A week of summer camp can cost a family around $500 per child, but can range from anywhere from $300 to $1,500. But many see it as a worthwhile investment. Photo courtesy Circle Square Ranch.

Summer camp: worth the investment?

Families faced with rising costs to send kids to camp

This story originally appeared in the Focus on Camps feature in the April print edition of ChristianWeek. View it here.

Summer camp is a popular option for parents and children alike, but for some families the cost is a concern.

A brief survey of Christian camp websites in Ontario finds that the average price for a week of summer camp runs around $500, but can range from anywhere from $300 to $1,500. It’s a hit to the pocketbook for families looking to send their children to camp.

“Cost is a factor,” agrees Mike Greenfield of Camp Widjiitiwin, a Christian camp located near Huntsville Ontario. “The challenge is camps are getting more expensive.”

Widjiitiwin prices start at $500 for a week.

Greenfield explains camp costs since the 1980s have nearly doubled even with factoring income increases. Along with the added costs come more choices for families looking to schedule some summer recreation.

“It’s summer camp or family vacation, or sports camps,” Greenfield says. “There are so many more choices with limited dollars.”

Camp staff are also under enormous pressure to make money during the summer to pay for university or college. Even if they want to work at camp, Greenfield says, they have to weigh the benefit of getting a higher paying job keep down student loans.

When paying for four years of Bible college nearly 30 years ago, Greenfield says it was still possible to pay tuition, room and board while working at a summer camp. Now that seems nearly impossible.

Marie Tubby, camp director at Frontier Trails Camp near Eganville Ontario, says cost can sometimes take parents aback, but she says it’s all about your perspective. A week at Frontier Trails can cost around $600.

“It may seem like a lot of money, but you are making an investment,” Tubby says.

Campers gathering around the camp fire for a preaching time at Circle Square Ranch Arden. Photo courtesy Circle Square Ranch.
Campers gathering around the camp fire for a preaching time at Circle Square Ranch Arden. Photo courtesy Circle Square Ranch.

While many Christian camps have historically been able to keep costs low with the help of donations and church support, programs add costs. “A lot of expenses go into running a camp,” Tubby says, such as feeding horses throughout the winter, rising costs of fuel and food, and increased wages. “All these things have risen and it makes a big difference,” she says.

But camp also makes an undeniable impact on the lives of campers, many who build life-long friendships while attending.

“You don’t realize the investment you are making in a child’s life,” Tubby says. “They build self-esteem, character and morals, learn about the Bible, independence and gain confidence.”

The effects continue long after the week is over, especially as campers transition into their teenage years and come back to work at camp and mentor others, completing the circle.

“Former campers make the best counsellors,” Tubby says. “They know what they loved as a camper and can give back to others.”

Parents love to know their teen is working at camp, she says. Often kids come home and their parents can’t believe the change. “They’re doing dishes without being asked,” Tubby says.

“There isn’t a better job for a student, to work in a Christian environment and learn to be a servant of others,” Tubby says. “It’s the best summer job ever.”

Heath Heagle, Ontario Camps Association executive director, says options are available to parents with tight summer budgets, as well as those looking for camps outfitted for special needs.

“Some camps are more expensive, but we have a lot of camps that provide a great experience for a great price,” Heagle says. There are also many subsidies and a child tax credit that parents can apply for, though Heagle says parents should apply in early spring to take advantage of the assistance.

Considering the investment, Heagle says, “camp is the best deal in town.”

Going to camp is a big step for children and parents. Here are some key tips courtesy of OntarioCampsAssociation.ca that will lead to a successful summer camp experience:

  1. Visit and tour the camp prior to their first day.
  2. Call other parents whose children attend the camp and start getting to know their camp friends.
  3. Get excited with your child and help them mentally prepare. Mark the first day of camp on the calendar or create a checklist of items for camp.
  4. When your child is at camp, don’t schedule a significant family event that they miss out on.
  5. Talk to your child about homesickness. Tell them it’s normal and encourage and build up their confidence their ability to handle being away from home.
  6. Write your child letters (even a few days before camp starts so they’ll get them in the first few days).  “Mail Call” is a big event at camp.
  7. Talk with your child about what to expect at camp. Are calls home allowed? Is there a time for parents to visit?
  8. After your child returns home, encourage them to practice their new skills, and encourage them to maintain their friendships through e-mails, letters or phone calls.

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