It's Already that Time: How Much Will You Pay for Summer Camp?

How much do you spend to send kids to camp?How much do you spend to send kids to camp?It's February and whether you're shoveling snow or labeling Valentine's treats for the classroom, it's that awkward time in winter when parents have to focus on summer camp registration.

Of course, there are park district camps and activities at smaller organizations that may hand out registration forms later in the spring. But many summer camps for kids require parents to line up, sign up, or even put down a hefty deposit four or more months in advance. That means summer schedules and parent wallets are already tied up.

While it seems crazy to commit to sessions and weeks and even specializations of camps so far out, it's even crazier to consider what camp for kids costs. Last year, I did a massive obsessive-mama investigation of 92 day camps in my city. Park camps that last most of the day and include field trips and sports instruction rang in at less than $50 a week. However, they can fill up online within minutes. Private-organizations offer amazing specialty camps - drama, martial arts, puppet-making, robotics - and there's a price for that enticing instruction. That price is somewhere between $250 and $600 a week, I found. If you send your kids to residential camp, expect that weekly price to jump up exponentially, especially if your kids have their hearts set on bacon camp, bull-riding camp, or (every parents' favorite) explosives camp.

According to the American Camp Association, there are 12,000 day and residential camps in the U.S. Approximately three-quarters of those camps are operated by youth agencies and religious organizations. The remaining 4,000 are affiliated with for-profit companies. Hopefully, those numbers mean that there are many affordable camps available to kids, no matter their socioeconomic status or family situation or interests. It just might mean mom or dad has to take the day off to sit with a finger poised on the Register Now! button or standing in line with a money order and hope of snagging a slot.

The ACA also notes a bit more budgetary hope for parents who are worried this winter about getting their kids into camp over the summer: 90% of the camps accredited by ACA offer financial assistance. This translates to scholarships for about one million children, based on financial status and special needs.

If paying for camp is not a problem, but you're also not interested in doling out thousands of dollars unnecessarily, it's also wise to ask if there are discounts available. Good Housekeeping notes that camps often offer 5-10% discounts for early registration (which means now), and I concur -- I personally saved several hundred dollars last year simply by committing to camp sessions for my son by the last day of February.

Has the summer camp frenzy already started where you live?

How much will you dole out for day or residential camp this year?

More on Shine:
"How working at a summer camp changed my life"
Why summer camps should have mandatory uniforms
10 things to consider before choosing a camp for your kids
This one's for us: summer camp for adults

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