The Huge Business of Summer Camps in America

JB summer camps in america

The Huge Business of Summer Camps in America

Summer is just around the corner. A week from today, my children will be on vacation—and back to school isn’t until August 29th. In between, I have to keep them busy for 10 long weeks. Last year, many of you appreciated my post about summer camps in America. I think it’s about time for an update.

Holiday care is a huge business in the USA. A week-long summer camp costs between $200-500. With ten weeks of vacation (Maryland) and because Americans don´t have so much vacation time,  families have to reach deep into their pockets. Our budget for six weeks of summer camps and two children tops out at $4,500.

Summer break: a cross-border issue

In the USA, as well as in France and Germany, parents often ask each other “What are your children doing over the summer?”. I love my kids, and I know they love me too! However, they don’t like to spend all day with me during the summer. I don´t like to play with them as much as other kids do, and I’m not nearly as happy when trying to keep up with their gymnastics, jumping, running, and playing hide-and-seek. I certainly don’t want them to spend all day in front of the computer or the TV. Am I doomed to be a party pooper?

To make matters worse, parents have a lot less vacation time than their children. Parents generally get six weeks off in Germany and five in France. In the States, we get even less time off (see my earlier post about work-life-balance in the States here). During our workday, we have to accommodate our kids.

In the US, we often turn to summer camps as a fun, constructive way for our kids to spend their summer.

Financial challenges for families

Unfortunately, day camps alone are not enough to occupy my kids during my entire workday. Most camps offer activities from 9:00am to 4:00pm, but some run as late as 5:00pm. Thankfully, many camps also offer an hour or two of care before and after the general activities of the day. Unfortunately, this additional care costs extra.

At the YMCA, for example, expect to pay an additional $55 per week per child for the After Care program. If you use the Before Care program, anticipate spending at least $50 at the YMCA (or as much as $130 at Summer at Norwood). In Bethesda, the French International School is the exception. Their camps start at 8:30am and end at 5:30pm.

Prices are calculated according to the number of children per caregiver.

The fewer children attending, the more expensive the camp is. The YMCA (yes, like the Village People song) has a higher ratio of kids to caregivers and is one of the cheaper options. They still offer plenty of activities like gymnastics, soccer, and swimming.

For many camps, including the YMCA, the average price per week comes close to $300. Children with a specific passion like music or golf and better-earning parents can attend specialized camps for about $500 per week. A summer camp in America with overnight stay can easily cost $1000 per week.

At last, a bit of good news for the American tax payer (meaning, those who pay taxes in the US): These costs are normally eligible for a write-off!

Summer Camps in America are also a organisation challenge

The subject is stressful and staring early pays off! The good or cheaper camps are usually sold out quicker. The Smithsonian in DC organizes one of the most popular summer camps in the capital city. They are almost all sold out the same day

Then I have to drive my kids to the camp! The nice, yellow school buses, that pick up children almost at their doorstep in the morning and drive them to school are also on vacation. So, you better find spots in the same camp for all your kids or it´s going to get complicated. In France my mother brought me to a bus pickup spot, and picked me back up in the evening. Centrally located, close to home. You could compare it to the American school bus. In Germany, I´ve encountered both: Collection spots and driving my kids.

Regarding the drive: I live in a suburb of Washington DC. The traffic towards DC is hell! This definitely narrows down the options and also affects the budget. The nicer the suburb, the more expensive the camp!

Meals are not included! All summer long, I am going to be packing two lunch boxes and make a warm dinner in the evenings. The selection is also very limited: No ready-to-eat meals, no fruits, and just a few vegetables to choose from.

Are summer camps worth the effort?

I want to avoid drawing a hasty conclusion. Please note that my experience is limited to two years of summer camp with my two children plus two step-children.

For our family, the YMCA was not a good choice for my youngest kids (Pauline was 4, and Yann 5). Our older children (ages 10 and 12) loved the experience. After a few days, my son didn’t want to go anymore. He was completely exhausted from swimming at his aquatic camp, being outside, and keeping busy all day long. My daughter took gym’ classes at the camp and liked them, but she also felt really tired each evening.

The market for summer camps in America will remain a huge business

On average, Americans work more than Europeans, according to various presentations by the International Labor Organization. Mentality also plays a huge role. In the USA, performance is just as highly ranked by employees as personal realization.

In 70% of American families, both parents work. Because Americans don´t earn as much, on average, many parents have a second or even a third job to cover healthcare and education costs. I have no idea how low-income families manage the summer if they don’t have family members around to help with the kids.

Summer vacation is long in the US, and it’s even harder for our friends living in Austin, Texas. Their school year ended already on June 2, and they go back to school on August 22. In comparison, French children have eight weeks of vacation, and German kids get only six weeks.

All that to say, long live the summer camps in America! Next year, our family wants to spend the summer in Europe. Maybe it’s time for Yann and Pauline to try a German summer camp?

Photo credit: HowToGuide

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  • Contrary to France and Germany, summer camping is not seen as an activity that deserves social attention. Offers are mainly from for profit organizations whereas they are often from NGOs in France and Germany. Isn’t it surprising for a country that is by far leading in the number of NGOs?

    • Good point. Churches offer reasonably priced camps, but still it depends on where you live.

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