Why Pay for Summer Camp

This past summer as my friends and I contemplated the expense of summer camp, we decided to go it alone. No camp.  We would entertain the kids ourselves.  After much planning we decided on the idea of taking the kids to one exciting place each day as well as set up our own entertainment; relay races, backyard games and obstacle courses.  Since two of the four families had swimming pools, we could alternate using them as well. In looking at our list of events for the summer, Splish Splash, Adventureland, roller-skating, Great Adventure, Aviation Center, beach trips and more, we were pretty impressed with ourselves. A crucial part of our plan was to let the kids feel that this was their idea.  The four families went to Dave and Busters where we hinted that they could do “stuff” like this all summer long, every day!  They loved it. We decided to keep a running total of how much we spent each day, and at the end of the summer tally up how much we saved.  Our first expense:  Sales presentation at Dave and Busters $196.00 included food and tokens for me, my husband and my two kids.  This was money well spent……or so we thought.

As the summer drew closer and kids were talking about what camps they were going to, my kids couldn’t help but talk about all the “stuff” they were going to do this summer.  We knew we had to start off with a bang. While the neighborhood children waited for the camp bus on the first day, we packed lunches and snacks, Gatorade and ipads for the one-hour ride to Splish Splash.  We agreed to cut costs and use one vehicle whenever possible.  We were behind schedule as we had to wait for Mary’s 5 yr old…  I had my first twinge of doubt as the giggles slowly turned into “he’s not sharing”, and “it’s my turn”.  As I lay in bed that night summarizing the first day of “Camp Mom”, I realized this might not be as easy as we thought:  2 ½ hours in the car, 5 hours in the park, the kids only got to go on 3 rides, it was 4pm and time to start preparing for dinner.  Day 1: $180.00 when you count gas, tickets, lunch, parking, extra games, and Ralph Ice’s on the way home. 

Day 3:  Our schedule said beach trip.   Although we had made sandwiches and packed the blankets the night before, it was time to put our rainy day plan into effect.  We kept the kids busy with a craft project until 10:00 am and then it was off to roller skating.  Upon arrival, the parking lot was packed with busses from a travel camp from Brooklyn.  The rink was very crowded, and the kids were not comfortable skating with all the “strangers”.  Complaining that their feet hurt, they opted to play video games more so than roller skate (additional $20).  We then went out for lunch and back home for more crafts.  Only two hours to go before their camp friends get home.

 Day 4 was a hot, sunny day.  We let the kids sleep late and agreed on Allison’s pool for the day.  As we patted ourselves on the back because the kids were having such a good day, I couldn’t help but think that their camp friends were getting instruction in the pool, not just splashing around.

Week 2, Great Adventure, our first big trip.  I must admit we were great.  We separated the kids according to rides and brought walkie talkies.  We planned lunch and dinner times.  A good day was had by all.  Summary: 3 hour car ride in the morning, 4 ½ hour care ride in the evening (rush hour traffic).  6 hours in the park and an average of $184 per child when you factor in the parent’s tickets, two cars parking, tolls, gas, extra games, tattoos, lunch and dinner. (and yes, we had ½ off tickets). 

The next day the alarm goes off and the kids want to go back to bed, so I take my little one on some errands.  While unloading groceries, the giant inflatable we ordered for the day arrives and is set up in the yard.  It was a day of moon bouncing, lemonade stands, crafts and errands.  At 4:45 their camp friends come over and everyone plays on the moon bounce till dinner.  Although we had a good day, during dinner it was obvious my son was struggling as the kids compared moon bounce and errands to zip lines, bungee trampolines, go-carts and swim team tryouts.

As the weeks pass, I start to realize that my definition of luxury may have been distorted.  My children were missing the camaraderie of summer camp.  They were no longer involved with 45 boys their own age all day every day.  They were no longer able to choose what activity to take every 40 minutes.  If they loved something (swimming, tennis, drama) there was no club or team for them to join. The decisions, conflict resolutions, pecking order within a group were all being decided by moms with a bias toward their own children.  Missing was the feeling of accomplishment, and building of self esteem they got at camp when they were exposed to so many activities geared toward their own age group.  Missing was the instruction that goes along with all those activities.  Absent was the making of new friends, learning how welcome new kids, as well as learning how to fit in themselves.  Yes most days were fun, but it was obvious something was missing.  In addition, I was exhausted and stressed.  I couldn’t entertain and supervise the kids all day and run the house.  I started feeling guilty because I wanted a break from my kids.  When they went to summer camp last year, I couldn’t wait for them to get home and tell me about their day.  Now I couldn’t wait until their bed time.

As the summer came to an end, I tallied up all my expenses in running Camp Mom; balls, clay, paint pool toys, water guns, park fees, lunches, movie tickets, gas, tolls ,baby sitters and so on.  I really wasn’t surprised to find that it cost me $98 per day per child.  When I subtract the cost of Camp Mom from the cost of real summer camp, I realize that I did my children a terrible disservice. Spending an extra $38 per day for Real Camp is not a luxury but a necessity.  Next summer, I am going to pay the extra $1482.00 it cost to send the kids to real camp!