Sleepaway Or Home for Dinner? A Guide to the Right Summer Camp for Your Family

These days, summer camp isn’t just rickety bunk beds, s’mores and campfires. The options are as wide as the summer is long. But between the frankly bewildering choices of all-summer-long Camp Winnihaha and bouldering-camp-by-day/home-sweet-home-by-night, how do you know what’s right for your family? Start right here – we’re taking a closer look at today’s day and resident camps so you can make the best choice for your little campers.

Day Camps

Day camps are just what they sound like – your kids go to camp during the day and come home every evening to sleep in their own beds. Sounding a little like glorified daycare? Don’t be fooled! Read on for perks and tips.

  • Camp Focus & Activities

Day camps can be highly targeted to specific interests. Your kid loves math and science? Great, there’s a day camp for that. She’s into sports or art, computers or the great outdoors? Odds are there’s a day camp in your area that’s right up her alley. Whether you’re looking for something faith or religion-based or a few days packed with a little of everything, day camps are a great way to find it.

  • Schedule Flexibility

With so many interest-based camps, it can be hard to choose just one. Day camps can run for just a few days to all summer long, and there are usually half or all day options. It makes it relatively easy to schedule a few camps during the summer – say, half-day soccer camp for this week, an art camp for that week and that three-day aviation camp at the end of summer – and still squeeze in a little family holiday.

Heads up: Day camp can be a great trial run for resident camps. It gives you and your child a chance to test the water without plunging into the complete experience just yet.

  • Proximity to Home

Because the kids are coming home at the end of every day, day camps are typically locally based. In some cases, there’s a set pick-up/drop-off point and in other instances, those will vary based on what the day’s activities hold, which can make things tricky for working parents.

Heads up: If you’re trying to figure early drop-off/late pick-up logistics around your work schedule, be aware that fees for childcare before and after camp can add up fast!

  • Price Tag

Generally speaking, day camps will be much less expensive than sleepaway camps (even with those before and after fees). General-interest camps hosted by non-profit organizations will be the most affordable, likely starting around $100 per week. You can expect the price tag to tick upward for specialty day camps – those with a specific focus like athletics or performing arts – because of the focused instruction, but that’s not always the case. According to the American Camp Association (ACA), the average day camp runs around $300 per week. Be aware that factors like where you live, when you register your child and what options you choose will all impact what you pay.

Heads up: Take advantage of early-bird specials by registering your child early.

Resident Camps

When you send your child to a resident or sleepaway camp, room and board is a major part of the experience. The time spent away from mom and dad is a tried-and-true path to building character and resilience for many children.

  • Camp Focus & Activities

The stereotype for resident camp involves a rustic outdoorsy theme, but there are plenty of specialty sleepaway camps as well. Like day camps, general-interest camps will offer a bit of everything while specialized camps focus on a theme like computers, basketball or music. But the “sleeping away” aspect of resident camps, regardless of their primary focus, is intended to foster skills like independence, cooperation and responsibility,

Heads up: Traditional resident camps may give children a chance to roam in a way they can’t at home – without the distraction of electronics or parents.

  • Schedule Flexibility

Resident camps can run from a single week to the entire summer. Depending on the camp, you may be able to pick and choose which weeks work for your schedule, or you may have a few options from which to choose. Either way, don’t be concerned that you’ll be packing off your kid for the whole summer if that doesn’t work for your family – there are lots of options out there.

  • Proximity to Home

Resident camps are highly unlikely to take place in your neighborhood. Your child may be bussed in with his or her fellow campers from a general meeting point, or you may be driving to camp for the first day drop-off yourself. It’ll depend on which camps you’re considering.

Heads up: Regardless of how far camp is from home, find out beforehand how you’ll be able to communicate with your child – and don’t be surprised if you’re both limited to old-fashioned snail mail!

  • Price Tag

With round-the-clock care a given at resident camp, expect to pay more than you would at day camp. And in some instances, the price difference is significant. ACA lists the average cost of sleepaway camp at nearly $700 per week, but you can easily spend over $2,000 for some of the more exclusive options. Costs for food and lodging will be included in the price tag, and if there are activity lists from which to choose, that can be reflected in the bill as well.

Heads up: Early-bird specials can apply to resident camps as well, so register early for the best deals.

Pricing It Out

Whether you’re considering day or resident camps, there are a few ways to make things as affordable as possible beyond early registration.

  • If you have siblings interested in a specific camp, or just a group of kids from the neighborhood, ask the camp director for a group discount in exchange for submitting everyone’s registrations at the same time.
  • Ask for financial assistance if you need it. Even if there’s no mention of scholarship opportunities on the camp literature, it’s always worth asking.
  • Investigate local non-profits, universities or community colleges, local museums, music halls, fine art centers or other cultural institutes. They often offer day camps, and you may be surprised by their affordability.

The best way to narrow down the many options for summer camp? Start with your child’s interests, and let him be an active part of the discussion. Then you can factor in your budget to find out what will work best for you both this summer.