Summer camp tips

Proper planning will help your children enjoy their summer camp experience. Photo: Yobro10

It may only be May, but it already feels as if summer is right around the corner. Planning summer camps for our kids can feel like a full-time job — navigating the best ones, finding ones our children would be interested in and then tackling the registration process. Part of the reason it can feel so overwhelming (besides the cost) is there are so many options. From outdoor adventure to coding and technology to every sport you can imagine, you are sure to find something for even your pickiest camper. Many camps begin registration in March but for those last-minute “bookers” like me, there are plenty of amazing options still available. If you haven’t yet made your summer plans, here are three things to keep in mind:


Decide on a summer camp budget and stick to it. I was blown away at some of the prices, and after a few weeks it can start to add up quickly. Make sure to talk to your child before booking a camp; there is nothing worse than trying to get your nonrefundable deposit back when your child doesn’t like the camp. In addition, don’t be afraid to ask for a sibling discount — the camp can always say no but you might find many camps are accommodating.

The cost of the camp is usually based on the camper-to-counselor ratio. The smaller the ratio, usually the more expensive it is. This doesn’t always mean it is the best. Some of our best camp experiences have been through San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department and the YMCA. They are relatively inexpensive, and they have some great options for children of all school ages and interests.


When deciding on camps, keep in mind the location and times, especially if you have more than one child or younger ones at home with a nap schedule. I also try to find camps they can attend together. This is easier with outdoor adventure or tech camps and harder for sports camps. Depending on your family situation, it may be best to find something relatively close to home, or if you work outside of the home, make sure the camp has 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. For young ones, it is all about keeping them in their comfort zone, so look for camps their preschool offers or where they take a class or lesson. Between the Presidio and the parks, there are many great options around us, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find something that works for the whole family.


This is a big one for my children. One of their top priorities for attending a camp is that they are able to do it with a friend. Summer camps can be new and exciting, but they can also be a little scary for kids — new environment, 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? It also can be a great help with carpooling.

Two great resources for finding summer camps and then sharing schedules with friends are and They are both free and provide easy ways to search camps by location, date, age, and interests. You can also share schedules with friends. is particularly helpful for older children because you can search overnight camps, teen tours, and travel.

Overnight camps are not a topic we have broached as a family, but this might be the summer we explore that option. I am a firm believer in not pushing our children into this but waiting until they ask to do it and feel ready. The best part is most of these camps ask participants to leave their phones and
devices at home, forcing them to actually interact with each other face to face.

All that said, I firmly believe the most valuable experience we can give our children over the summer is the gift of downtime. Plan time for day trips, 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. So instead of spending your summer shuttling from one camp to another, take some time to enjoy those simple joys that make summer so special. Happy camping!

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. She was formerly a news producer in Washington, D.C. and in San Francisco. E-mail: [email protected]