Summer Day Camps
Raising Girls

The Ultimate Guide to Summer Day Camps + Sleepaway Camps

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The end of the school year is suddenly here (today for my daughter finishing Kindergarten + last week for my preschooler). What are you going to do to occupy your kids for those long summer days? For moms who work either full-time, part-time or even flex hours from home + even stay-at-home moms, summer day camp does double duty as child care + can help save your sanity.

I read a post from a fellow Mama yesterday that said her success for the day was not strangling anyone since her kids were already home for the summer. Success indeed 🙂

If you haven’t thought much about the plan for summer but now you’re hitting the panic button, wondering if it’s going to be 3 long months of computer screens as babysitters… you’re in luck.

Most summer day camps + even summer sleepaway camps expect + prepare for an influx of registrations at the end of June or early July. You likely have an array of summer day camps to choose from, depending on where you live + what still has availability.

Types of Summer Day Camps

The best way to find out what type of summer day camps are available for your child is to do a local search online. Here are some of the typical, activity-based summer camp choices.

Summer recreation programs

Many towns offer a recreation program, with typical hours from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. but sometimes shorter hours + sometimes longer. This is one of the most affordable options to get kids out of the house + socializing under the supervision of caring adults or teenagers. Your child will engage in a variety of activities, including outdoor play, gym exercise on rainy days, swimming + arts + crafts.

Depending on the location of your town or county’s recreation program, there may be an option for kids to purchase food for lunch. Otherwise, you may be required to pack a snack + lunch each day.

There will likely be at least one or two field trips to kid favorites like the local movie theater, skating rink or bowling alley, or perhaps a nearby farm if you live in a more rural area.

Performing arts camp

Kids who would like to develop their talents for singing, playing musical instruments, dancing + acting might be thrilled with the idea of attending a performing arts camp during the summer.

If your younger child shows aptitude around the performing arts, this experience could well be the catalyst for future participation in a music band, drama club + other performing arts-related extra-curricular activities.

YMCA summer day camps

The YMCA has long been a reliable option for summer campers of all ages. The YMCA offers indoor + outdoor pools with swim lessons for all ages, taught by certified instructors. They will also typically have indoor gym areas, exercise equipment, racquetball courts + outdoor playgrounds, basketball courts, tennis, ball fields + other kid favorites.

Sports camp

For kids with a love for sports, there are summer day camps for that. At these camps, the majority of the focus is refining particular skills that apply to a certain sport.

So for example, if your child attends softball camp, she will spend the majority of her day working on catching, throwing, hitting + fielding. Teams are formed + games are played.

Other activities at sports camp will of course include meals, along with some free time + possibly swim time. If you know your child is really into, or wants to become a pro at a particular sport, then sports camp could be a great investment for the summer.

Computer + STEM summer day camps

A growing number of organizations are dedicated to helping kids develop their intellectual + skillset – with opportunities to attend summer day camps focused on science, technology, engineering + math (STEM) skills.

This type of camp can be ideal for the brainy, mechanically inclined, book smart + computer savvy kid for whom intensive sports or hours of daily outdoor play may not be her thing.

Since it’s a good idea to have kids be active for at least some portion of the day, ask if there will be some outdoor play to have the children burn off energy + enjoy some free time with peers, in addition to the educational experience they will be gaining at this type of summer day camp.

The Right Type of Camp for Your Child

The type of summer day camp that’s right for your child will, of course, depend on her personality + individual preferences. While parents who work may have more limited options based on the operating hours that the summer day camp offers, stay-at-home moms may have more choices in day camps since hours might be more flexible.

Since no mama likes to dish out cash for something their kid isn’t going to enjoy, start by asking your children what types of activities they’d be interested in exploring for the summer. These days, there’s something for every preference + taste.

If your son or daughter is hoping to advance their baseball, basketball, soccer, or gymnastics skills, summer sports camp can give them an edge during the off-season, so they’ll return stronger + more prepared to compete when sports are back in session during the upcoming school year.

Arts camp is a perfect fit for the dramatically, musically + artistically inclined. And scout camp or another type of outdoor camp that features activities like hiking, fishing, swimming, traversing the outdoors, learning about + experiencing nature + other related activities can be a win for the outdoorsy type of child.

Hours for Summer Day Camps

Drop-off + pick-up times at summer day camps depend on the individual camp where you send your child or children. Most summer day camps take into consideration that working parents need a place to bring their children early in the morning before they head to work for the day.

So your child’s summer camp’s drop-off time could be as early as 7:30 a.m., or it may be a more firmly-set schedule that begins at 8:45 a.m. — but again it depends on the camp + their hours of operation.

Camp’s pickup time, too, can coincide with the end of the workday for parents. However, if you choose a camp for your child that offers an array of flexible options, then you may be able to secure a pick-up time as early as 3 p.m. or as late as 6 p.m.

The best way to find out about summer day camp hours is to make some calls to the various day camps in your area.

Duration of Summer Day Camps

Once again, the answer to this question varies greatly from one summer camp to another. You may find that some camps in your area require that parents sign their children up for a minimum of one month of camp.

Other camps allow parents to sign up their kids week by week, as needed. If your child is signed up for all four weeks of July, she may see a variety of kids coming + going. Some summer day camp facilities even permit parents a flexible schedule of 2 days a week, 3 half days, or some other alternate option.

Ask to see a printout of the camp’s schedule + itinerary, or check it out online if there is a website available to read + gather information.

How much does summer camp cost?

You can find camps that cost as little as about $500 per month, or as much as several thousand dollars.

Many of the lower-priced camps are subsidized by the government to make it more affordable for working parents. If you’re worried that you won’t be able to foot the bill for camp, you do have options such as obtaining financial aid or being granted a scholarship for your child to have a free ride to camp this year.

A higher grade-point average, being a well-rounded student + a track record of good behavior may be factored in when considering whether to grant a child a scholarship to camp.

The American Camp Association has designed a scholarship program that local camps can elect to participate in. The first prerequisite to a camp offering their scholarship is that said camp must be ACA accredited.

According to the ACA website, “Each year, participating camps give scholarships to campers who cannot afford the entire camp fee and whose presence at camp will broaden the composition of the camp community.”

The YMCA is another camp that is well known for offering a scholarship to qualifying families who meet their income requirements. If you are interested in obtaining a scholarship for your child to attend either of these or any other type of summer camp, your best bet is to start your research well in advance of summer, ask lots of questions + be persistent.

Fill out forms in a timely fashion, obtain supporting documents such as proof of income. The best way to get what you want is to ask for it.

So if you need help affording summer camp for your child or children, be proactive. Make the calls, find the right person in charge to speak to + let them know your needs.

Are Summer Day Camps Daycare?

Yes, most summer day camps are similar to daycare. It is one daycare option available to working parents or parents that want to help occupy some of their kids’ time during the summer.

Summer day camps tend to provide children with a well-rounded experience that combines learning, socializing, skill-building, sports + more.

For this reason, you’ll find fully qualified professionals who can provide proper care for your children; be counted on to react swiftly, appropriately + effectively in an emergency situation; are trained in CPR; qualify as certified lifeguards for the swimming pool or lake if there is one; + other requirements.

You’ll find a registered nurse on staff in the camp’s infirmary, an arts + crafts teacher who likely has a degree to support his or her teaching skills + possibly even music teachers who have been formally educated as such, depending on the type of summer day camp you choose for your child or children this summer.

Summer Day Camp Schedule

Once again, a summer camp’s schedule can vary depending on the type of camp you choose for your child, the hours of operation + the way the camp elects to segment the day.

If there are different age groups performing various activities during the routine hours of day camp, then the camp may opt to rotate these groups through each activity.

There may be an arts + crafts building, a pool or lake to swim in, woods to hike, sports fields, or other features of the camp. It is up to the organizers of the activities to decide which age group participates in which activity + for how long, based on a variety of considerations + concerns.

Young campers may prefer to have pool or lake swim time later on in the day after it becomes a bit hotter. Sporting activities may be organized for the younger campers during the earlier morning hours before the sun is strong.

Rainy days typically present opportunities for alternate activities such as arts, crafts + indoor games.

Again, the summer camp schedule that your child experiences depend on the camp + their schedule.

Since these are just some possibilities, your best option is to contact some camps in your area to ask specific questions before registering your child.

Do summer camps serve meals?

Some, but not all summer camps serve meals. If your child is attending a summer camp based out of a daycare facility that provides year-round service, then they may already have a lunch program in place. In which case, your child should be able to purchase lunch on-site.

Some day camps/daycare facilities have an ongoing relationship with local food establishments + may have worked out a Monday through Friday schedule of ordering lunch from various places, for a flat fee of around $3-$5 per meal.

Day camps that do not offer on-site lunches expect parents to pack a snack + lunch for their child(ren), along with a drink, each day. There may be a large refrigerator unit where the lunches/snacks can be stored to prevent spoilage on hot summer days.

Be sure your child’s name is written clearly on her lunch bag + avoid foods such as mayonnaise, which tend to spoil easily. If the camp doesn’t have a fridge or cooler for children to store lunch boxes, it’s a good idea to include a cold pack to keep items like yogurts, fruits + sandwiches fresh.

Helpful tip: Be sure to follow up with your child about lunch at camp. Ask if she has enough time to eat her food or if there is a reason why she is not getting to finish her food. Be sure that she is able to eat lunch within a reasonable time frame + that the foods you pack are not being tossed into the garbage before moving on to the next activity.

Lunches + snacks can be mixed up in the rush to get everyone set up with their lunch + eating. If your child seems very hungry at the end of their long + busy camp day, asking about their lunch + snack time can help you assess if you need to pack more food or something else is happening.

For example, in one of my daughter’s classes, I found that her snack time was so close to her lunchtime that she had a ton of leftover food each day. I started packing a smaller snack with the same size lunch + found that she was wasting less food this way.

Should I Send My Child to Summer Sleepaway Camp?

The choice to send your child to summer sleepaway camp versus summer day camp versus no camp is, of course, a personal decision. Before registering your child for summer sleepaway camp, here are some things to consider.

The age of your child

Summer sleepaway camp is usually for children that are at least 11 or 12, though some summer sleepaway camps may be for younger children.

The maturity level of your child

More important than age is your child’s comfort level which has a lot to do with maturity. Some 10 year-olds who are old souls may feel at home spending their days + nights with friends at summer camp.

Some 14 year-olds may feel separation anxiety as a result of being away from their families for so long. Again, it really depends on the child, what they’re comfortable with + used to + other factors.

How far away from home the camp is

Some parents happily pack their kids up + drive 2-3 hours to give their kiddos the rustic summer sleepaway camp experience. Or, maybe the camp isn’t necessarily in the woods or mountains, but you’ve selected it for some special offering that your child can benefit from, such as art camp or horse camp.  

Keep in mind that in choosing a camp that is farther away, you are solely relying on other people to care for your child, even if something goes wrong. Are you + your child ready to be separated for such a great amount of time and distance? Will you be able to visit them at camp + how often?

Other things to ask yourself:

  • Is there a special need or a special medical situation that warrants you’re somewhat nearby in the event of an emergency?
  • Is the camp located nearby to a family member or friend whom you may be able to rely on to help?
  • Will your child attend camp along with a buddy from school whom she can stick with for safety, a sense of security, friendship +the other perks of having a pal present?

Benefits of Summer Sleepaway Camp

Just as there are pros + cons to summer day camps, there are pros + cons to summer sleepaway camps.

Children become more independent

Although it may not feel like it at first, one of the best + most liberating times your child may have is while being away for a month or more at summer sleepaway camp.

At first, they may be filled with apprehension at being on their own. But with so many fun things to do, new people to meet, friends to make, exciting experiences to be had + a newfound sense of freedom, it can do wonders for a child’s self-confidence + sense of self-reliance.

Kids branch out socially

Summer sleepaway camp is an opportunity for your child to make new friends with new + different types of kids, some of whom she may have never known prior to this experience.

Culturally + socially, your child can broaden her horizons after meeting new friends from different towns, cities + states around the country, at summer sleepaway camp.  A bunk buddy from summer camp could become a long-distance pen pal to keep in touch with the whole year through.

Your child can conquer fears

As parents, we mean well, but sometimes our presence can actually hinder our children’s personal growth as we fall into the same predictable behavior patterns. An extended time away from parents, brothers + sisters can help a child break out of her shell to be bold in ways she may never have considered possible.

Kids can learn new ways of doing things. In meeting different people, having a new routine + undertaking new experiences, your child may learn how to do things in new ways. This can contribute to worldly wisdom + expanding one’s awareness, which is a good thing for maturity + personal growth.

Questions to ask before signing your child up for summer day camp:

  • What is the daily camp schedule?
  • What are drop-off + pick-up times?
  • What age groups is this camp?
  • What is the camp’s activity schedule for a particular age group?
  • Are there themed weeks at this camp + if so what are the themes for this summer?
  • Will there be a field trip, or several of them + if so, to where?
  • What age are the people in charge of overseeing the campers (i.e. camp counselors, junior counselors, directors, instructors, coaches, etc.)
  • How many children per counselor or junior counselor?
  • Is my child required to have a physical performed by her doctor before attending camp?
  • Am I required to sign my child up to camp for a minimum of days; for example, a full month?
  • Is there a discount or other type of tiered pricing based on the number of days or weeks a child attends camp?
  • Is there a family discount for sending more than one child to camp?
  • Is lunch available for purchase on site, or do I have to pack a bagged lunch?
  • What other items am I required to have my child pack each day for camp (typically a swimsuit + towel, lunch + snack, sneakers or hiking shoes, rain poncho, other?)
  • If my child is attending a specialty camp, what type of equipment, supplies, uniform or outfit am I expected to purchase in advance?
  • Is financial aid or a scholarship available?

How to Afford Summer Camp

Summer camp fees vary depending on the type of camp your child attends + the duration of the camp. A summer recreation program based out of the school may be more affordable than a specialty camp that focuses on advanced skills like horseback riding, computers, fine arts, or sports such as baseball or gymnastics.

One way to help offset the cost of camp is to have your child “work for camp” – that is, assuming this is a camp that she really wants to attend. Not only will chipping in to pay for camp teach your child the value of a hard-earned dollar, but they can gain valuable skills in the process.

There are plenty of tasks that busy moms + neighbors can outsource to young people with a mind for making money to pay for summer camp. There are local moms in need of babysitting or a mother’s helper.

Other ideas for kids to make money for camp include running a paper route, mowing lawns, doing yard work or running errands, house sitting, washing cars + walking dogs.

Is financial aid available for summer camp?

According to an article in USA today, a 2018 survey by the American Camp Association, 93% of U.S. camps who responded to the survey claimed to have some sort of financial aid available for families who qualify.

Don’t allow the stress of paying for summer day camp paralyze you from taking action. If you’re looking for a way to obtain financial aid for summer camp, inquire about need-based grants in which your household income will factor into the amount that you’re required to pay for summer camp.

Another option is a scholarship. If you are a lower-income family, single mother or someone on a limited budget, it can benefit you to begin searching for an affordable camp situation well in advance of school letting out.

If you are really strapped for cash + cannot afford to send your child to summer, check out what the mom from Simply Made Fancy does to host a summer camp for her own kids at home.

Let’s get social


  • Sonja - Too Much Character

    As a former summer camp program director, I cannot say enough positive things about sleepaway camps! I attended my first one after third grade and ended up falling in love with it there. So much so, that my first job was being a dishwasher there at the age of 16. I couldn’t get enough of my camp and worked my way up. Those are cherished memories that were made with lifelong friends.

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