It may not feel like it yet, but summer is right around the corner, which means working parents are scrambling to solidify summer child care plans. And for many families with school-aged kids that plan includes day camp.
First, the good news: There’s a camp for every kind of kid. But which one is right for yours? The options are practically endless — from camps that cater to full-time working parents with extended care hours to those that provide drop-in entertainment for restless kiddos to specialty camps where your child can spend the season developing skills in athletics, arts or academics.
With so many choices — and spots filling up fast — how do you choose? Use these five questions to figure out what type of camp is best for you and your kids.
How much child care coverage is needed?
Let’s start with the basics: Do you need full-time, part-time or drop-in care? While some camps provide full-time, extended day care for kids, others mimic the school day or offer morning or afternoon programming. Some working parents also choose to supplement partial-day camps with a sitter or nanny, which can help balance a kid’s summer between structured activities and a little R&R. Determine what type of child care arrangement is right for your family then tailor your search to camps that offer the coverage you need.
What’s the budget?
The cost of camp varies significantly and can range from drop-in fees of $30 a day to full-day camps topping $800 a week or more, depending on where you live, what organization runs the camp and the type of programming offered. Some camps with extended child care options will charge a premium for the hours before 8 a.m. and after 4 p.m. But there are plenty affordable options — even if you need a camp with full- or part-time child care. YMCAs and your neighborhood park districts are perfect places to start for wallet-friendly camp options. But remember, with less expensive camps you’ll typically find general programming focused on socialization, arts and crafts, and physical activity. Specialized camp experiences could mean a higher price tag.
Is staying local a priority?
Besides convenience, there’s another perk of picking a neighborhood camp: kids who spend the summer at a local camp are bound to make friends with other kids from the area who may be at school or in their classes the following year. If you’re looking for an opportunity for your child to solidify friendships or have more confidence going into the next school year, a local camp is a great bet.
What activities are offered?
Choosing the right camp can get complicated. While many day camps offer a “traditional” experience with outdoor activities, swimming, nature programs and crafts, there are now myriad opportunities to tailor your child’s summer camp experience to his or her interests and strengths. The right camp for your kids will depend on the availability of programs in your area, your budget and your child’s preferences.
Here’s a taste of what’s out there:
- Art camps for kids interested in theater, acting, art, dance, music or writing.
- Sports camps for your future soccer, gymnastics, baseball/softball, hockey, volleyball, sailing, horseback riding or tennis star.
- Adventure camps for your thrill-seeker with activities like rock climbing, hiking and wilderness skills.
- Academic camps that provide kids a leg up in science, foreign languages, math, robotics or coding.
- Special-needs camps, which cater to kids who have physical or cognitive disabilities — making the camp experience available to them with appropriate programming and trained staff.
What’s the camp’s reputation?
You’ve narrowed down your list of possible camp programs, and it’s time to make a decision about your summer plans. Feeling stuck? The best thing you can do is talk to other parents whose kids have attended the camp you’re considering. Are they enthusiastic about the experience their kids had? Are they headed back for more summer fun this year? Get feedback on social media, through neighborhood forums or from families at school. Or, if your child is interested in a specialty camp, consult his or her current coaches, teachers or instructors for their recommendations.
Another idea? If you’re an advance planner, consider camp options a year before your child will be attending. That way, you can check out the programs for yourself before you need to sign your child up, which means no scrambling when the time comes to register. Whatever camp you choose, if you’ve done your homework, your child is sure to have a summer filled with new adventures, friends and fun.