The High Cost Of Camp: In Summer, Kids Rejoice, Parents Panic | KERA News

The High Cost Of Camp: In Summer, Kids Rejoice, Parents Panic

Jun 14, 2016

Working parents face a challenge when it’s time to find affordable child care over the summer.

No-cost and low-cost camps in North Texas can be tough to track down —and fill up quickly.

Affordable And Academic

This summer, 90 West Dallas kids will spend Monday through Thursday tie-dying t-shirts, going on field trips and challenging each other to literacy battles in the computer lab.

The "Readers 2 Leaders" summer program is all about books. Enthusiastic counselors, a table full of prizes and an under-the-sea theme make it feels like camp, not school.

Working mother Jessica Suarez was thrilled to find a safe, fun program for her 7-year-old son that puts education first.

“Having a program like Readers 2 Leaders to come to that’s going to make him think outside of his box, help him develop and become more creative and give him a better quality of life is very, very important," she says.

Suarez works for an early childhood education program and her husband drives a truck. With three kids in the house, money is tight. 'Readers 2 Leaders' is a half-day camp and costs $50 per child. Suarez got a partial discount.

“I was blessed enough to be provided with a scholarship so I only have to pay half,” she says.

Price Shopping Camps

That’s $25 for six weeks.

Six weeks of half-day camp at the Dallas Zoo could cost $900. Six weeks of art camp at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth: $750. Members get a slight discount.

Low-cost camps like ‘Readers 2 Leaders’ are scarce in North Texas. According to the nonprofit Dallas Afterschool, there are only 11,000 spots for kids in Dallas County, where more than 380,000 children between the ages of 5 and 14 live.

“It is a big challenge for working parents. There are not enough seats," says Christina Hanger, CEO of Dallas Afterschool.

Spending The Summer At Home Without An Adult

She says of those 380,000 kids, 41 percent will spend the summer at home with an adult—a parent, an aunt, maybe a neighbor. Another 22 percent will go to camp or a summer program. That means 37 percent of Dallas County kids are at home, all summer, without a grownup.

“That leaves nearly 140,000 children who are by themselves," she says. "Maybe with the care of an older sibling, but have no adult supervision during the summer.”

Hanger says a child home alone is a safety concern and is more likely to go hungry than a kid at camp or one staying with an adult. And a child spending the day watching TV or playing alone is in danger of losing two months of what they learned during the school year.

“By the time they’re in fourth or fifth grade it can be two grade levels really that they have lost compared to their peers," says Hanger.

That’s why 'Readers 2 Leaders,' an affordable program focused on academics, is such a gift for moms like Jessica Suarez.  

“You want to be able to enroll your child in a program that is going to be effective when it comes to their learning and their education and that you can afford it," she says.

With so few low cost options out there, day camp during the summer is an experience many working families just can’t afford. 

The City of Dallas offers camps through neighborhood recreation centers. While most of the traditional day camps are full, some rec centers offer activities on certain days of the week that still have room.

Find more information here about Camp Fort Worth.

The City of Arlington offers day camp as well as sports camps. 

KERA's Art&Seek Jr. columnist Therese Powell has compiled lists of 6 Super Summer Camps and Even More Cool Summer Camps.