When I was young, I knew everything.
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Before I had children, I was asked to help build a database of all of the summer camp offerings in the Central Florida (Greater Orlando) area for a special edition of the newspaper and an online forum. To be clear, I did not actually design anything in the print edition nor did I actually create the Web page where the data lived. I basically made phone calls double checking the camp information that organizations submitted via email, online form and phone messages on my personal extension. I was a fact-checker of sorts.
While the task got old pretty fast, it was an eye-opening experience for me. I looked at the amounts of money that these camps were asking on a weekly basis and was glad that an experienced researcher like myself was following up on this information. There clearly had to be inaccuracies in these numbers.
$230 for a week of “safari” camp at the zoo? Huh?
$400 for two weeks of ice hockey instruction (in Florida, no less)? What?
$650 for a month of learning about aquatic animals at a major theme park? Puh-leeese.
Even the inexpensive options like the YMCA and local churches were still pricey. I should point out here that at this point in my naive life, I had no concept about the cost of things like daycare. Ahhh, youth.
I underlined the exorbitant amounts and made the phone calls.
I found inaccuracies alright but they were never in the price. Generally people realized that they had the address or the cut off date for registration wrong. A colleague who was lucky enough to hear me making a bajillion of these phone calls said that she would buy me a cookie downstairs in the cafeteria. As we walked, I expressed my outrage that summer camps were asking so much from families and worse, that families paid it. She is a stepmom to two school-aged kids and she just laughed at me.
“If you had kids, you would understand. We save up all year so our kids can go to summer camps and get out of the house.”
Fast forward five years to now. I have three pre-K kids in the house and a baby due in May. My stepson’s preschool will be over at the end of April, leaving me with three-and-a-half months with four little ones in the house for several days each week. Oy.
Our house isn’t very big. We do have a nice, fenced-in backyard and my husband and I already have a list of more outdoor toys that we plan to buy this weekend. The beach is just down the street but I’m not sure how often I’ll pack up four kids, all our gear and stroll on down there without extra help. I’d love to do it once a week but we shall see.
Getting outdoors is definitely on our family agenda, but summer weather in Florida can be brutal. If the high temperatures and humidity are not enough to send you indoors during the hottest hours of the day, the daily thunderstorms around 4 p.m. will do it.
So when the local recreation center released its summer camp brochure, I snatched it up with glee. Many of the camps are available for kids ages 4 and up. That’s half of my brood! I started circling and highlighting things and conspiring with my mom friend who has a newborn and a four-year-old. We were like two giddy teenagers texting back and forth.
“Did u c the cheerleading mini camp in July? I think I’m going to sign Viv up.”
“I circled it for Emme! How about the crafts and cooking one?”
“Yep. Got that one picked out and the fairy garden one too. Whatever that is.”
“Ferris wants to do the hip-hop camp. Hubs is skeptical. I say why not?”
“Go Ferris! He would be great at hip-hop!”
And so on….
I’m most excited about a daily fun camp that runs the entire summer where my two oldest can go for four hours at a time to run around outside, make crafts and watch movies with other kids. I can sign them up as “drop ins” and just send them whenever I feel like it. I’m thinking 2 – 3 days per week should suffice. That still leaves me with a three-year-old and newborn during those hours but it will feel like a day at the spa, believe me.
And, oh yeah, my kids will love it too.
The cost of these camps? Anywhere from $40 – $70 per week for the individual ones (half days) and $15/day for the summer-long day camp. It’s a far cry from the high-priced specialty camps that I once scoffed at, but it still adds up.
Rachael mentioned feeling “counter intuitive” about paying for preschool when she is home with her daughters in a recent post, and I feel the same way about summer camps. I feel sort of guilty about spending money on a service that we do not really “need.”
Or maybe we do? What is the going rate for sanity these days?
According to the American Camp Association, summer camps average $100 – $800 per week. Each year, nearly 11 million kids attend camp and despite the recession, nearly 10 percent of ACA accredited camps reported being over capacity in the past five years. This tells me that families who are making financial sacrifices in nearly every area of their budgets are still carving out a little bit of money for kids to attend summer camps.
Parents interviewed by the ACA listed the following reasons for sending their kids to camp:
Okay, so getting kids “out of the house” during the dog days of summer is not on the list but I bet it came in at Number Four.
How about your family? Do you love summer camps or do you prefer a break from structured activities during the summer months? Has your view on this changed as your kids got older?
You can contact Katie by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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