The beaming June sun shines hotly overhead as the buses rumble down the gravel driveway. Children barrel off the buses; eagerly they jog towards the counselors who beam with the promise of camp rituals yet to come. And as the children drag their over-sized suitcases to their cabins, humming favorite camp songs, a familiar nostalgia settles over all witnessing the beginning of another summer camp season.

However, for parents the sticker prices of summer camp evokes less pining for campfires and s'mores. Instead, it serves as a startling reminder of the high-cost of summer camp fun. As Tom Holland, CEO of the American Camp Association, explains, in 2015 the average cost of summer camp rose between 1-2 percent. On average, overnight camps cost $704/week, while day camps cost $271/week. The rise in cost can be attributed to both a demand for higher quality programs and the rising costs of camp operations. But before the sticker cost stops you from humming jubilant renditions of "If You're Happy and You Know It," here are five ways you can make summer camp more affordable.

  1. Start Your Research Now

    Despite the fact that we are in the season of bulky coats and hot cocoa, now is the time to begin researching summer camp options. With hundreds of camps in and around the D.C. metro area, the search for the perfect camp can be arduous. To avoid last minute registration panic, start your research now. Even better, encourage your child to be part of the process. Searching for summer camp is a perfect opportunity to discuss the importance of budgeting, while also showing your children that their opinion is valued. The American Camp Association's Camp Planner Tool, available on acacamps.org, is also a great resource for finding a camp that is both of interest to your child and within your budget
  2. Scholarships and Grants

    In the spirit of every child enjoying the wonder of summer camp, many programs offer scholarships and grants. Distributed on a financial need basis, camps recognize that budgetary constraints shouldn't prevent children from having an unforgettable experience. As Tom Doi, Camp Calleva's Director of Marketing, explains, their program has worked to provide scholarships for over a decade. He finds that scholarships have helped to enrich the camp experience for all participants. He says, "Anytime you add diversity, it makes camp so much better [for everyone]." Doi also encourages parents to have children participate in the scholarship application process. He says that Calleva's board of directors appreciates when both a parent and child express interest in the program. However, many programs have early deadlines, so be proactive about checking each camp's scholarship due date.
  3. Sibling Discounts

    Consider making summer camp a family affair. In an effort to encourage more participation, many programs offer sibling discounts. Additionally, many programs do not require siblings to be registered for the same session, which allows your children to select the activities that are of the most interest to them. In addition to the financial savings, Billy Woodward, Koa's Director of Youth Programs, finds that many children benefit from attending summer camp with their siblings. He says, "Kids feel more comfortable with their siblings there." As an added bonus for parents, it also eases the burden of having to drop children off at multiple summer camp locations.
  4. Consider Community Programs

    Your child doesn't have to journey far for a great camp experience. Many community centers and nonprofits throughout the metro area offer affordable or low-cost camp programs. As Josh Smith, Associate Executive Director of the YMCA Silver Spring, explains, community-based camps offer a wide range of programs that fit within anyone's budget. Jackie Dilworth, Director of Communications at the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, has also found that community-based summer programs offer children a unique opportunity to foster a stronger sense of community. She says, "It develops a support network for children and their parents."
  5. Give the Camp a Call

    If you find that your child's dream camp is still out of reach, don't hesitate to give the program a call. At its foundation, most programs are centered around the philosophy that all children should enjoy the experience of summer camp, regardless of their socioeconomic background. Even if you cannot find scholarships or financial assistance listed on the website, the camp may be able to direct you to other resources or grants.