Finding the Right Summer Camp in St. Louis

Andrea Durway Posted by
Tools and Resources Jan 2018

I just finished scheduling and registering my kid for all her summer camps. This is one of my least favorite mom jobs, but this is my fifth year of juggling it and I’ve gotten it down to a science. There are a ton of options in St. Louis, which can make the task daunting. Finding the camp that offers programming that your kids will enjoy PLUS works with your family’s schedule and budget can feel like putting together a jigsaw puzzle while wearing mittens. Here are some resources that might help you with the process.

considerations

  1. Your Schedule: Will you need camp all summer long or just for particular weeks? All day camp, half day camp, or sleep away camp? What time will you need to drop off and pick-up?
  2. Your Budget: Camps can be expensive. Some programs offer a discount if you sign up for multiple weeks or if you are a member of the organization. Take advantage of these discounts if you can.
  3. Camp Size and Age Range: At larger programs, children are typically grouped with other campers their age. For smaller camps, that age range may be broader. For example, your seven year old may be placed with campers that are 10+ and that is something you may want to consider.
  4. The Staff: Ask about the staff. What is the camper to staff ratio? How old are the camp counselors?
  5. Safety & Processes: These are details that you may not think of, but are important. Is it a car drop off or are you required to walk the child in to camp? If it an outdoor camp you may want to know the plan for extreme weather (storms, excessive heat, etc.). If swimming is part of the week’s activity, you’ll want to ask the details. If field trips are included, ask about transportation.
  6. Your Child’s Personality and Interests: Some kids like the routine of going to the same camp all summer long. And let’s face it – this is the easiest option for most parents. But some kids get bored with this option and prefer to mix it up. Honestly, this is a balancing act that may take a few summers of trial and error to figure out.
  7. Recommendations from neighbors and friends: Never underestimate your hive! Ask neighbors or friends with kids older than yours for recommendations. If you belong to Facebook groups for your neighborhood or school, ask for recommendations.

Below are some additional resources. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but can help you get started.

Summer Camp Fairs

A great place to begin your research are Summer Camp Fairs. These are typically offered by school districts or community organizations and begin to happen in early February. If this is your first time looking into camps, I strongly recommend attending one of these. Being able to meet representatives from the camps and ask a lot of questions can provide a sense of reassurance as you begin the task.

  • The Summer Camps & Activities Fair sponsored by Lindbergh School district is Wednesday, February 7 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. and takes place at the High School. Over 50 local organizations will be on hand to answer questions. This event is FREE and open to all families.
  • Summer Camp Expo is hosted by Parkway-Rockwood Trek and Travel happens February 11 from 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. at Parkway West High School. Plan your child’s summer activities with 100 local and regional exhibitors featuring programs for youth ages 3-18.  You can win prizes talk face-to-face to those running the programs. Admission is FREE and open to families throughout the St. Louis area.

Online Searches

Several sites provide online directories of summer camps and this can be another easy way to get the lay of the land.

  • STLParent.com has a robust search allowing you to choose based on your child’s age, your location, and various other criterion.
  • Kids Out and About provides an extensive week-by-week guide to summer camps.  They also have a directory of camps for kids with special needs.

Local Municipalities

Your local municipality can be a terrific resource. These can sometimes be the most economical option. Residents usually get a discounted rate but most municipalities welcome campers outside of their municipality. These camps have a tendency to fill up quickly and often registration starts later than some of the other camps. Check out the Parks & Recreation department on your city’s website to see what they offer.

The City of St. Louis offers a free summer camp program with registration opening April 2, 2018.

Community Centers

  • The J in Creve Coeur offers camps at their facility and partners with other sites.
  • YMCA Camps are another popular alternative and are offered from their many locations.

Final Thoughts

  • Start Early! Popular camps fill up quickly, so start looking into camps now. Early summer and late summer can be tricky. A lot of camps do not start until June so the week of Memorial Day can be a tough one, as well as the first couple of weeks of August because camp counselors are headed back to school. There are fewer options and these slots fill up earlier. So again, starting early can help.
  • Consider recruiting buddies. Camp can be scary for younger kids (and older kids too). If they can attend with a friend, it can help relieve anxiety.
  • Stick with what works. My kid loves Laumeier and has been attending this camp since she was old enough to start the half day program. It offers the perfect blend of her favorite things, art and nature. We are members so we get that discount, plus we go for four weeks, so we get the multi-week discount. Same with the Magic House—she loves it, we are members, and the location and is fairly convenient. Two more weeks, out of the way. These are tried and true and are the foundation of our summer.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. I never would have thought my shy kid would enjoy Theater Camp, but she did at both COCA and Shrewsbury. Surprisingly, swim camp was a bust. You are going to have winners and losers, but it is important to expose your kid to different experiences. This year we are excited to try two weeks at The Green Center, which will be a new location for us.
  • Consider family if you have the luxury. Our kid usually spends two weeks out of the summer at my parents who live a little over an hour away in the country. Not everyone has the “Camp Grammy” option, but it can be an awesome one.

Camp is a necessity for a lot of working families and hopefully an enriching experience for your kids. I hope this information helps as you begin to navigate your summer plans. Good Luck!

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