It is hard to believe it’s not even spring yet and the buzz has already started about summer camp. The flyers have started coming in the mail, e-mails with summer camp information have flooded my in-box, and the “parent chatter” has begun. I recently had a very organized friend of mine send me her child’s camp schedule for the summer, with a reminder that I better hurry and decide as some camps have already filled up – and summer is still three months away.
All of this can be very overwhelming. I have a hard time planning a week in advance, so how am I gong to plan three months in advance? There are so many fabulous summer camp opportunities for children of all ages, many right in our own neighborhood. Instead of recommending specific camps, I am going to suggest three things to keep in mind when planning your family’s summer break.
Cost: Decide on a family “summer camp budget” and stick to it. I was blown away at some of the prices for camp; after a few weeks it can really start to add up. Another idea to help with costs is to find things your children are interested in so you don’t end up in the situation of trying to get your nonrefundable deposit back after they decide they don’t like it. In addition, don’t be afraid to ask for a sibling discount – the coordinators can always say no, but you might find many camps are accommodating of families with more than one child.
The cost of the camp is usually based on the camper-to-teacher ratio. The smaller the ratio, the more expensive it usually is. Price is not always an indicator of quality, so I would not overlook some of the great camps that San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department or the YMCA have to offer. They are relatively inexpensive and they have some great options for children of all school ages.
Convenience: When thinking about which camps to sign up for, keep in mind the location and times, especially if you have more than one child or younger ones at home with a nap schedule. Depending on your family situation, it may be best to find something close to home, or if you work outside of the home, make sure the camps have an all-day program or extended care.
For younger children, don’t overdo it. A half-day program is more than enough and will still give them some time to rest in the afternoon.
Take into account where the camp is located and what time it starts in the morning – you don’t want to be battling traffic trying to get to the other side of town by 8 a.m. Between the Presidio and the parks, there are so many great options around us that it shouldn’t be too hard to find something that works for the whole family.
Coordinate: Just like most things in San Francisco, the early bird gets the worm, and if you wait until May to figure it out most things will be sold out.
I recently came across a great website to help me organize our summer. It’s called Sign up for Camp (www.signupforcamp.com) and it is a free and easy way to search camps by location, date, age, and interests. It also lets you create a custom calendar with your camp schedules and share it with friends, which can come in very handy when trying to arrange carpools.
Summer camps can be new and exciting but they can also be a little scary for kids – new environments, new teachers and new friends. Depending on your child, it might help to coordinate with a friend so they at least know one person. Your kids want to continue to see their friends over summer and what better way than to share a cool new experience together.
With all that being said, I firmly believe the most valuable experience you can give your child over the summer is the gift of downtime. Leave time for daytrips, playdates, and an occasional run through the sprinklers (or fog). Remember, summer is supposed to be a break from the hustle and bustle of the school year and a time to enjoy a more relaxed schedule. This goes as much for our children as it does for us. Instead of spending your summer shuttling from one camp to another, take some time to enjoy those simple joys that make summer so special.