Photo: Kennolyn Camps

I know summer is months away and here I am telling you to start planning for summer camp. But making plans now can mean the difference between a successful camp experience at the camp that best suits your child and a frantic summer spent calling around for last-minute camp opportunities. Here are six reasons you should plan early for summer camp:

1. Save Money. Camp is different than many travel-related products in that the best deals come early. It is very unlikely that you will see prices for a reputable summer camp drop as the season approaches. There are two main reasons for this. First, generally, demand exceeds availability at the best camps. Second, camps consider their customers long term partners since many families return year after year and even over multiple generations.  Therefore, it is seen as short-sighted to discount spaces at the last minute at the risk of alienating those who paid full price and signed up early. The best discounts are usually early-bird specials and the deadlines depend on the registration cycle for each camp. A well-established overnight camp will usually start taking applications in the fall so early bird deadlines may be as early as December or January. A local day camp may not open registration until spring so May 1st may be their early deadline. You will need to do some research but the majority of camps offer discounts for early registration. Other common savings include sibling and multiple session discounts.

2. Financial Aid requires forward planning. If you want financial aid to help with the costs of camp, those deadlines can sometimes be months ahead of the summer season. Again, the reason is largely to do with demand. If a camp is filling all their sessions by February, they can’t keep open a range of spots for applicants who need financial aid. The financial aid deadline will largely be in line with, and often even earlier than the early registration deadline. Many camps will require proof of income so make sure you allow time to get these documents together before the deadline. Remember, some camps have affordability as their primary mission and in these cases, deadlines are often more flexible and later in the season. You can do a simple Google search for free and low-cost summer camps to find these flexible options.

3. Your camper needs time to get used to the idea of camp. The end of the school year is stressful for children and parents. Don’t add the stress of figuring out summer camp plans to that already busy time. Make your decision now and let your camper enjoy the long build-up to camp. Most camps are active with social media, videos, emails, and newsletters and use these channels to build excitement among campers. Let your camper be a part of the excitement as it builds.

4. Time to find a friend. A lot of families decide they really want their child to go to camp with a friend. Although camp directors will generally downplay the importance of this, it makes things easier for a lot of first-time campers. Other families use camp as a way to connect cousins or distant friends who don’t see each other often. As hard as it is to coordinate one family’s summer plans, it is exponentially harder with multiple families. So get some camp dates on the calendar now before everyone’s summer is full.

5. Time to buy the stuff you need. A one-week day camp will have a very basic list of things to bring each day but a multi-week overnight camp might have a long list of specialist clothing and equipment that is needed. Most of the needed items can be sourced quite cheaply if you have enough time. Booking camp early will also give you the time to go through the ritual of naming all of your child’s belongings so that at least some of it will come home at the end of the session.

6. You can plan around the camp dates. If you are sending all of your kids to camp at the same time, especially an overnight camp, you suddenly have time on the calendar to arrange things for yourself. Maybe that’s a vacation without the kids. Interestingly, the most common decision by suddenly and temporarily childless parents is a working staycation. Many parents with kids at camp used to travel abroad but now the trend seems to be saving precious vacation time for family trips but using the kids being away to have adult time. You might still work but have time in the evenings for late dinners, movies, walks, binge-watching TV, etc. And, if the kids are at overnight camp, the weekends are gloriously free of kid’s sports, birthday parties, and kids in general.  All of this makes you a much more patient parent for the rest of the summer. It’s a real win-win situation.