How to afford to send your kids to camp

May 11, 2011 at 2:14 p.m. ET

Dream of giving your child the same summer camp experience you had as a child, but worried that you won't be able to swing the costs of camp? Even when times are tough, getting your children involved in summer programs can still be in your budget. So, before you resign to a summer filled with, "I'm bored!" check out these seven tips on how to afford to send your kids to camp.

1Look into Parks and Recreation summer programs

Check with your parks and recreation department for city-run day camp options during summer months. Options range from sports camps to science camps to summer programs for kids for the full-time working parent. Day camp programs run an average of one week to eight weeks long.

2Discover the YMCA

Your local YMCA offers a number of affordable day camp options, from themed learning to swimming camps. Most of the YMCA's summer programs include field trips to places like the zoo and other places of learning. The organization also offers a few resident summer camps, letting kids get the overnight experience at camps such as YMCA Camp Surf.

>>Find the top 20 summer camps in the US

3Check with local colleges

When it comes to camp, children don't necessarily have to rough it to get the camp experience. Some universities and junior colleges offer classes and camps geared towards kids during summer sessions that focus on science, history and more.

4Apply for camp scholarships

A little-known secret on how to afford summer camp tuition is to apply for financial aid, similar to scholarships found at the college level. Also known as "camperships," most camps offer financial assistance to cover a portion of tuition and/or enrollment fees for camp children.

>>Check out this guide to preparing your child for summer camp

5Look into special discounts

Be sure to ask about any discounts you may qualify for when registering for summer camp. Early registration, multiple-camp enrollment, referrals or sibling enrollment for other camp children in your family can knock your costs down. You can also inquire about volunteering to help reduce tuition.

6Earn a tax credit

Although overnight summer camp, also known as resident camp or sleepaway camp, does not qualify for a tax credit, day camp programs can meet the dependent care expenses requirements under the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. Check the IRS website for details.

>>A traditional camp still not in your budget? You can still score summer fun with these summer camp alternatives

7Find a shorter sleepaway camp

Sending your kiddo away to a month-long camp isn't the only way your kids can get the full summer camp experience. Look for weeklong or weekend camps that offer the same friendship-building, skill learning, independence-creating opportunities a summer-long resident camp offers.

With the benefits your child will experience with summer camp, finding a way to afford it is important. "Camp is a magical place where kids can find success and create memories that last a lifetime," offers Candy Cohn, assistant camp director of Maine Arts Camp. "They can shed some of the issues that cling to them at home, make new friends, gain independence, learn new skills and find a way to shine." To find camps in your price range, visit the American Camp Association. You can research camps by location, session length, and cost, so you can find the right camp for your youngster, and your pocketbook!

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