Summer Camp Vs. Summer School Finding The Best Fit For Your Family

Photo by Tegan Mierle on Unsplash

Summertime brings about lots of anxiety, especially for parents. For the entrepreneurial remote work tribe, like me, we really have to hustle. The whimsy of summer break is fun for kids and parents. There’s a little less stress and more time to spend with family and engage in fun activities. But, we still have to make a living, and the question becomes, what will we do with the kids?

It all boils down to Camp Vs. Summer School.

The good news is that many schools now offer summer school options, both in-person and virtually, for all interested students, not just those with I.E.P.s. The pandemic has shown that most children benefit from some level of support during the summer months. For years there’s been a debate about extending the school year or making it year-round, and parents and educators haven’t been able to come to a consensus quite yet.

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

The obvious benefits of year-round school is that it keeps children safe and allows them to remain engaged academically and interactive with their peers. I imagine it also helps mitigate some of the lag children experience when returning to school in the fall. Since they’ve already been in school over the summer, it’s easier to flow into the new school year because the interruption was minimal. In December 2020, American University’s School of Education provided an overview of the pros and cons of traditional vs. year-round school schedules. The major con was getting people to “buy in” to the idea of changing the school schedule at all. However, they did provide examples of what the year-round schedules would look like, such as the 45–15, 60–20, and 90–30 plans, all of which seem relatively reasonable — and still honored traditional holidays and allowed for a summer break.

For people that worry about “kids being kids,” this is a concern of mine as well. Not all kids thrive under intense academic rigor, and different methodologies serve different learning styles.

I would argue that many of today’s camps offer a hybrid of educational engagement and fun. Your child can get the best of both worlds with the right summer camp. Yet, most things that are amazing, non-traditional, and elective come with a price.

The Case For Summer Camp

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Last week I had to work a miracle to get my kids’ camp forms in on time, and we made it by the skin of our teeth. When I told the nurse I’d faxed the documents last week with no response, she said, “Well, how long is the camp?” When I told her it was over a month and basically free, she quickly pushed back from her desk and said, “Oh, we have to get this done today; hold on a minute.” She kept her word, and today is our first day of camp.

For the past month, I’ve been steadily building the anticipation for my daughter to attend camp for the first time. I’ve built up her excitement each day by having her imagine all the swimming she’ll learn to do, how we’ll pack her lunch box with lots of snacks to share, and how she’ll finally get to ride a school bus. For my little one, going to camp is a welcome option. She will have a hybrid of educational activities, swimming, and meeting new friends. She will also have the opportunity to see what Pre-K may look like when she turns 4.

The more I think about it, I’m glad I was resourceful so many years ago. I’ve offered things to the camp, and the camp takes my kiddos in for free. My hope is as they get older, is that they’ll one day become counselors and give back to the younger campers.

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If you’re thinking, “ok, great, but I don’t know of any free camps to send my kids to,” I invite you to change your mindset. There are a few ways that you can be resourceful. If there is a camp that you have your eye on, but the price range is out of reach, consider volunteering in exchange for a reduced or free rate for your child. You don’t have to be onsite these days to lend a hand. You can assist with the organization’s marketing, offer to write grants, help with transportation, or shop for groceries — the list is endless. You simply have to figure out what you can offer. The worst they can say is no, right? Just remember, there are numerous camps out there. Don’t stop at one.

If none of the things I mentioned are an option, here are some low-cost ways your child can enjoy camp this summer.

Boy Scout and Girl Scout Camps

While researching this article, I also found evening and overnight options for Girl Scout camps. That is a sweet deal. You can always modify how long or short you want your camper to stay. Membership fees for the Scouts are relatively low, and they typically offer financial assistance. My fondest memories as a young camper were of staying overnight, hiking and riding horses in the afternoon, and singing songs by the campfire. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts is a great organization to look into because it promotes self-esteem, and kids make long-lasting friendships.

Youth Haven

Youth Haven is a weeklong sleepaway camp in Arizona and Michigan that allows children to develop social skills and participate in activities like swimming and archery. They also provide full scholarships for low-income children to attend for free.

KIDS In The D.M.V.

If you live in the D.M.V. (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) area, you may want to subscribe to Debra Ross’ “Kids Out and About” newsletter. It’s filled with freebies and provides the scoop on where the deals are happening for kids, including camps. You may also want to look at the community college in your area. Montgomery Community College offers a wide range of summer workshops for youth. They offer S.T.E.M. programs, art, writing, robotics, public speaking, math, and more. The prices are very reasonable and worth looking into you. One of my favorite local camps is the Kids and Culture Camp, started by a group of moms over a decade ago, and is still going strong. The camp operates like a family and is full of cultural engagement. It is worth attending at least once.

Microsoft’s Online Workshops

Although these are not technically “camps,” Microsoft offers some amazing workshops to teach your child coding and movie making. They’ve even partnered with the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History to provide exciting scientific experiences for learners of all ages. Those are just a few of the offerings over at Microsoft.

Create Your Own Camp

You can always get some families together in your neighborhood, on your job, or put a call out to your local listserv about creating a basic summer camp. With this option, you control the activities along with the other families. As long as you have space, some fun outdoor and indoor activities, lots of water, and maybe insurance — you’re all set. In the meantime you can visit: for inspiration.

If you found any of this helpful, leave me a message in the comments. I’d love to hear your plans.



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