Holiday care is a huge business in the USA. A week-long summer camp costs between $200-500. With eleven weeks of vacation and because Americans don´t have so much vacation time, families have to reach deep into their pockets. Our budget for eight weeks of summer camps and two children tops out at $6,000.
Recently, I´ve noticed that the summer break lasts eleven weeks. What happens to be a dream for my 15-year-old daughter is a challenge for me. Financially and organizational. My youngest just turned 4. Her brother is 5 ½. This summer we will spend two weeks in California for our family vacation. Then, 9 weeks remain to find them a useful occupation.
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! But I don´t like to play with them as much as other kids do. I’m not nearly as happy when trying to keep up with their gymnastics, jumping, running, and playing hide-and-seek. And I don´t think it´s right that they spend all day in front of the computer or the TV. In conclusion: I am a party pooper.
On the other side, as much as they enjoy spending time with them, parents have a lot less vacation time than they do! Save a few officials in France, who get twelve weeks of vacation time, between regular vacation time, overtime and a reduction in work hours. The rule of thumb is six weeks in Germany and five in France. And during the time that we have to work, we have to accommodate our kids.
Here in the USA, we often turn to summer camps as a fun and constructive way for our kids to spend their summer. In France they are called “colonie de vacances”, so-called holiday camps or “centres aérés”, where kids drive off with a bus in the morning and return in the late afternoon. I can remember spending a few weeks at my grandmother’s house in the summer too. Out of boredom I even started reading her cheesy novels! Much better were the weeks spent at day-camps where I had nothing but fun.
I´ve spent the last two weeks researching the market for summer camps in the USA. Here you can read my summary.
Summer Camps pose a financial challenge to families
• Camps alone are not enough to cover whole day of work. 9 to 4 are the norm. Sometimes it extends to 5. The good news is, that care before 9am and after 4 or 5pm is offered. The bad news: It costs extra. Expect to pay an additional $40-50 per week and child.
• Prices are calculated according to the number of children per caregiver. The fewer children, the more expensive. The YMCA (yeah, yeah from the Village People song) has a higher ratio and is one of the cheaper options. Offered are activities like gymnastics, soccer, swimming, etc…
• The average price per week comes close to $300 for a simple camp.[crp limit=”2″ heading=”1″ cache=”1″] • Children with a special passion and better earning parents can attend specialized camps. But for those, the week averages about $500. For example: Music, golf…
• A summer camp in the USA with overnight stays 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 the USA are also a organisatory 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 kids have to be driven to 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.
And 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!
Don’t forget that 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. What a difference from Europe!
The shock: $6,000 for 8 weeks of summer camps
Two weeks house swapping in California, a week at home with me, a week of tennis for Yann and a week of gymnastics for Pauline. Then a regular summer camp around the corner, from 9 to 4. It´s clear to see: difficult working conditions for me. I lose two working hours per day.
My husband and I didn´t chose the most expensive alternative. We also didn´t chose before and after care. At $40 a week, it would have added a total of $640 with two kids.
Before our move, we lived in a small town on the Rhine. I just checked: A week of summer camp in elementary school, with meals, cost us 167.50 EUR n 2014. We took a 3-week family vacation that year. Then, there was five weeks of vacation left for the kids. Budget for 2 kids? 1.675 EUR. The costs have more than tripled!
An opportunity to learn English, like KidsCampAmerica offers in Wiesbaden, costs 295 EUR per week. Only then, we come close to American prices.
In France, a two-week holiday camp costs between 600 and 900 EUR. A week-long vacation with the UCPA, a French organization for sport vacations costs about 400 EUR. With meals and overnight stays!
The market for summer camps in the USA 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 high ranked as personal realization.
My husband works for an international organization, whose work mentality is shaped by Americans. Americans look on what I see as peer pressure, very differently. The result: Europeans like him have employment contracts with mandatory vacation time, comparable to Europe. But many, including my husband, don’t take vacation time, in order to not stand out to their American colleagues.
In 70% of American families, both parents are working. Even though Americans don´t earn as much on average, many have a second, some even a third job, which is supposed to cover healthcare and education costs.
Summer vacation is very long in the USA. For eleven weeks in the US, you have eight in France and six weeks in Germany.
Many reasons to say: Long live the summer camps in the USA! Next year we are going to spring for an Au pair again. Promise.
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Foto credit by © Natallia Vintsik