As people try to deal with more difficult financial circumstances, finding affordable summer camp alternatives can be one way to preserve the fun of summer and still save some money. With careful vetting, planning, and a little luck, you can give your kid a great summer without breaking the bank.
Affordable Summer Camp Alternatives
Here are a few techniques and resources that parents have used to try and solve the tension between their wallet and their need for an outstanding summer experience for your child.
Make Your Own!
If you have more time available than money, it may be economical to create your own cheap summer camps for your kids - and others. Some parents have gotten together and arranged to run their own mini-camps in their neighborhoods. This has some very distinct advantages:
- The kids are always close by
- Usually the kids are already friends, which takes some of the "scary shyness" out of the beginning of camp
- You can tailor the summer camp themes to your child's interests and your own abilities
- Issues such as medications, allergies, and food preferences become much easier to deal with
There are many resources online with fun summer activities and also educational materials that can help you fill the day with games and even a little education thrown into the mix. There are some things to keep in mind, though, if you are trying to set up your own little camp:
- Have emergency information - both phone numbers and insurance information - for all the kids at your camp.
- Have first aid supplies such as band-aids, insect ointment, and sunscreen readily available.
- Always have alternative lessons planned in case weather, boredom, or something else prevents your activity from working out.
Schools and Community Centers
Many towns subsidize cheap summer camps for kids, as well as many other activities, through the local school or through the youth centers. While these aren't necessarily free, they are usually much cheaper than other commercial summer camps. Often they are run by parent volunteers along with school or center staff. These camps usually ask you to pack your child's lunch and may only go for a portion of the day, but in many cases there are more than one going on at a time. This means, for example, you could send your child to a computer camp in the morning and a swim camp at the local pool in the evening. Transportation is usually arranged by parents who carpool and alternate taking the kids places.
Museums, Universities and Libraries
Often local cultural centers will have summer reading clubs (that do more than just sit and read), drama camps, or activity tours that fill the summer with the rich history and materials gathered inside. With the success of movies like Night at the Museum many places like the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland have created full and half-day camps for kids - and if you're a member of the museum, they offer a substantial discount.
Local Sports Camps
Some local intramural and community sports groups offer special summer workshops that are tailored to focus on a specific sport or activity. Basketball, baseball, and football are common, but cheerleading, gymnastics, ultimate Frisbee, or even martial arts have all been offered at relatively low cost through communities.
Save Money and Have Fun
While it is certainly possible to save money during the summer by using these options instead of sending your child away to camp, remember that the purpose of summer vacation is to rest and relax from the rigors of school. It may be that the best and cheapest summer camp for your children is right in your own backyard, with them discovering their own brand of summer fun.