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Scout early for summer camp to save stress money

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McLEAN, Va. (2/14/12)--You still might be shoveling snow, but, for many families, summer camp planning is well under way. With marketing pitches filling your mailbox, camp season is in full swing. You'll have more options to choose from, at varying price points, if you plan ahead ( Feb. 6).

About 10 million children attend camp each year. With many families leading already hectic lives, there's been an increase in families asking about and making summer camp plans shortly after the winter holidays, according to the American Camp Association (ACA), Martinsville, Ind.

To help make summer camp a success for your kids--as well as for your entire family--and to help manage costs, consider these suggestions from the Credit Union National Association's (CUNA) Center for Personal Finance:

  • Ask about financial assistance. Camp fees vary and there's a camp for every budget. You can pay from less than $100 a week to more than $800 a week for camps, according to Price, unfortunately, makes or breaks many families' decisions about particular camps. Ask about price breaks such as sliding scales and sibling discounts. Many camps also provide scholarships.
  • Explore all options. There's also a camp for just about any type of kid. Specialty camps hone skills in sports, music, drama, religion, or other activities. Some camps address the unique needs of certain kids, such as those with autism, diabetes, or cancer. Other camps just offer a variety of experiences day to day to allow children to follow and cultivate their curiosity and imagination.
  • Don't offer to rescue. Discourage "pick-up deals" to rescue homesick kids. It's natural for kids to feel homesick--they will miss you--but one goal of most camps is for kids to learn coping skills. You know your child and probably will know when he or she is ready to spend time away. A sleep-away camp shouldn't be a child's first experience sleeping away from home.
  • Give your kids credit. Don't undermine your children's success by sending mixed messages before they leave for camp. Talk about camp as an awesome experience instead of making them feel guilty for leaving you, or telling kids how lonely you'll be without them.
  •  Visit if you can. Take the time to tour camps the year before you want to enroll your children; nothing beats that first-hand impression.
The ACA recommends asking about:

  • Philosophy and emphasis. Does how the camp handles behavior, discipline, competition, and cooperation mesh with how you handle these issues at home?
  • References. Check the camp's reputation and record, but realize that kids are unique and have different needs and abilities. A good camp for one child might not be a good fit for another, according to CUNA's Center for Personal Finance.
  • Special needs. Is there a nurse on staff? How is medicine stored? Are special foods available for kids with allergies?
  • Camp employees. How well are counselors trained to handle emergencies, deal with safety issues, manage behavior and prevent child abuse? Ask detailed questions about hiring practices. Really try to learn about the type of people working at the camp.
For more information about choosing a summer camp, read "Happy Camping: Scout How Your Kids Will Spend their Summer" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.