Finding an affordable camp can be tough.
A camp experience is an investment that yields a lifetime of benefits, according to American Camp Association CEO Tom Holland. But not everyone has the funds to invest.
These days camp doesn’t come cheap. Most weekly day camps average at least $200 for one child. Add multiple weeks and it can get pricey.
It is possible, however, to give your child the classic camp experience without breaking the bank — if you know where to look.
“The American Camp Association believes the benefits of a camp experience are priceless, but we also realize that parents’ pockets aren’t bottomless,” Holland says. “There is a camp out there for every child and for every budget.”
From available discounts to low-cost programs, here are six ways to save on camp this summer. Be sure to check with the camps for current pricing as prices may have changed.
1. Check out parks and rec and not-for-profit programs
County recreation departments can be a one-stop shop for affordable summer camp. Counties often offer everything from specialty camps to full-day, all-purpose camps perfect for working parents.
For example, Anne Arundel County Parks and Recreation offers a full-day Summer Fun Center program for seven weeks that costs as little as $112 per week. Kids can swim, play sports, make arts and crafts and take a few field trips — all included in the price.
Older kids will love the “Teens on the Go” camp that travels every day to places like SkyZone, the movies, and even Kings Dominion and Hershey Park.
In Prince George’s County, programs like the Summer Playground and XTreme Teen start at just $40 total for six weeks of supervised play on a drop-in basis. The program is available at 81 schools and recreation facilities and is only open to county residents.
The Y of Central Maryland has some of the most affordable camps in Maryland starting at just $167 per week for members. The Y’s overnight camp, Camp Hashawha in Westminster, costs just $367 for a full week, about half the average cost of a typical overnight camp, according to the American Camp Association.
2. Call your church or place of worship
A day camp at a local church can be a nurturing environment for kids — and most of them are low-cost or even free.
At the Mid-Atlantic Community Church (MACC) in Gambrills, KiCK (Kids in Christ Kamp) is $30 per week for campers ages 3 and older, and discounts are offered for siblings and friends. The MACC also hosts a myriad of sports camps — from lacrosse to golf. For a flat fee of $90, families can choose up to three one-week camps per camper, with a total family limit of $130. Scholarships are available to anyone and no child is ever turned away.
Many local churches host vacation Bible-school programs during the summer like the popular VBS at St. Mary’s in Annapolis, a weeklong camp starting at $30. And if that price doesn’t fit the budget, keep searching. Many churches, like Southminster Presbyterian in Oxon Hill and Woodside Methodist in Silver Spring, offer Bible camp completely free.
3. Ask about discounts
Start thinking about camp early, and your wallet will reap the rewards. Most camps have early bird pricing for campers registered before the summer rush.
At Annapolis Area Christian School’s extensive summer program, each camper can receive a $25 discount per week if registered before March 31. Combine that with an extra $25 sibling discount per week, and the savings can add up.
In addition to sibling discounts, many camps will offer a reduced rate for multiple-week registrations. Consider the value of each camp as well. Though Annapolis Area Christian School’s all-day camp starts at $260 per week, camp runs from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., includes lunch daily, and has optional extras like before and after care, as well as overnight campouts.
4. Apply for scholarships and financial assistance
Most national organizations, like the Boy Scouts of America or the Foundation for Jewish Camp, offer partial or full scholarships for qualifying campers. The Y of Central Maryland also provides significant financial assistance for those in need. Contact the billing office before registering to see if your family qualifies for financial assistance.
Other large organizations, like Maryland 4-H, the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland and Anne Arundel County Parks and Recreation, also offer extensive partial or full scholarships or financial assistance for qualifying campers on a case-by-case basis.
5. Create your own camp
Who says you have to have a cabin and a campfire for summer fun? Parents can opt to create their own camp experience by scheduling a week’s worth of field trips or hosting an overnight backyard campout. Even a trip to a relative’s house for a few days can be a great way for kids to experience something new and beat the summer blues.
Have a special skill like painting or woodworking? Coordinate with friends and neighbors to host a weeklong camp where each parent provides a different activity every day, or designate a day of the week as “camp day” and rotate turns hosting with other families.
Sites like Scholastic.com and Pinterest are packed with ideas for creating your own summer camp experience at home.
6. Go online
It may not be the great outdoors, but don’t underestimate the value of a virtual summer camp. Maker Camp (makercamp.com) is a free online camp that encourages building, crafting and DIY; has video tutorials; virtual field trips; and interaction with real counselors.
Camp Wonderopolis (camp.wonderopolis.org), the National Center for Family Learning’s online camp, teaches kids to think scientifically about topics like zoology, archeology and chemistry through games and virtual adventures. DIY.org has some of the most fun online camps on the Web. With topics like wizard training, comic book making, filmmaking and a Lego master camp, kids can spend hours testing their creative skills starting at just $15 for an entire month of camp.
By Katie Riley