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The Cost of Summer Camp

This article was written by in Family and Life. 12 comments.


While growing up, my brother and I both benefited from experiences at summer camp, both day camps and sleep-away camps, at various points in our childhood. My memories from summer camp have stayed with me, and the experiences have shaped who I am. I first heard Pink Floyd at summer camp, from a counselor playing Wish You Were Here on guitar for the campers around a campfire. I received my first lessons with darkroom photography at camp. I learned how to be a radio DJ at the same camp radio station, as I later discovered, that Bruce Warren, the program director of Philadelphia’s WXPN radio station, got his start in the business. At camp, I (barely) learned how to swim. My first real kiss was at summer camp.

Most importantly, my time at summer camp provided me experience living away from my parents, moving my outside of my comfort zone at an early age. This probably developed into my sense of independence, my comfort with making my own schedule — while there was structure within the camp, I chose my own schedule and appreciated the flexibility — and my wide variety of interests.

These experiences all came at a cost — to my parents. I am not sure what my parents paid to send me and my brother away for eight weeks during the summer, but I know it was not cheap. The camp experience is even more expensive now, more than two decades later. According to a recent article in the New York Times, it’s not uncommon for these summer sessions to exceed $9,000. Participation is dwindling, as parents have more options for their children. Costs for running camps are increasing, and so is the fear of legal action in a society that grows more litigious.

The trend seems to be moving away from the long, all-encompassing camps. Rather than doing everything, new camps are focused on one activity and provide an intensive experience over a shorter time frame, like a week or a long weekend. These camps are challenging the traditional method of attending a camp where several activities are part of the experience over a four or eight week period. More and more, parents want to see results when they spend money — and the results they like to see involve skills that would be impressive on a résumé.

Kids who remain mentally active over the summer perform better at school, so there’s definitely an incentive for keeping students involved in activities during the off-season rather than leaving them in front of the television. Summer camp is worthwhile, but the question is how much to spend. Some camps have reduced rates based on financial need, but even non-profit camps with financial assistance have rates that can turn away many interested families.

Do you or would you send your children to summer camp, either day cam or sleep-away? Do you have any similar experiences?

New York Times

Published or updated July 10, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Sustainable PF

I was a camper turned kitchen helper turns LIT/CIT turned counsellor. I truly loved being away for the summer and then working for the camp I attended. It too was a “do everything” camp. I ended up being pretty good @ windsurfing and that eventually became the “area” where I taught during the day. The look on a kids face when they finally got the sail out of the water and managed to travel all of 3-5 feet by wind power is something I can not forget.

Unfortunately, our camp relied on income from organizations and families it subsidized heavily and the camp went under. The writing was on the wall the year we were asked to canvas our friends, family and church for donations to assist with our pay.

My friend has a cottage on the lake where my camp was. I drive by it every time I go up to his place but I can never bring myself to visit. It is some sort of rustic conference centre or something like that now. I prefer to keep my memories of the camp as it was instead of whatever it has been turned into.

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avatar STRONgside

The summer camp that I worked at all through college is still only $190 to attend for the entire week. This includes all meals, activities, crafts, sports, and snacks. Only thing you might buy would be souvenirs. It is an amazing experience and I fully intend to send my kids there when they are old enough.

My time at summer camp as a child were some of my greatest memories, and if you find the right camp, at a reasonable price, you can easily justify the expense IMO.

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avatar Sustainable PF

That’s pretty cheap, really. A summer of 8 weeks would cost just over $1500 (well, more here in Canada due to taxes and everything costing 20% more ..). I think your message is dead on – the right camp, the right price.

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avatar Staycee

A lot of church camps and 4-H camps have scholarship opportunities. My oldest has done both and received part of his fee back from the groups sponsoring the camps. 4-H camp is only $50 and 3 days/2 nights. Church camp for us is quite a bit more, but for a week it’s less than $500 (with some reimbursements from different church groups). I think camps are important for children – like you said: it gives them a sense of independence and children need that, especially in this “helicopter parent” society!

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avatar SteveDH

Just a couple of days ago we had a good discussion on value. Even though I have no knowledge of, or any opinion on your childhood behavoir, some discussion about whether or not your parents considered the “Value” of your absense might be appropriate ……. ok I’m just kidding here !!!!! I went to Church sponsored camps and loved everything about them – except the snipe hunts – never caught one!

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avatar shellye ♦107 (Cent)

I went to summer camp as a kid and loved the change of scenery, pace, faces, food, etc. I went to several YMCA camps and remember sleeping bags on the floor in cabins with no electricity. And this was in the late 70s, no less. Very rustic, and taught me a lot. My kids have gone to church camps for several years and enjoyed it (so they say), but it wasn’t cheap; two years ago I paid $499 each for two kids to go to camp, and I had to drive them out there (90 miles) and pick them up. They didn’t even have the experience of a long bus ride sitting next to a kid who smells bad. LOL. Two weeks ago my son went to a music camp here in town (a day camp) founded by a member of a huge 80s band. They brought in musicians from different genres to encourage the kids and had a concert at the end of the week. I think I paid somewhere around $800 after tuition, music books, and, of course, a t-shirt. LOL But he loved it and still talks about it, so for me, it was worth it.

I think the definition of the word ‘camp’ has changed over the years. It used to mean camping out in the woods and drinking ‘bug juice’ but now it’s more of a focused activity. Throw a word in front of it – “music” camp, “dance” camp, “computer” camp, “cheerleading” camp, etc. and you can charge parents hundreds of dollars for a kid to attend.

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avatar Wayne

I send my 2 kids to summer day camp. Initially we sent them to private day camp. Kids loved it and environment was top notch but it came at a price. Over $7k. Eventually, the price was too steep so we found alternative for them, local town camp. For both cost is $1300. We also send kids to sport camps for a couple of weeks (to prepare for fall season) at cost of $1000. Still quite a bit saved.

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avatar qixx ♦1,880 (Half-Dollar)

I always went to Boy Scout Summer Camp. The cost was greatly reduced because we raised the funds throughout the year. Participate in the Christmas Tree pickup just about paid for camp itself. Camp was well worth the time spent earning my way. The last few years i was a staff member and went to camp to pay for college. Earning my way was just a part of the camp experience.

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avatar Cejay ♦1,521 (Half-Dollar)

I always went to a little camp called Camp Safety Patrol for $25.00 for a week. Recently, I thought about taking a week off and going with our church to their camp as a volunteer. I would have had to pay the same amount as the kids and that was $200.00 per person. Since hubby and I were going to go that was $400.00. We eventually decided not to go since we could not afford the expense for this and a couple of other plans we had for the summer.

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avatar DonnaFreedman ♦55 (Newbie)

For a couple of summers we got a week at church camp. I’m not sure why my parents stopped sending us, but it was probably the cost. My grandparents helped out, I believe.
It wasn’t a preachy-preachy camp, just a basic summer experience sponsored by the Methodist church. There were morning services but they occurred in a natural amphitheater called “the Green Cathedral.” The rest of the time it was swimming, crafts, hiking, s’mores and the usual good stuff.
I was terribly homesick the first year, not loosening up to enjoy the experience until about the fifth day. The next year was much better.
Now I’m starting to wish I’d sent my daughter to something other than summer day camp. :-(

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avatar skylog ♦368 (Nickel)

i never went to a summer camp, but i was always playing sports and remaining active. i can agree that keeping active over the summer is a good thing, but i not sure i can agree with the idea that camp is needed to do this.

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avatar Mike

We have already picked out the camp we plan to send our kids to (they’re currently 3 and 1 years old). We expect to spend $5000-6000 for a 4 week session. That is a sleep away camp and by the time our oldest is old enough to attend we’ll have three or four years worth saved up.

Until then, we’ll continue sending them to the day camp that is part of their day care facility’s normal summer day care (covers through third grade during summer).

I think camp is invaluable. I attended week long sports camps and my wife went to general/religious-based camps. I worked at one of these religious oriented camps on a ropes course and felt the experiences of new challenges and activities in addition to reinforcing religious ideas cannot be matched. Something about learning from your peers who are going through the same anxieties and experiences (I had a bunk of upcoming 9th graders).

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