The quest to find the perfect (and affordable) summer camps for your children

March may be coming in like a lamb, but it’s also coming in like whoa, whoa, whoa, it’s March and what are our children doing this summer?
How in the world did we arrive at March? And why, with all the snow closings, isn’t school extending into August? Life is one big mystery.
But I don’t have time to figure it out because it’s March and I need a plan—and soon. There may be talk of snow coming again (let’s pretend there isn’t), but you and I know we are going to blink and it will be summer.
So let’s talk summer camps. As I scramble to do my research, I thought I’d share some of what I have learned so far.

1. You have no idea how much camps cost until you start looking. How much do they cost? Think of a number. Double it. Double it again. OK, now you’re getting close. There are more affordable options, but there are also some camps with a sticker price that leaves me thinking it would be less expensive for us to take a 10-week international cruise with our children. But what’s the fun in that?

2. Full-day camp might not mean what you think it means—unless you happen to consider 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. as a full day. My husband and I both work full-time, so I happen to think full-day camp should go at least until 4.

3. Your child’s future is not defined by the camp you choose. Would I like my son to be an astronaut? If that is what he wants, sure. Would I like him to be able to survive in the wild? Um…I guess? Do I think he can benefit from a Minecraft camp? Hmm. Basically I’m looking for a place where our children will be safe, have a good time, interact with kind people, and get some exercise. If they happen to speak another language or be able to write computer programs at the end of the summer, great. But mostly I want them to enjoy their summer.

If that means building with Legos or learning to juggle or painting or playing soccer all summer, fantastic. I am trying to find camps that sound like things they will enjoy. And I sat down and talked to them about their hopes for the summer even before I started filling out forms. We may not be able to build their dream summer, especially if that involves getting a dog, playing video games around the clock, and moving to the beach, but we can make it fun.

4. Other mothers know everything. There are great resources for summer camps, including the Baltimore’s Child site. But my best sources are other mothers who have walked this path before—and who can share thoughts on each camp and know how to get the early discounts.
5. Not every camp will work for every child (or every parent). When I read one site that said children could only bring healthy food for snacks and lunch, I knew I was looking at the wrong camp. I’m not sure another child’s organic wasabi peas will want to sit too close to my son’s Doritos.

The bottom line is that searching for summer camps is a bit daunting. But in the end I know we will be happy we put the time into making summer as great an experience for our children as it can be—while still making it possible for us to pay for groceries.

And, at the end of the day, we’re all going to sit in a circle and sing, “Kumbaya.”
Of course, when I say, “the end of the day,” I mean 2:30. But you knew that.

What do you look for in a summer camp experience? Do you have a favorite you have found?

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.