It’s time to start planning for Summer Camp. 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.
Summer Camp Considerations
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- The Staff: Ask about the staff. What is the camper to staff ratio? How old are the camp counselors? What kind training do they have?
- 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 into camp to sign-in? If it an outdoor camp you may want to know the plan for extreme weather (storms, excessive heat, etc.). What are the safety protocols if swimming is part of the week’s activity? If field trips are included, ask about transportation.
- 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.
- 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.
- Whitfield School Summer Camp Fair – January 28, 2023
- Summer Camp Expo at Marquette High School – February 5, 2023
- Lindbergh Summer Camps & Activity Fair – February 15, 2023
- St. Louis Summer Camp Fair at Forest Park Forever Visitor Center – March 18, 2023
Several sites provide online directories of summer camps and this can be another easy way to get the lay of the land. Whether your kid wants to focus on arts and crafts, sports, theater, nature, or just a mix of outdoor activities – you should be able to focus in their interests from these sites.
- STLParent.com has a robust search allowing you to choose based on your child’s age, your location, and various other criteria.
- 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.
- Blueprint4Summer.com is a camp resource that allows you to search for camps offering sessions for Special Needs Students or Gifted Students or those offering Before and After Care or that have Scholarships Available.
Summer Camps from 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. Below are some of the more popular camps, but check out the Parks & Recreation department on your city’s website to see what they offer.
- Kirkwood Summer Camps
- Webster Groves Summer Camps
- Des Peres Summer Camps
- Clayton Summer Camps
- Shrewsbury Summer Camps
Both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts offer summer day camps and overnight camp experiences.
Summer Camps from 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.
Many of the online camp resources allow you to search on overnight camps. Below are a few that are most frequently recommended in the mom’s Facebook groups we’re in.
- Camp Lakewood – Popular for generations, this YMCA camp is 1.5 hours south of St. Louis in Potosi, Missouri. The 5,200 acre campus is surround by forest-covered hills, caves, creeks, and a 360-acre private lake for tons of water fun.
- Camp Ondessonk – Rustic outdoor, Catholic youth camp run by Belleveille Diocese. Located in the Shawnee National Forest near Ozark Illinois.
- Camp Moval – About 1.5 hours west of St. Louis in Union, Missouri, Camp Moval is for youth aged 8-15 and offers 3 night mini camps for those aged 7-9.
- Camp Manitowa – Located 2 hours east in Southern Illionis. This Rend Lake camp ia a non-religious program that servers campers 2nd to 9th grade. Offers water, art, sports, and nature activities.
- Camp Taum Sauk – 2 hours south of St. Louis in Lesterville, near the Black River. Smaller family-run camp since 1946, for kids age 8-16. .
- Cub Creek Science Camp – This summer camp in Rolla has its own zoo and campers have access to all 100+ activities (vet camp, animal camp, science camp, and more).
- Camp Sabra – Premier Missouri Jewish sleepaway camp for girls and boys entering grades 3-10. Located 3 hours west of St. Louis at the Lake of the Ozarks.
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 loved Laumeier and attended from as soon as she was old enought to start the half-day program, to when she aged out. Laumeier offered the perfect blend of her favorite things, art and nature. Same with the Magic House—she loved it, we were members, and the location was fairly convenient. Two more weeks, out of the way. These were tried and true and were 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. For two years, we added two weeks at The Green Center, which was a new location for us. She loved the small size of the camp, but it fills up quickly.
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!