6 Steps To Choosing A Summer Camp (Without The Overwhelm)

Author: Calie Herbst (Founder & Owner of MKEwithKids.com)

COVID-19 Update: Let’s keep the summer dream alive, shall we? We’ve spoken with camp representatives and the concensus is that summer camps are still on for now. Check out our 2020 Summer Camp Guide for dozens of camps!

Every year in the dead of winter, there’s always a pivotal moment that arrives much sooner than I think it will: Someone asking us what our summer plans are.

And once they ask the question, I can’t help but fall head first into the vortex of summer camp registration. With three kids between 4 and 8, with different interests and needs, it’s a jigsaw puzzle that seems daunting to begin and impossible to put together.

Luckily, after five years or so of navigating summer camps, I have a few tips to share that might save you some headaches, and make your summer camp planning go as smoothly as possible.

Step 1: Set a timer.

That’s right. Determine the amount of time you are going to dedicate to researching and making a decision on summer camp for your children. It’s easy to spend hours upon hours obsessing over every detail, but the truth is, this won’t make anyone’s summer experience much better. Set some time aside to research potential camps and to walk through the steps outlined here. And then, trust yourself to make a decision and stick to it. No summer camp solution will be completely perfect. Accept that there will be good and bad in any decision you make.

My mantra: Obsessing helps no one. (You’ll find me repeating this, huddled under a pile of summer camp registration packets.)

Step 2: Identify your goals for summer.

Ask yourself two questions. First, in an ideal world, how do you want your summer to feel? What is the right amount of downtime and the right amount of structure for your family? Do your best to anticipate how much structure and free time your family needs to function best.

(I almost always plan too much down time for us and underestimate the amount of time it takes for us to all go crazy. This year, I’m trying to be proactive and add more structure to our summer schedule. However, I stay away from camps that start too early or end too late, because then my kids are exhausted monsters in the evening.)

Next, ask yourself (and your kids) what they want to get out of this summer. Do you want the traditional day camp experience, or is there a specific activity your child loves, or a skill you’d like them to learn, that you want to give them an opportunity to practice? Traditional day camps generally offer a mix of general sports and games, arts and crafts, swimming, and free times. If you want your child to have an opportunity to really practice a certain skill, there are specialty camps for every sport you can imagine, music, dance, art, swimming, even organic farming!

Do you want your child to solidify existing friendships? Make new friendships? Perhaps both? My kids are much more likely to be excited about a camp if another friend is signed up. And they inevitably make more friends, anyways, so it’s a win win.

Step 3: Identify your scheduling needs.

If you work full-time outside of the home:

-For younger children, check with your daycare to see what summer options they offer.

-Get out your work and the kid’s school calendar to figure out when schools ends and begins again in the fall.

-Determine the days and weeks you’ll need care for them.

-Make note of the start and end times of the prospective camps, and determine if you’ll need early or late care and how much those cost.

-Consider what you’ll do for transportation. Most camps require parents to drop off children, but check to see if there is a bussing option.

-Look for camps that full-day and/or all summer. (Check out SUMMER I.D.E.A.S. at University School, Summer EXPLORE at Marquette University High School, Milwaukee Montessori School Summer Camp, and Ebenezer STEAM-n-Summer Camp.)

If you need child care but need to save some money:

-Look for half-day or one-week camps

-Consider hiring a summer babysitter or nanny for some of the time, which will almost certainly be less than the cost of a camp.

-Schedule swapping time with other parents, where you watch their children for a period of time, and then they watch yours.

If you don’t work outside of the home:

-Try to be honest with yourself about how various types of schedules will actually feel during the summer.

-Too much downtime or too much structure can be disastrous.

-Do your best to anticipate the needs of your family.

If you have more than one child:

-Look for a camp that can accommodate all of your kids, or keep them in the same general area. One drop off and pick up location (or at least as close as possible) is key.

Step 4: Identify your budget.

Day camps generally run $100-$300 dollars per week per child. The recreation programs are generally the least expensive. Overnight camps range from about $500 – $2,000 per week.

Another tip: When you sign up for camps, be sure to make note of when they will charge your credit card. Some of them charge at the time of registering, and others take a down payment and then charge the full amount during the summer.

Step 5: Sign up early.

Most camps offer an early bird discount or specials, and the most popular options fill up quickly. Plus, once you get it finished, it’s off your plate, and you don’t have to think about it again until summer.

The camp guide on MKEwithKids.com launches in February with exclusive discounts.

Step 6: Write it down (and color code).

You’ll probably forget what you signed up for by the time the summer rolls around, so write it down now.

Print off a summer calendar, and color code each child’s schedule. You can put this up on the refrigerator to keep everything straight during the summer.

Don’t forget to make a note of paperwork due dates and block time on your calendar to complete it.

Where to next? Our 2020 Summer Camp Guide!

Head over to our 2020 Summer Camp Guide to find dozens of camps, organized by interest, age, and location. Plus, the discount are all right there, clear as a summer day.

What other tips do you have? Share them with us on social media!

Be sure to check out our Summer Camp Guide to find the perfect fit for your family. It’s organized by interest and location.

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