Camp is a blast, kids will tell you. But most campers aren’t aware of the sneaky stuff that goes on while they’re busy canoeing or building a campfire — namely, they’re learning life skills. Away from home, either in a day or sleepaway camp, kids try new activities with new friends in a safe, nurturing environment. They gain greater self-confidence and self-esteem and grow more independent. Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association (ACA), concurs: “Parents say they notice a maturing in their kids when they come home from summer camp — and kids say the same thing.”
Historically, parents have recognized the importance of sending their children to camp, even during tough times, Smith says. After all, we want our kids to enjoy themselves as much as they can. Camp directors understand that sentiment and are working hard to attract and retain customers. Many camps offer financial assistance and discounts. But before you shop by price, it’s important to shop by fit. You want to find the camp that feels right for your child. Here’s how to get started:
Ask around. Get recommendations from other parents whose kids have had a positive experience. Some camps offer traditional activities like crafts, swimming, and sports; others specialize in a single interest such as music or sailing (see sidebar “Ready for Action”). Which would most interest your child?
Check the web. Many camps’ Web sites feature photos and list the age range of campers, activities offered, and more.
Talk to the camp director. It’s important that you feel comfortable with the people potentially caring for your child. You may want to ask about the camp’s philosophy, program emphasis, and how staff members are screened and trained. Look into the counselor-to-camper ratio, the camper and counselor retention rates, and the policy regarding parent-child communication. The director’s contact info should be on the camp’s Web site.
Scout it out. If you have time and the camp is within driving distance, take a road trip to check out the facilities — the cabins, cafeteria, and yes, even the bathrooms. Bring your child along so she knows this is a family decision.
Paying for It
Once you’ve found the program you like, call to see if financial assistance is available. They may not advertise it, but 75 percent of ACA-accredited camps offer some financial aid. Also ask about scholarships — there are many you may not know about. Don’t assume that your income level counts you out. If sleepaway is out of reach, consider day camp. It’s usually about half the cost. Many camps also offer discounts for early registration, full-season enrollment, multiple enrollments from one family, or sessions later in the summer when families most often go on vacation.
You might check with your employer about a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (FSA). This program reimburses parents on a pre-tax basis for necessary childcare expenses so that parents can work, look for work, or attend school full-time while caring for qualified dependents. Day camp expenses sometimes meet the criteria. For more information, visit fsafeds.com.
Another creative option is to consider offering your professional skills in exchange for a rate discount. If you’re good with words, for example, you might write next year’s brochure. If you’re in home repair, you might paint cabins. Finally, if you feel inclined, you could volunteer at the camp during the session your child attends. Ask the camp director about these ideas.
The bottom line is that camps are businesses, and they need families like yours. Now, more than ever, they’re willing to work with you to help you afford camp through a variety of creative solutions.
To find a camp near you, visit: