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It comes as no surprise that summer camp is expensive.  Our two older boys are going to a sports camp this summer.  Each session runs a total of four hours, and only lasts for less than a week.  The cost for these four days will be $200.  Can you imagine when all four of our kids are in camps or if we wanted to do more than one?  We could easily get into spending thousands of dollars for camps during the summer, if we let ourselves.  If this works for your family, that’s great!  If you are looking for some alternatives, keep reading

I love having our kids involved in things, outside of the home, during the summer.  I don’t want them in something all of the time because the summertime can be a really great time to do some great family-bonding activities and to just give the kids some much-needed down time!  (The teacher in me wants to remind you to READ and WRITE every day with your children!  I’m sure my brother, the math major, would remind you to do math problems, too!)

My friends and I have found some really great alternatives to the pricey camps.
summer camp on a budget
Image: mashable

1).  Vacation Bible School
Most of the churches in our area (and probably yours, too) offer vacation bible schools.  They are normally free or have a small fee associated with them.  The most that I have ever paid is $50, but like I said, they are normally free.  They usually run 4-5 days for about 3-4 hours.  Some will be at night (and include dinner) or some will be in the day.   Typically, the ages change from church to church.  Our two year old will attend one this year, but most of them have the starting age range between 3-4, and go up to the age of Twelve.  This is usually the age when a child is old enough to volunteer at the camp.  I cannot stress enough how much our kids take away from this.  Our older boys still tell me about Bible stories that they learned.  We have a running joke involving the story of the “Firey Furance.”  After one of the camps last year, our kids actually played Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego (how most kids play Spiderman & Superman).   You know how on Forest Gump, Bubba Gump says “I know everything there is to know about shrimp.”  Well, our kids know everything there is to know about the fiery furnace, thanks to one of their camps!

2).  Free camps through your town.
Our town recreation department offers free camps.  I know that our neighboring cities do, too.  Some of them offer safety camps at a free or minimal price.  My good friend, Kristy, sends her daughters to a safety camp and they love it!  They have a great time and learn so many great rules about safety.
Our son’s friends are going to a free fireman’s camp this summer.  Unfortunately, it falls on the same week as our sports camp, so we can’t attend, but how wonderful to be given this opportunity!  To find these, just go to your city’s webpage and see what is available where you live.

3). Scholarships
I know that almost every church or camp will offer scholarships.  My husband and I used to be involved in running several vacation bible schools at churches in our hometown before we moved here and we never turned anyone down that came in asking for a scholarship for their child.  They are normally printed right with the descriptions: “scholarships given as needed” or something similar to that.   I’m sure that there is not much involved in obtaining one, if you just ask!

A glass jar with dollar bills in it.Image: CNN

4).  Get a membership
There are a lot of alternatives to camps.   You could get a membership or season passes to somewhere fun in your area!  A local amusement park, museum, zoo, local pool…  Our neighboring town has a great hands-on museum (Discovery Kids Place).  Our family of 6 pays just $80 a year to join (normally $100, but I get a $20 discount for being an educator).  This may seem like a lot if you are really watching your spending, but to us, this is great.  It is normally about $10 a person, so you figure we are saving money every time that we go.  We could literally stay there for hours upon hours!  Our kids do so much hands-on learning there!  If we get up early (which they do- 7:00 every day!) we can get there when it opens and play until around 11:00, when the crowd starts rolling in.   We leave just in time to get home, have lunch and quiet time.
Image source: Discovery place

5). Sleepovers and mini-vacations (and play dates)
Our kids like to sleep over at my parent’s house and at my husband’s parent’s house.  If the grandparents are up for it, having a mini-vacation for a few days is great for many reasons: bonding, new experiences & much more!
A few of my friends and I are also planning play dates, so once week I will take the kids, the next week, another Mom will take them.  We are doing more of a “tutoring play date” where we will each plan a lesson, but it could work without the lesson.

6).  Join a gym that offers child care.
This is a great alternative!  If you can afford to join a gym with child care, your children can go with you every day.  Most gyms allow you two hours, so you will give your child a “play-date” every day for two hours while you work out, get a shower, swim…  Our gym has a pool with a great kid-area, so when we go to the gym, I will drop off our two little ones and the older boys and I will go to the pool for an hour.  We work on improving our swimming skills, and our kids just LOVE it!  The younger kids have fun in the nursery too, so it is a win-win.  Our gym also has a great splash pad, playground, track and basketball court that our kids use.  Look for a gym near you that offers more than just an adult-membership if you plan on getting your kids involved.
Image source: YMCA

Be creative!  Look for options that work for you and your family.  If nothing else, just make up your own fun things to do at home.  I’ll be sure to post ideas for home, so check back for those in the upcoming week!

I hope that helped!  I would love to hear your ideas- leave them in the comments or on facebook.

summer campImage: Dreamtime

Or you could give your kids a fun activity to do at home to keep them occupied & learning. 

Hi there!

I’m Becky, a former elementary school teacher turned certified child development therapist and blogger. I work at home with my husband and together we are raising (and partially homeschooling) our four children in the Carolinas. I love diet coke, ice cream, and spending time with my family.

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