Before school ends, the flyers and sign up forms start showing up. It might seem as though every family around you is signing their children up, but is summer camp really a good financial decision?
It’s a great way to keep the children occupied, there’s no arguing that! Let’s look at some of the pros and cons – especially financial ones.
Reasons to Send Your Children to Summer Camp
Children Are Supervised
So you can manage two weeks’ worth of vacation but your children will be home for twelve weeks? The best thing about summer camp – let’s be honest – is that they’re supervised! In my experience, camp counselors are young, energetic, and a lot of fun … something that’s not usually said about this aging mother.
Summer camp hours are usually at least as long as school hours, and the children come home exhausted and ready for bed.
Often camp works out to be less expensive than a daycare or childminder because there are so many children involved. Around here, summer day camp is $50-75 per week, per child, plus extra cost for special outings.
Campers will be exposed to a range of activities, including sports, arts, crafts, field trips, and more. Certainly, my children did a wider variety of activities at camp than they do at home.
Early Drop-Off and Pick-Up
For a small additional fee, many camps will let you drop off your child before work, such as 8 AM, and pick them up before 6 PM.
The cost usually works out at a fraction of what it would cost to have someone mind your child from 3 PM, when camp ends, to when you get home from work.
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Scholarships are available for Y camps and even private camps. You just have to fill out an application and then wait.
If you have a special needs child, there are often special, subsidized camps with trained counselors. It can be a real relief to know that your children are having fun in a safe environment.
Counselor in Training (CIT)
Once your child is a teen, there are CIT programs that will give them work experience and a discount or free fees for the summer. Preference is usually given to teens who have been campers there in previous years.
For sleepaway camps, CITs will get room, board and a weekly stipend. When they are not working with other counselors or with younger children, CITs are allowed to make the most of the camp facilities. I know two young people this year who are thoroughly enjoying their first year as counselors.
Americans – Camp Is Covered by Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account
In the United States, a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (DCFSA) takes pre-tax dollars from your paycheck and puts them into an account you can use for childcare costs, including summer camp.
All you need to do is submit receipts for legitimate childcare expenses.
Parents can elect to save a maximum of $5,000 annually, and both parents can have a DCFSA. Since the money is pre-tax dollars, you will also save on your taxes each year.
If you’re in the United States and can take advantage of this, it’s a good decision!
Reasons to Keep Your Children Home This Summer
Some camps can be a real financial commitment. If you don’t get a scholarship for their child, it could be a real struggle to pay for it. And if you have multiple children, it adds up!
$55 per week sounds reasonable, but it’s actually about $100 when you add in each week’s special outing. Multiple that by twelve weeks of camp, and then multiply that by four children. It no longer seems like such an affordable, reasonable number.
Not all camps run for the entire length of summer vacation. Children are often out of school for twelve weeks or more, but some camps only run eight weeks.
This means that there are still supervision – and therefore financial – issues that need to be dealt with for the rest of the summer. If both parents are working and need childcare, it can be difficult to find it for those weeks.
The hours might not be convenient, and still leave parents stuck with childcare issues or pick-up and drop-off issues each day.
Some summer camps and school-led summer programs are better than others. Parents might not be getting the best value for their money, but might not be able to afford a better camp.
Distance from Home
Your nearest camp might still be a good distance away from your home, and perhaps even in the opposite direction from your commute to work each day. Your local camp might also not be very good, but you’re stuck in terms of pick-up and drop-off times.
When we had the children in camp last summer, I didn’t think about transportation. All year long, they were in school and a bus picked them up and took them home. For the entire summer, I was the bus.
Places Fill Quickly
Places fill quickly, especially at the better summer camps. Sometimes you have to get a place and give a deposit as early as January each year, which can be a real struggle for some parents, especially just after the holidays.
Summer camps are often the best way to get childcare during the summer vacation, but it’s important to take a solid look at the pros and cons.
Last year, we had the children in camp. I still had to pack daily lunches, the bus was replaced by me driving them around, and we were locked in so that I found it hard to justify impromptu trips to the beach or other summer time activities. In addition, Aonghus’ autism and sensory issues meant he didn’t enjoy it at all – a camp for autistic children, or those with sensory processing disorders – would be much better for him.
This year, with four of an age to go, we decided against camp.