The Benefits of Summer Camp — And How to Afford It

Summer camp often evokes images of kids swimming, hiking in the woods, and roasting marshmallows around a bonfire. Today, the definition of camp has expanded to include all sorts of activities, ranging from Hollywood stunt training to Hatha yoga. What all of these offerings have in common is that they afford kids the opportunity to have fun and enjoy learning in ways that may be far removed from their classroom learning experiences during the school year.

Benefits of Camp

Skills and Interests

The long summer provides plenty of time to develop new skills and hobbies that your busy kids may not have time for during the school year. It was my son’s dream come true when he tried archery for the very first time at a Cub Scouts camp last summer.

Today, you can find a range of camp offerings as varied as children’s interests — from zombie camp to tinkering camp to language camp.

Deep Dive

Summer camp is also a great way for kids to focus deeply on a subject or activity they love. You can find local camps that are dedicated to a single activity, such as photography, robotics or nature camp. My son’s music development benefited greatly from a strings music camp, where he first learned to play orchestra-style with older kids who supported his growth.

Summer Slide

The typical 10-week American summer often results in kids losing reading and math skills they had developed during the school year; this is a particular concern for low-income families whose access to enriching summer programs is more limited than it is for children whose families have greater resources.

Read more about the “summer brain drain” and how to counteract it.

Academic camps for math and language enrichment can help prevent the slide and even enable children to get ahead. To this end, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America offers the Summer Brain Gain program to help low-income youth, and it is looking at expanding the offerings further.

If you’re looking for a structured course for an older student, browse the low-cost enrichment options in Noodle’s online course listing.

Character Development

Camps enable kids from different backgrounds, schools, and ages to mingle and learn from each other. The federal government’s 2014 Student and Exchange Visitor Program reports increasing numbers of international students enrolling in U.S. educational programs, and some camp directors, like Steven Haines of the Horizons USA Immersion Summer Camp, confirm this recent growth in their programs. These cross-cultural contacts, coupled with the participation of American children from many backgrounds, give kids the opportunities to learn about different cultures and traditions — and, sometimes, to form lasting friendships that span the globe.

An important part of the camp experience is learning to work cooperatively, an ability needed for success throughout life. Many K–12 schools engage in collaborative learning, so teamwork skills developed in summer programs support classroom learning, as well. Workplaces, too, increasingly rely on team members working together to meet their goals, and employers look for candidates who have skills in this area.

For more information, check out this article on the benefits of experiential learning.

Unlike school, camp activities tend to be relatively self-directed, and so they allow children to make decisions and discover their own preferences — a process that, in turn, helps them develop self-confidence. You may be pleasantly surprised at your child’s independence and improved sense of responsibility when she returns from camp for the first time.

Counselor Mentors

Camp counselors, who are often college students or young adults, act as mentors and support kids through challenging moments, helping them feel a sense of accomplishment when they overcome obstacles. They share insights gained from their own life experiences and model appropriate behaviors.

High school students may build close relationships with camp instructors, who are then able to describe the character and strengths of these campers in recommendation letters for part-time or summer work — perhaps even as a camp counselor!

School Tryout

If you are undecided about enrolling your child in a particular school, one way to learn whether the environment may suit her is to enroll her in its summer camp (if it has one) for a few weeks. This tends to be possible for private schools and preschools, such as Lawrence Montessori School or Grace Christian Schools, that often employ their regular staff to conduct summer programs.

There are some additional benefits to sampling a school in the summer:

  • You avoid a long-term commitment and the often-heavy annual fee before you’re sure the school is a good fit.

  • Toddlers and preschoolers get a chance to become familiar with the school environment, routine, and teachers in smaller classes while many kids are away for vacation.

  • Young children tend to get sick much less in summer, as compared to the fall and winter, when cold and flu viruses start circulating in crowded classrooms.

Costs and Financial Aid

Camp expenses can vary from $100 to more than $1,000 per week. Many camps operate on a weekly basis, so you can choose the individual weeks that you want to send your kids. Others may require you to register, pay for, and enroll your child for an entire session — from two to 10 weeks, depending on the camp.

If you find a camp that interests your child but looks too expensive, here are some suggestions to make it more affordable:

  • Discounts: Many camps offer discounts if you register far enough in advance, enroll siblings, or enroll for multiple weeks. Some offer a discount if you refer another family.

  • Payment plans: Ask if the camp has an option that allows you to make payments in installments to help stagger your costs.

  • Use pre-tax dollars: Employers often provide Child and Dependent Care flexible-spending accounts, which enable you to pay for camp on a pre-tax basis.

  • Camp scholarships or financial aid: Financial aid for summer camps is usually need-based. If you plan to apply for financial aid, we recommend that you begin searching for suitable camp programs in January or February preceding the summer when your child will attend. Many financial aid programs have application deadlines as early as March.

  • Community scholarships: Some community or religious organizations offer need-based scholarships or other forms of financial assistance to help families send their children to camp. For instance, the local arts council in my town has a summer-camp need-based scholarship that is funded through grants and donations from local patrons.

  • Camp experiences as gifts: Some camps offer gift certificates. You can suggest a partial sponsorship of a camp experience to grandparents and other relatives if asked for gift suggestions.

  • Free or low-cost camps: Organizations like the Fresh Air Fund and Girls Who Code provide free, high-quality summer camp experiences to children throughout the country. These programs fill up quickly, so it’s important to apply early. You can also check with your local Parks and Recreation Department to learn about free or low-cost camps where kids can engage in arts and play-based programs in city parks.

Additional resources for free or low-cost camps:

Check out Free or Cheap Summer Camp Options, or search on sites like Noodle, which offers a free summer program search. The American Camp Association is also committed to making camp available to children from all income levels, and you can use its Camp Finder to explore options.

Additional resources for older campers:

Check out 2015 Summer Pre-College Programs with Generous Financial Aid.

Sources:

(2014, January 1). Retrieved March 11, 2015, from Student and Exchange Visitor Program.

2015 Summer Programs with Generous Financial Aid (02 February, 2015). Retrieved March 5, 2015 from College Greenlight.

Boys & Girls Club of America Launches Summer Brain Gain Program in 1,000 Boys & Girls Clubs Across the Country (May 29, 2014). Retrieved March 5, 2015 from Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Find a Camp. Retrieved March 5, 2015 from American Camp Association. Quinn-Szcesuil, J. 8 Free or Cheap Summer Camp Options. Retrieved March 5, 2015 from Care.com.

Summer Camping Program. Retrieved March 5, 2015 from The Fresh Air Fund.

Summer Immersion Program. Retrieved March 5, 2015 from Girls Who Code.

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