When Candice Buckner began her summer camp search for 9-year-old daughters Janasia and Larasia Sims, she found everything from half-day sports camps to full-day academic and activity camps that fit with the family's schedule.
But finding weekly camps that fit with the family's budget wasn't as easy.
"Some full-day camps cost almost $300," the Columbia resident says.
Multiply that by two, and the costs quickly escalate. Summer camps can be pricey, especially when parents are lining up multiple weeks for multiple children.
According to the American Camp Association (ACA), a nonprofit organization for camp professionals, fees range from $75 to more than $800 a week for accredited ACA camps.
The higher the camp price, the more specialized the instruction tends to be, says Laura Wetherald, bureau chief of recreation and administrative services for Howard County's Department of Recreation and Parks.
Still, there are plenty of affordable and even free camps throughout Maryland, camp officials say.
After weeks of research, Buckner found what she says was the perfect fit -- a full-day camp in Howard County where her daughters could participate in activities ranging from arts and crafts to nature walks and science experiments. And it cost less than $200 per child.
"For me, (the cost) per child per week was excellent," she says. "The price was what I was looking for, and it gave them a variety of things to pick from."
To keep camp fees down this year, check out the following tips:
Start planning now
"A lot of parents don't think about summer camp until the end of the school year," says Nancy Canter, executive director of the American Camp Association's Chesapeake field office. "By then, it's too late."
Camps can fill quickly -- especially the more affordable ones, she says. Most camps have their summer schedules and fees established by the fall, with registration beginning as early as October. Look at the costs for the camps your children are interested in and then plan accordingly, Canter says.
Attend a camp fair
Camp fairs, typically held on weekends between November and May, give campers and parents a chance to learn about camp options as well as talk with camp representatives. Some camp fairs even offer participants a discount on camp fees just for attending the fair, Canter says. "They want to get people while they're there," she says. "It's a win-win."
Watch for discounts
Some camps offer early registration discounts. In Howard County, families receive a 10 percent discount on certain Department of Recreation and Parks camps when registering before March 1. Other organizations may reduce camp fees if two or more siblings are enrolled. "When you have multiple children, it becomes very expensive," says Barry Williams, director of Recreation and Parks for Baltimore County. If a discount is not noted, it's worth calling the camp director or registration office to inquire, he says. "Most people are willing to work with you," Williams says. Some organizations also offer reduced fees for children with parents in the military or return camper discounts, Canter says.
Ask about financial assistance
Many camps offer "camperships," partial or total scholarships and financial assistance, based on a family's need, Canter says. In Howard County, qualifying families can receive between a 25 percent and 75 percent discount on fees, Wetherald says. Parents can also set up payment plans when registering a child, she says. In addition, Canter recommends checking with area social and philanthropic organizations, which often raise money for local campers in need or camps. "Finding the creative connection there is all you need," Canter says.
By volunteering with your child's camp, you could have your child's camp fees waived or reduced, Williams says. Time commitments vary depending on the camp, and not all camps allow parent volunteers. Check with the camp registration office or camp director to see if volunteering is an option, he says.
Trying to get the most for your money this summer? Here are a few local camps that cost less than $200 a week.
Police Athletic League (PAL)
Beahta Davis, Chief of Recreation Services
This Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks camp is held in nine locations across the county: Lansdowne, Winfield, Woodmoor, Scotts Branch, Cockeysville, Hillendale, Shady Spring, Mars Estates and Dundalk. The all-day camp is for children ages 8 to 17 and runs weekdays from June through August between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Camp activities include life skills like cooking, athletics, gardening and field trips to area museums. Campers must be residents of Baltimore County. Cost: Free.
Holly Harden, Teen Program Manager
This Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks camp is held for six weeks in June and July at Clarksville Middle School in Clarksville. Campers ages 6 to 13 arrive between 7:45 and 9 a.m., and the day ends at 3:15 p.m. Each day is divided into four sessions, with session activities chosen ahead of time by campers. Session activities include arts, crafts, cooking, baking, sports, science experiments and nature exploration. Cost: $150 to $189 a week. Aftercare is available until 6 p.m. for an additional $69 a week.
Jackie Carrera, president and CEO
Founded in 1997 by the Parks & People Foundation, a nonprofit organization that creates and supports educational, recreational and environmental programs in Baltimore City, SuperKids Camp is an all-day camp designed to maintain and improve academic skills for campers entering second, third and fourth grades in Baltimore City public schools. Activities include sailing, science, music, swimming and performing arts. The camp is offered at more than 10 locations throughout the city, including Roland Park Country School, The Boys' Latin School of Maryland, The Bryn Mawr School and the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center. Camp days run from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Meals and transportation to and from camp are provided. Cost: $80 for six weeks.
Y of Central Maryland Journeys
The Y of Central Maryland offers several Journeys camps for all ages throughout Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, as well as Baltimore City. For children entering kindergarten through sixth grade, the organization offers Great Outdoors, The Lodge and Activity Central camps. Great Outdoors includes nature hikes, outdoor camping skills, archery and fishing. The Lodge includes weeklong projects like murals and giant puzzles, as well as indoor sports and journaling. Activity Central includes outdoor activities such as crafts, songs and games, as well as science projects and journaling. Camp day runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cost: Fees range depending on location. For Y members, rates are as low as $148 a week.
Note: Contact camps for details and to confirm 2014 rates. Many of the camps above offer financial aid for families in need.