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Why are summer "camps" so expensive?!


SparklyUnicorn
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When we were pastoring in Las Vegas we wanted to have a camp for the kids, but there were no sleep away camps in driving distance (for elementary kids - they were all 5 plus hours away), so we threw one in our church. We did it from 8:30-5:30, if I remember right, because we were trying to make it work for working parents. We served lunch and snacks, decorated everything, did tons of crafts and activities, everyone had a blast but it was expensive. I think we charged around $80 per kid for it, just to cover our expenses. The problem was, first year we called it VBS and got a TON of flack for charging. The next couple years we called it day camp and nobody blinked at paying. 

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My youngest is doing three "camps" this summer: one at the Air Force Academy, one at Navy, and one at Norwich University. They aren't exactly "camp" but very competitive weeks to see if they want to pursue Appointments. It's also a chance to see if the academies want the kid. AFA's was $300 and Navy's $450. That includes enough t-shirts and shorts to last for years, plus jackets, water bottles, leather binders, plus housing and food, etc. Norwich's is a cyber camp paid for by the NSA. They'll come home with a Raspberry Pi, and probably another pile of t-shirts. Considering the cost of feeding high school kids, I think they're VERY reasonable. Of course, you have to GET the kid to the camps... 

 

Norwich in VT? That's 20 min from me, cool! :-) I'll have to remember this camp for when DS is older.

 

DS is doing tennis "camp" all summer. It's very flexible: M-F 9-12. We can sign up for as many hours a week as we want and come and go as we please. Last summer, I signed up for 3 hrs a week ($50/week). A few times, the coaches told me that they'd be happy to have DS stay an extra hour without charging us extra which was nice of them. 

 

When I coached gymnastics, camps were around $300/week for 8-4:30. Kids needed to bring their own lunches. We took them for an hour of swimming a day too. 

 

Other day camps around here run anywhere from $175/week (crummy rec center camp where the counselors barely pay attention to the kids - I saw a lot of them last summer because they were near the tennis courts) to $800/week for overnight camp.

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Hey, I'd like to point out that if you put your kid in a day camp that is essentially day care, you can claim a tax deduction or credit or something.  I should know more about this, but I am too stupid to keep track of what I pay for my kids' camps and give them to the tax guy 1.5 years later.   (Maybe this year I will do it though.)

 

Yep.  I'm not sure how the deduction works, but I know you can have money set aside tax free to use towards that.  Like the medical reimbursement accounts.  I don't know if there is any other types of deductions.  Never was in that situation.

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Dh's work does a summer camp each year. It is $175 a week for all day care with one field trip a week. Generally if they charge more they are overpriced for the area. The places that charge less than $100 are all poorly run, overcrowded, unorganized, and understaffed. After the first month of summer his work always gets more summer campers coming from the poorly run ones in the area because parents are fed up.

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Yeah, I'm pretty sure VBS is free around here also.  We never go because it's too inconvenient for a working mom.  I used to love VBS as a kid, but in those days we walked everywhere while our parents worked.  We would just show up and join into whatever we felt like joining.  Ah, those were the days.  :)

 

Our church's VBS is in the evening -- sunday to Thursday.  This crazy working mom is also a teacher.

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Yep.  I'm not sure how the deduction works, but I know you can have money set aside tax free to use towards that.  Like the medical reimbursement accounts.  I don't know if there is any other types of deductions.  Never was in that situation.

 

Yes, however the child needs to be under 13 years old.  It's interesting that, for student loan purposes, the government sees your children as your dependents until they are 23 years old.   But for a dependent care deduction?  Once they turn 13, apparently they are totally self-sufficient.

 

eta:  changed reference from IRS to govt. 

Edited by amsunshinetemp
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Yes, however the child needs to be under 13 years old.  It's interesting that, for student loan purposes, the IRS sees your children as your dependents until they are 23 years old.   But for a dependent care deduction?  Once they turn 13, apparently they are totally self-sufficient.

 

That's absolutely stupid.

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One camp my kids attend offers discounts - one for early registration (20%), and another for completing a bible study (almost 25%). The study is easy but requires the kids to actually do it.

 

Scout camp also offers an early registration discount, making it around $200/wk.

 

VBS everywhere here is free.

 

Every camp I've seen offers scholarships, too. May be because they're church or scout related.

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I am very glad our VBS is in the evening.  I could not volunteer and our kids could not attend if it were during the day.  For the general public, our VBS is 4 years old (could K in the fall--though not all do.) through 6th grade (just finished 6th grade -- though they run a special 6th grade only week every year. So the main VBS is really through just finished 5th grade)

 

We do use a lot of teen volunteers. But there are two adults in the 4 and 5 year old classes (at least) as well as teens and I really love our teen volunteers. The kids love having kids closer to their age, they provide more eyes for keeping track of everyone, so every preschooler who wants to has a "adult" to sit next to, etc. And someone to run when a supply is missing/need another snack/etc. The younger kids look up to the older kids and take their cues from them.And it is one of the many ways teens are taught to be the next generation of leaders in our church. They serve and watch how the adults run the classes. (We also use teens for listening in AWANA Clubs. We work our hours around their activities so they can be present.)  My son is already eager for the day he will be a just-finished 7th grader and eligible to start helping out in various ways.

 

 

Edited by vonfirmath
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It really varies here.

 

VBS is generally free, but there aren't a ton of them.

 

Ones run by towns or municipalities are usually reasonable.  The all day ones run from about $90 a week to just under $200.  Leaders tend to be students with professional supervisors.  The quality seems to vary.  My girls did a half day dragonboat camp last summer, for $60, and it was really great.  But in some cases they really are a babysitting service with underpaid tired workers.

 

A lot of organizations run camps too - the university science camp, theatre camp at the big theatre, rock camp, choir camp, soccer camp.  These are much more expensive, probably $300 at the low end, up to about $1000.  It's partly the facilities, but also I think they are paying the counselors more, as they typically have some real expertise.  Parents that pay for these expect the kids to really get something out of them besides just fun.

 

We also have quite a few canoe clubs, that costs probably between $500 to $1000 per kid, depending on the club and what options they pick, but it lasts the whole summer.  And if there is more than one kid in the family, a family membership makes it much more economical per child.  Younger kids, under about 12, need a caregiver around though.

 

Traditional sleep away camps are often a pretty good deal comparatively.  Some are in the $400 range, but the one my family has used (my mom went there) is just over $200 for seven days, with meals included.  It's a Lutheran camp, very much swimming, canoes, crafts, games, campfire thing. 

 

 

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Double all these costs if you live in my town :)

 

They are out of reach of a lot of people; as pp have said, they tend to cater for two income families who need the childcare, so they can charge what the market can bear. Good luck to 'em, I guess. 

 

Yeah with 2 kids, I'd be spending all of my income and possibly then some for the months they'd need that.  Now granted, there is still the rest of the year to work, but then I'd have to probably pay for some childcare for vacations and afterschool.  All of that adds up immensely.  It's a big reason I just decided to stay home.  I didn't want to work a job I hated just to spend so much of my income paying someone else to watch my kids (while really "I" wanted to be the one to watch them grow up). 

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We are doing a couple of VBS's this week.  One was $25/week, one was $50/week, and one (half day, only 2.5 hours) is free.  They are all at baptist churches, which are not very popular where I live because of their conservative theology, so not terribly crowded.  

 

Daycamp where I live runs $200-250 a week.  It's a lot, especially for multiple children.  

 

I would like my oldest (who is 9) to do sleep away camp, but the $$ is so much.  I'm waiting for middle school and 4H opportunities for that.  

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The cheapest around here are the Parks and Recreation ones. They are 95 for 3 hours and 200 for the full day ones. They do spend the day outside in all types of weather but they have a building to go in and it is in a really nice setting for the half day one. They are themed with young counselors. They do not scream at the kids.

 

I found a soccer camp put on by a church here for my kids. Volunteers fly up to coach the kids and for one week they had a really good couch. We are not religious but I do not mind my kids hearing bible stories or the messages that come from them in between the practice. The VBS around here vary in whether or not they charge depending on the church and what they are offering.

 

We have more expensive camps. One is another outdoor one that fills up fast. The museum and zoo ones are expensive. Some of them do offer financial aid for families that need it. For scout camps you can earn a free week by selling cookies or popcorn.

Edited by MistyMountain
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Well, I just dropped my extremely excited, silly 11 yr old off for a residential program on a college campus, and all I can say is, whatever they're paying those PA's (Program assistants-kind of a cross between a camp counselor and a college RA), it's NOT enough. I hope there are a lot of times when other staff are supervising (when they're in classes and the like), so they get a break!

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My 13yo is doing two day-camp style classes @ local State U's summer program this year. It's $370 for a week, from 9-3, or $175/morning or afternoon only. We're doing two morning sessions.....because she is an artist and needs to be in a bigger pond, with someone who will challenge her, and have a chance to get to know a larger art community. This was in lieu of sending her to christian camp for a week.

 

FYI, the local christian camp here starts at $400/week--Sun. to Sat.. Pretty good food, accommodations with walls but canvas screens instead of windows. The city parks & rec daycamp is around $250/week.

 

We, too, have found 4H camp to be the most affordable. They rent the camp for a week and the older 4H kids plan for 6 mos. and provide most of the programming and kid wrangling, with adult supervision. It's a great learning experience for the older kids!!! My kids planned the week's crafts (had to budget and buy supplies, plan and teach), and one year my son was camp director.

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Yep.  I'm not sure how the deduction works, but I know you can have money set aside tax free to use towards that.  Like the medical reimbursement accounts.  I don't know if there is any other types of deductions.  Never was in that situation.

 

There is a childcare tax credit but you have to be using the camp so that you can work for a salary.  There is no credit if you send them to camp and stay home.

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About VBS, it wasn't until I was church bookkeeper that I realized how expensive it is to run a VBS program. We are doing well if we end up spending $50 per kid for the week. That's with all-volunteer staffing! No additional liability insurance for the church. I think there are some ways in which people are not carefully spending the funds, but still! Wow. 

 

I agree the if VBS is going to be outreach/missions, it needs to be free to students, but if it were up to me, our church wouldn't even do one. I think there are way better ways to develop relationships with the community than VBS. 

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Guide and scout camps tend to be much less here, mostly because the properties are owned by the associations, and they are pretty no-frills. Dd18 went to a couple of Guide camps, which she liked and we could afford.

 

 

I'd love to send ds to soccer camp, or drama camp, but it's just too pricey. The summer does get long with teens though. 

 

Yeah that's opposite here. Those are some of the more expensive camps. 

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There is a childcare tax credit but you have to be using the camp so that you can work for a salary.  There is no credit if you send them to camp and stay home.

 

Oh I know that.  This was in response to what SKL said about the tax stuff.

 

I wasn't looking to get a tax break for the camp.

 

Although hey that would not be terrible.  LOL

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I get the whole VBS as daycare thing {heck I'm guilty of doing it myself just to get a little time to myself in the summer}. But still - VBS is supposed to be an outreach / mission to the youth of the community. I could see making a public notice that if your child causes issues / problems, they will be sent to room XYZ and you will be called to pick them up. But charging just to avoid folks using it as daycare just rubs me wrong - for many of the lowest income families I know, VBS is often their child's first exposure to faith. VBS gets them to {hopefully} come to Sunday school {our local one always does an invitation to get kids to come to Sunday school to "continue the learning", and tries to organize transportation if that is an issue}, and in turn Sunday school helps them form good morals and

hopefully help them go on to be better adults.

 

Yup! Agree. Have never heard of $100 for VBS... something like that would affect us, wouldn't be able to do it for that rate :( Have you asked why is it so much? I wonder how much participation they get?
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Most are too expensive for us as a single income family. We will do a four day one next week at the Y thats 3 hours because my DH enrolled them to save my sanity. Not because I think we can afford it but moving across town last week about killed me. DS will do a 5 day science camp that's 5 hours later this summer, my parents paid most of that. 

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I have such fond memories of day camps as a child. They were some of the most magical times of my childhood. I just went to local camps but I remember making really nice friends and doing fun and zany things I had never done before. I was pretty indifferent to school. There are tons of camps in my area. The ones run by community centres are between $150-200. They are sometimes specialized ie. swimming or sports or cooking or crafts or have themes like superheroes. The more specialized camps ie. science camps run by museums and universities or others are about $250/week. The camps for special needs kids are about $600/week because they need more staff.

 

I am sad that many kids do not get a chance to experience camp because it is so expensive.

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The Scout camp for our younger boys is $300 for the week. 

 

Scout camps are a great deal. Our local council camps are all ~$270/wk.

 

Our troop for a variety of historical reasons owns and runs their own single session 2 week camp. It is $350 for 2 weeks or $200 for one with confidential scholarships available.

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I think almost all of our local ones charged this year :( Most were reasonable - $10-$20 for supplies. But a lot were $50 or so too. I was able to find a couple that were still free thankfully for my daughter to attend. $20 doesn't sound like a lot, but when you then add in another $20 for bus passes to go for the week, lunch afterwards daily, the suggested donations for whatever mission the VBS is doing - it adds up.

 

 

My only real gripe is that most of the free VBS's I could find were at night. Seriously - who does VBS at 6-9pm? I get that it's summer, and probably easier to find volunteers at that hour. But geez - night is family time!

Before our church went to a one day on a weekend VBS it always did it in the evening. I disliked it, but alas with most of the volunteers being working moms it was either at night or nonexistent. Edited by Excelsior! Academy
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I wouldn't do VBS at night either, because we have activities most nights.  What would work for my family would be a full-time week-long day program.  Maybe they could figure out some way to combine a week of VBS mornings and something else in the afternoon - like one of those chess camps that comes to different schools.  I would pay for that if my kids' church/school did that.

 

I think my kids' church VBS only goes up to 4th grade, so hooray, I won't have to feel guilty for skipping it any more.  :)

Edited by SKL
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Yes, however the child needs to be under 13 years old. It's interesting that, for student loan purposes, the government sees your children as your dependents until they are 23 years old. But for a dependent care deduction? Once they turn 13, apparently they are totally self-sufficient.

 

eta: changed reference from IRS to govt.

It does make sense though. The majority of teens don't need to be babysat. In fact usually they become the babysitters.

 

 

 

One more thing that hasn't been mentioned is that a lot of the cheaper camps are mostly paid for by donations, churchs, or special charitable foundations, or fund raising. So if your child is going to a camp that costs $150 and has its own facilities and programs, you are just paying a small portion of what it actually costs. The breakdown will be different depending on location but that is the case more often than not where I live.

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I organized the summer camp program for a local arts nonprofit a few summers ago. The costs that are involved in running a camp can be fairly high, and are often hidden. If you are wanting qualified instructors (someone other than a local teens essentially serving as babysitters), the organization has to pay them well, to make it worth their while. Then there is supplies, insurance, and general overhead (no camps if the organization goes under financially!)

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Around here, there are two types of daycamps.  

 

One is basic, basic.  The Y, the rec department, VBS, that type of thing.  And it runs from $50 (county subsidized, but same price for everyone) to $200 a week.

 

Then there are the specialty camps.  History museum, swim camp, horseriding camp, lego camp, etc.  They cost from $200 to $350.

 

There are absolutely no regulations for daycamp in my state.  When I see the kids at the Y, especially the outdoor camp (which is held in the park next door to my house), it's a lot of very loose supervision by teenagers, in about a 20:1 ratio.  I'm not sure why that costs $150 a week.  

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This is also for teens so it's not like they need to hire tons of adults to watch over them.

In our state camps are regulated like daycare centers, so staffing is actually incredibly important, and the red tape is redonkulous. We have to fill out a food stamp application for the medical camp my kids go to because a large percentage of the campers are low-income.

 

That said, archeology camp for $250 sounds like a steal! I want to go! Keep in mind that archeological projects operate on a frayed shoestring budget, so they need every penny they can scrounge up. I think $250 is very reasonable. It's cheaper than any of the three paid camps my kids are attending this summer.

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Oh, with the archeology camp - my understanding is that spots of archeological digs are pretty coveted, even for univerity students.  University students will in fact work for free or even pay to work on them, for the experience.

 

Teens with no skills are probably not helpful, I daresay they slow the work down, and digs are expensive to run, so slow is a significant cost.

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DS is at church camp this week for five days/nights. It was $140 with the early registration discount. It's through our church, and the camp property borders our property.

The town we moved from had a park program for two hours each morning. They played a lot of sports/pe games, did crafts, and organized a talent show at the end. Friday's were spent at the local pool, open to the amp only for two hours. It was free, except for the $2 fee for the pool on Fridays. They also did free tennis lessons once or twice a week. It was amazing!

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My college sophomore dd is working one of the local park district programs this summer.  It is free to the kids - all the parents must do is fill out an emergency contact card just in case.  The "camps" are held at five small parks in the low-income areas of town, and the Northern Illinois Food Bank shows up at each site to hand out bag lunches to each and every child who shows up.  For many of these kids, it will be there only meal of the day.  I volunteered at the main food bank warehouse (pre-accident) and we'd also fill cheap backpacks with weekend food supplies for kids to take home on Fridays, too.  Anyway, DD is one of just two young adults (one of each gender) at a park - they are there to organize games and do simple crafts, etc.  Counselors have to keep all the supplies in their cars (so nothing that can melt in the heat like crayons etc!).   Kids can come and go as they please.  There are no restrooms at these small parks, so during the five-hour camp each day dd and her co-worker have to take turns driving to a nearby CVS to use the bathroom there.

 

DD spent the last school year working the before school kidcare offered through our Park District, too, which is how she got offered this gig.

 

The other day a mom pushing a stroller with a small white dog, who had visited the park daily during camp time, decided to abandon her pooch at the camp.  DD ended up having to contact the animal control at the end of camp when no one had returned for the cute little doggie - but it sure was a hit with the campers!

 

You get what you pay (or do not pay) for.

Edited by JFSinIL
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Our BSA camp here in Naples is the last week in July $250 includes all food, camping costs and MB fees (it runs Sunday-Saturday).  For those of us who live in Italy, it's CHEAP.  Now, if you're coming from Rota, or Lisbon or Germany, etc. -- it will still be about $600 per person (transportation).  

 

Name-brand sports camps are expensive.  Most sports camps will hire high-end coaches, pay for their meals/lodging/transportation and stipend, plus any pool fees. They are usually limited in number (for example, our swim camp we are limited to about 50 swimmers).  This also drives up the individual costs. We're paying for the licensing (Nike or whomever needs their cut).  I can run a high quality swim camp with a well-known/respected coach for $450/week (includes lunch and snacks) here.  It's still expensive, but when you add Nike's brand to the mix you are paying $850/week minimum (neither option includes transportation or lodging -- and I know the extra $300/week isn't going to the coaches!).

 

These are the things driving the pricing:

 

1) Location Fees

2) Administration/Licensing Fees (Say NIKE Performance vs. Sado Swim)

3) Number of students (more limited = fewer people to absorb #1 & #2)

4) Insurance (usually not a huge factor)

5) Food

6) Type/number of coaches (stipend/travel/per diem)

 

 

 

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In our state camps are regulated like daycare centers, so staffing is actually incredibly important, and the red tape is redonkulous. We have to fill out a food stamp application for the medical camp my kids go to because a large percentage of the campers are low-income.

 

That said, archeology camp for $250 sounds like a steal! I want to go! Keep in mind that archeological projects operate on a frayed shoestring budget, so they need every penny they can scrounge up. I think $250 is very reasonable. It's cheaper than any of the three paid camps my kids are attending this summer.

 

When my kids were younger I would have been stressing over that $250 cost. Now that I'm 15 years down the road of music activities and camps, I'm with you--that's inexpensive for a camp. Forking out $300 per child (one day/one night) cost for participating in a prestigious band clinic was our most expensive, and is the perspective I'm coming from.

 

Around here I would expect to pay at minimum $40-50 per day for food/lodging, and--at minimum--that much added on per day for instruction, activities, and all the rest. Music camps my kids have attended include 30 minutes of private instruction with a professor or doctoral student and that alone would be in the $40 neighborhood (minimum).

Edited by Pippen
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My son just got back from Boy Scout camp and it was $260 here for Sun to Sat, all inclusive (even provided gluten-free food for him) and if he does a second camp it is only $160.  Of course it was nice and toasty and they camped outside but he loved it. Church camp is only $85 but it is just 5 days of course that is subsidized by the diocese. I've helped run day camps for Scouts and we didn't end up ahead, we charged $50 (and we had free lodging and already established liability insurance), can't remember how much we paid per kid but all the supplies and food add up quickly- as kids expect fun stuff- even with a volunteer staff.

Edited by soror
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When my kids were younger I would have been stressing over that $250 cost. 

 

Yep. I probably wouldn't pay $250 for a seven year old to attend camp, for example, but we pay $600 for my son to attend a four-day goalie camp with an NHL goalie coach (Mitch Korn, currently Brayden Holtby's coach, for those who are into hockey), so to me $250 is small potatoes when it comes to camp expenses.

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Liability insurance is part of what makes some things so expensive. Ugh!

 

$200-300 is typical for one week of day camp here.

My kids go to scout and/or church camp for sleep away because those are relatively inexpensive, $200-400. 

 

We know many people whose kids go to month long summer camps for $5000! Crazy expensive. 

 

Yeah, that will be my oldest in 2 years.  She is counting down until she can attend the high school credit option at Concordia Language Villages.  It's $4,400 for 4 weeks.  They have scholarships and they have a discount if a parent volunteers\works at the camp.  It's why my DH has been there the last 2 summers.

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Yeah, that will be my oldest in 2 years.  She is counting down until she can attend the high school credit option at Concordia Language Villages.  It's $4,400 for 4 weeks.  They have scholarships and they have a discount if a parent volunteers\works at the camp.  It's why my DH has been there the last 2 summers.

 

 

That is a big deal skill-related camp, for older kids though. Like a summer school. 

 

The ones I am thinking of are just plain, traditional, outdoor camps - cabins, archery, swimming, s'mores, games, horseback riding,nature hikes etc.

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Running informal camps for kids at our church is how my dds have been able to make money for their own summer activities :)  My oldest dd who was a fine arts/ animation major taught "art camp."  The kids would come to my house from 9-11:30, make a fabulous project each day and have a snack.  The cost was $50 for the week.

 

This year my 13 yo & a friend held a camp at the friend's house.  They had differently themed days with several different activities each day.  Also from 9-11:30.  My dd made $260.  That covers the cost of her own, sleep away in the Sierras,  camp :)

 

There are so many camps here that I would love for my kids to go to, but the cost is prohibitive.  Our local Technology Museum offers Summer programs if you can get in.  A 1/2 day of classes is $375/ week, a full day (9-4pm) is $679/ week.  You bring your own lunch.  Many classes have a $50-$100 additional materials fee.  These classes are full by February.  

 

Our local zoo has Summer programs.  $255 for 1/2 day per week or $355 for full day.  

 

Don't even get me started on the $900 + Yosemite camps, Ballet intensives, Soccer, Volleyball, Baseball, Hockey, or Theater that are advertised.  

 

It is crazy.

 

Amber in SJ

 

Amber in SJ

 

 

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My only real gripe is that most of the free VBS's I could find were at night. Seriously - who does VBS at 6-9pm? I get that it's summer, and probably easier to find volunteers at that hour. But geez - night is family time!

 

Most of the VBSs in our old town (just moved, so don't know what it's like here yet) were at night. Usually 5:30-8:30pm. Why? It wasn't possible to get enough volunteers during the day PLUS the kids of working parents would have a hard time getting there since they were either at all day programs or with sitters during the day. In a way, though, VBS can become family time. Often, we had both moms and dads volunteering while the kids were in the program. And if you weren't volunteering, you had 4-5 nights of date night while your kids were at VBS. Most of the VBSs had dinner, so the kids were already being fed.

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Norwich in VT? That's 20 min from me, cool! :-) I'll have to remember this camp for when DS is older.

I had the good fortune to live in Norwich and surrounding areas for several years before kids. It's my favorite area of the country!

I also earned plenty of money those years doing childcare for all out of school kids during the summer. Childcare/camps were rather expensive up there.

Here, they start at about $300 for full-time (6 hours) camps but you can easily find camps for $1000 a week. Ouch.

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