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Summer Camps -- Are You or Aren't You?

Summer Camp: It's the way some working parents get by for the summer. Plus, the kids get to be with other kids having fun.

But what happens when the other kids don't show?

That's the case for some camps this summer, with enrollment down thanks to the recession. A parent friend whose children are attending the local YMCA camp tell me that there are a lot fewer kids there this year than years past. The same goes for one of the two camps my kids have attended this summer. In that one, camp classes are down to one from two a year ago. And the number of kids in each class is much lower than in past years.

These camp sightings are different than what I'm hearing from the American Camp Association, which tells me, "It is still too early to determine what actual enrollment numbers are, as camps are still enrolling for late July and August sessions. We won’t have final numbers until September. Overall, we are seeing steady enrollment that is not much different from 2008. Our research and anecdotal evidence show that some camps are down a bit, but for the most part, camps are on par with last year or slightly higher."

Stories around the Web concur with the anecdotal evidence I've seen thus far. Oakland County, Mich. and Traverse City, Mich.: Down. Evanston, Ill.: Down. Phoenix, Ariz.: You guessed it, down, down down.

What has your camp experience been this summer? If your kids aren't attending camp, how's the summer going? Are they finding the summer happy and enriching all on their own?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  July 10, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Child Care , Summer Programs
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The decision was made for me. My daughter came down with mono. She missed the last week of school. Had to withdraw her from the 2 sports camps we had selected. She starting to feel better, so she will be able to go to the 2 academic camps she had chosen. What a way to spend the summer! It could have been worse - it could have happened during the school year. At least she got a lot of reading done!

Posted by: anne23 | July 10, 2009 7:30 AM | Report abuse

My kids are just going to a day camp for two separate weeks this summer. There do seem to be more kids around during the day, but the camp they attend seems well attended. Its a wonderful, old school, outdoors, swim in the lake, come home dirty and exhausted camp and they are loving it and I'm loving how clean my house is.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | July 10, 2009 7:43 AM | Report abuse

Didn't we just do the summer camp topic? And before that the reality TV topic for multiple times.

Posted by: sunflower571 | July 10, 2009 8:13 AM | Report abuse

I am the director of a preschool day camp and I can tell you our overall numbers are about the same. The difference from this year to last year is that we have more kids coming for less time each. Last summer I had a core group from each age group who came for all 7 weeks where as this year I have full groups every week but most kids are only coming for a week or two.

Posted by: thosewilsongirls | July 10, 2009 8:36 AM | Report abuse

sunflower is right, this is about the third camp post in the last several weeks...

Posted by: VaLGaL | July 10, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

My older one is in camps, 6 weeks total. The younger one can't handle the full day, which is why he isn't in so many camps. I have him in a couple of half day camps, or we go to the pool.
He will join his brother for the last week of his one camp, since he knows all the kids there, his brother's there, etc. It's a'full day' (til 3) and he will be completely exhausted, but hey,it's the summer.
We haven't really cut down on camps. The first few weeks of summer we didn't do camps - it's tough to figure out what to do all day. And I'm interviewing, so I felt awful guilty to put them in front of the TV (for phone interviews). I'd rather they be outside playing (but, during the day, no kids are out in the streets playing...most are in camps).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | July 10, 2009 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Shouldn't this thread be about "summer day care" rather than "summer camp"? I define "summer camp" as sleepaway camp in the country for at least one week at a time.

Posted by: confusedeasily | July 10, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Our kids are doing the camp program at their former daycare center. The enrollment overall at the center is way down, and it's down a bit in the camp program from last summer when my son did it. It's not surprising given that they cater to working parents and the unemployment rate is so high. Plus the camp program is expensive compared to a lot other camps, so I'm sure some people opted to go to other places to save money.

Posted by: dennis5 | July 10, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

We're still doing camp; two jobs = need daycare, and she loves camp, so two birds per stone and all that. Doesn't hurt that the cost isn't that much more than the other options. In this economy, I imagine many families like us are sticking with camp for the same reason: if you've got a job, this isn't the summer to be kicking back at the office or taking long vacations.

I suspect her camp isn't quite as full, though, because there are way fewer kids at the bus stop. Some of it could be from the change in bus stops (they increased the stops from 2 to 3), but I doubt that that accounts for the @ 75% dropoff. I'd guess that, if you don't need daycare, this is the summer you maybe send the kid for a week or two to maintain that connection, instead of for the whole summer.

PS -- confusedeasily, I call DD's camp "camp" because it is, actually, a summer camp. Camps include both day camps and sleepaway camps; hers has the bunkhouses, lake, woods, animals, etc. you'd expect at a regular camp, and they basically run around outside all day doing normal "camp" stuff (swimming, arts and farts, sports, campcraft, etc.). But it's a day camp because it's designed for younger kids. They are also affiliated with a sleepaway camp for older kids.

On the other hand, DS's daycare calls its summer program "camp," but I just call that daycare.

Posted by: laura33 | July 10, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Last year she went seven weeks to day camp and this year she will go six weeks. Her only request this year was she got some time with her day care friends. I can understand that because at her school kids move in and out of the school quite frequently.

The kids are not grouped by age or gender. She is going into second grade and sometimes she plays with the younger kids and sometimes she plays with a boy going into fifth grade.

Posted by: shdd | July 10, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

"This economy" (a ridiculous turn of phrase) is completely local. The anecdotal evidence Stacey lists are from some of the hardest hit housing markets in the country. Phoenix, Chicago, Detroit - just look at the Schiller index for those cities.

It's unsurprising that enrollment overall would be down on average, but a quick google search gives you some alternative anecdotes:
"Summer camp enrollment up despite economy" (binghampton, ny)
"Recession doesn't mar summer camp season" (Syracuse, ny)
"Local camps see no enrollement drop off" (SW IL)
"Enrollment Spike" (Palm Coast, FL)
"Camp programs fill up quickly, 2009 no exception" (Mclean, va)
"Enrollment up at MSU bball camp" (mankato, mn)

Posted by: 06902 | July 10, 2009 10:39 AM | Report abuse

We wouldn't miss sending our daughter to camp, even if it means cutting back on something else. She absolutely cherishes her resident camp experience more than anything else she does during the year. The enrollment there is down slightly, but enrollment at a day camp that she formerly attended is up. It looks like enrollment trends may be local, not national. Regardless of the economy, though, the camp experience is very important for our family.

By the way, I don't mind three posts about camp - that's what is going on in our kids' lives this summer. I expect multiple posts about school during the school year.

Posted by: anntx11 | July 10, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Thankfully we didn't enlist the kids in any camps this summer because in the last 4 weeks we have had 2 cat emergencies, 2 car repairs and the replacement of our entire heating and AC units.

We're poor but our cars are running, the cats were saved and our house is cool. Life is good.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | July 10, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

It's a shame that the recession has hit kids' little tradition in the summer. Many good camps are struggling too. I've read an article called make summer camps cost-efficient ( )

But still, we can't let price rule everything. There are many great camps that have years' of tradition at low cost. Maybe some place close. I always believe it's better to let the kids be at a summer camp than staying at home and wasting time.

Posted by: Bethany_F | July 10, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Parents who understand the value of a camp experience are not eliminating camp from their children's education; in fact, it is the last dollar they will cut because they understand that their child's social education is at stake. As a past president of the American Camp Association and as a camp owner in NY, I can say that, while figures aren't yet official, anecdotally we know that parents are sending their children to camp as always, because camp is a unique learning environment in which children learn 4Rs - respect, responsibility, resourcefulness, and resilience.

Posted by: marla3 | July 12, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

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