camp you want
As the famous saying goes, you need to “begin with an end in mind”. Before starting researching specific camps, you need to figure out what type of camp you need.
Here are some questions you want to ask:
a. What is your child interested in?
Does your child love arts? Science? Outdoors? Sports? Magic?
You can find summer camp for just about every interest or passion. It helps to be specific and search for “basketball camp” or “lego camp” or “dance camp” rather than a generic “summer camp”.
My two kids are into Legos, Minecraft, science and outdoors. So I book them into camps that focus on the activities they love. Sometimes we get lucky and find a camp that combines several interests, like a “Lego Minecraft” camp at the local YMCA. Score!
b. Are you looking for a half-day, full-day or overnight camp?
Half-day camps provide a few hours of activities and are typically held for 3 hours in the morning or in the afternoon. They can be held at gyms, museums, family clubs, libraries, art studios, etc. It can be a great choice for younger campers who are trying camps for the first time. Of course with a half-day camp, you need to pick up your child in the middle of the day, so it works best if you are a stay-at-home parent, have a flexible work schedule or get additional support.
Full-day camps typically provide a 6-hour program (usually 9 am to 3 pm), often with optional before- and after-care available, usually for an extra cost. The day is structured similarly to school with a specific schedule that different types of activities, snack and lunch. Activities and curriculum are looser than in school, though. They are more fun and tend to be project-based. Look for full-day camps at your local YMCA, family clubs, churches, museums etc.
Sleepaway camps are a whole different ball game. These typically start at the age of 9 or 10, or whenever your child is ready to stay away for a few days or even weeks. Read our previous post about how to decide if your child is ready for an overnight camp, and how to best prepare him or her for the experience. Sleepaway camps are available through girl and boy scout organizations, churches or synagogues, and private camps.
c. Are you trying to get multiple siblings into the same camp?
If you have multiple kids (as I do), it helps to have them attend the same camp. It saves time with pickups and dropoffs, and the kids have each other to lean on. As an added bonus, some camps offer siblings discounts of 5-10%. So look for camps that serve the different age groups that you need.
d. Which weeks do you need summer camps for?
You probably already have some plans for the summer: family vacations, friends or family visiting you, camping trips and the like. So you may be looking to fill just a couple of remaining weeks.
I get a bit geeky and have an Excel spreadsheet to figure out what we are doing when. Sometimes arranging everybody’s schedule feels like a Tetris game. But it sure feels great when it’s done!
Step 2: Get a list of summer camps in your area
a. Use ActivityHero website
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I highly recommend Activity Hero. It’s a local company founded by two Bay Area Moms. They do a great job with pulling all the information together. You can search for summer camps, read reviews, and book them right there (without having to re-type the same information over and over and over again!)
b. Check your local community organizations
Are you a member of the YMCA? Do you attend a church or a synagogue? Does your town have a recreational center? Many of these organizations offer summer camps, and some have discounts for members or local residents. Check their summer camp listings. You may be pleasantly surprised by the number of options you have readily available to you.
c. Ask your friends – or parents of your kids’ friends – for recommendations
Not all summer camps advertise actively online. Some rely on word of mouth recommendations from past campers.
Otherwise, just Google summer camps. Be specific – it’s better to search for “basketball camp” or “overnight camp” than weed through lots of search results for camps your kids have no interest in.
Step 3: Evaluate and compare the different summer camp options
Here are some criteria you might want to use to evaluate and compare the various options that you find.
Some summer camps are so popular that they get booked early. We know some popular Bay Area camps that get fully booked within days of starting registration.
Others may still have spots and are eager to fill them. After all, summer camp spots are “perishable inventory” – like seats on an airplane. If they don’t get filled, the camp organizer foregoes the revenues while still having to pay for the fixed costs of the facilities, the counselors, etc.
b. Fit with your goals
In step 1, we talked about the importance of knowing what you’re looking for. Type or theme of camp, length of camp day, etc.
Compare the various alternatives against the criteria you came up with in Step 1.
Depending on the type, length, and a number of other factors, prices of summer camps can range from economical to expensive. They are also influenced by where you live and what options are available at the time you enroll your child.
Day camps are the most affordable options. They are mostly hosted by non-profit organizations like YMCA branches, churches, boys and girl scout groups, etc. The price here can range from as low as $100 a week up to $500 and more. For-profit ones can cost up to $500 a week. The average price is around $300 a week.
Specialty or private camps are camps that follow a specific curriculum or theme. It can be horseback riding, robotics, cooking, sailing or performing arts. Since they provide more one-on-one attention and include expensive supplies and materials, they tend to cost more. Costs typically range between $500 and $1,000 per week.
Sleepaway camps can vary in activities they offer. But they have to provide food, lodging, and around-the-clock care. The price of a sleepaway camp will be comparable to or higher than specialty and private camps. Starting with $690 a week and going up to as high as $2,000 for more specialized programs.
Step 4: Choose the camp and register your child
Now that you’ve gone through the extensive evaluation process, it’s time to pick the winners and enroll your child in the camps.
If you’re lucky to have ActivityHero in your area, you can book camps directly through their website. They save your registration and payment information, so you don’t have to re-enter the same information over and over again.
Many camps offer online registration. Others require you to register and pay in person or on the phone.
Save your receipts as you may need them at tax time for Flexible Spending Account (FSA) Dependent Care reimbursement, or for Childcare Credits.
Step 5: Share your camp schedule with parents of your kids’ friends
This step is optional, but I do it for my own kids.
Remember how I mentioned my geeky Excel spreadsheet? When I’m done booking my kids into camps, I share that spreadsheet with parents of their friends, in case they want to book their kids into the same camps for the same weeks. This way, my kids will have a friend there.
One year, I tried to coordinate our summer camps before booking, but it resulted in endless email threads of “No, we can’t do it this week, we’re traveling” or “We already booked our kid into a different camp for this week”. So now I just do the booking, and then share. If they can book their kids into the same camps as mine, that’s all upside.
Step 6: Have fun!!
This step is not optional 🙂
Summer is meant to be fun. So we hope your child will enjoy the summer camps that you worked so hard to find and book. Have fun listening to your child’s stories about the awesome summer camp activities and the new friends from camp!
For more ideas and tips for the summer, visit our Kids Activities page.