by Lori Zanteson
Why not escape the wintry blahs and the endless to-do list and travel to blue skies and adventure? Planning for summer camp over winter break will brighten your season with a burst of summer sunshine. The gift of knowing summer plans are set is the gift that keeps on giving—for a full six months!
January kicks off the peak shopping season for most summer camps, according to Jill Tipograph, founder and director of Everything Summer, LLC. She told Parent USA City that there’s an especially big push on the East coast, whereas out West where there tends to be shorter-term camps, there isn’t that same rush. But no matter where you live, the benefits of planning your child’s summer camp experience during winter break are many.
More time for research
Two seasons before summer may seem premature to start shopping for summer camp, but with the luxury of time during winter break, it doesn’t get any better when you're parenting children. It takes time to scroll through dozens of summer camp websites, camp guides, and camp directories, carefully reading through hundreds of programs.
Parent USA City makes it easy for you to start your research right here. For a camp directory that covers any of the 16 cities/regions we feature, just click on the name of the city in the green menu bar and then look in the Guides menu on the left-hand side for “camp guides.”
Another advantage of searching during winter break is the opportunity to visit a camp or two. Many summer camps, such as Brown County, Indiana’s Camp Palawopec and Mountain Meadow Ranch in Susanville, California, have winter sessions where you can see a program in action.
Even if a camp of choice is not open, you might appreciate a feel for the location and the distance from home. Jill Tipograph cautions that it won’t be the same camp as during the summer—for example, during the winter it may be more of a specialty sports camp. But there are year-round camps, such as on the West coast where the climate permits, that might provide a better glimpse.
Space is more available
Limited space is a huge motivator to register as early as possible. Spots often fill up quickly, especially because many camps allow registration to returning campers as soon as the summer before. It’s not uncommon for camps to have waiting lists that are open up to a year in advance.
Multiple sessions means that some will be more popular than others. The best session is the one that fits nicely into your family’s summer schedule between school, vacations, and other commitments.
Those campers who are early to sign up are more likely to get their first choice. Keep in mind, says Tipograph, that older children are tougher to place, making early registration essential.
Better rates when booking early
In the midst of holiday sales, those last-minute rock-bottom discounts and post-Christmas Day clearance events are often worth waiting for. Not so in the world of summer camp, where the real deals dangle an entire year in advance.
Many camps offer incentives until the end of the prior year, which means winter break. January begins the year anew with early-bird discounts. Chances are, when these financial breaks are over, they’re gone until next year.
More time to communicate with chosen camps
To give your child the most meaningful and safe experience, a high-quality, accredited camp has to know a lot about each and every child, including medical information. The process can be lengthy and will take some time.
Chances are the information, which was likely on hand for the beginning of the school year, is more accessible in December and January than it will be in June. The process is much more pleasant when it can be spaced out to a deadline that is a few months down the road. And the extra time is helpful to really weigh the pros and cons of your camp choice to ensure it’s the right one.
More time to prep first-time campers
It’s a good idea to plant the summer camp seed as early as possible for first-time campers. Winter break is a great time to bring up the idea.
It’s fun to do a little online shopping together for potential camps. Most sites are filled with pictures and videos along with descriptions of their programs. The energy from the screen is definitely contagious, and it’s likely your child will feel it. Then, once you sign up, you have six months to help prepare your child (and yourself!) for the big adventure.
Talking about camp and all the activities and new friends keeps your child’s thoughts positive and forward-looking. Share your own childhood stories of summer camp and encourage family members to do the same as you keep warm by the winter fire. This is also the perfect time to settle in with an appropriate book or a movie about summer camp fun.
If you know children who have already been away to camp, it might benefit your child to speak with someone close in age. What better time than winter break when everyone’s on vacation?
Tipograph also recommends purchasing some camp merchandise for your child to wear or display in her bedroom. It really helps kids feel comfortable and embrace the idea of camp.
Camp gear cheaper at post-holiday sales
Now that you’ve filled those stockings by the chimney, why not stuff the summer camp duffel bag too? Those post-Christmas deals make this the perfect time to find summer essentials.
Choose an hour during winter break to take a quick inventory based on last year’s camp list or use the one provided by the camp. Even if you haven’t chosen your camp yet, you’ll find helpful lists on camps’ websites.
Just remember that gear wears out quickly and kids grow at light-speed, so double check that duffel’s durability, the sleeping bag’s length, and the size of sports equipment. These items are definite contenders for clearance sales. Pick up those toiletries and stationary while you’re out too. Zip everything into the duffel, and pack it away as a holiday gift to open in June!
Undoubtedly this winter break will rush by as quickly as the best intentions, but even a little progress on the summer camp process will pay off six months down the road. If nothing else, thoughts of warm weather, friendship bracelets, and horseback riding will whisk winter blues away. Enjoy happy holidays and happy camping!
Lori Zanteson is a Southern California-based writer and mother of three who specializes in health, food, and fitness for families. Read more about Lori at lorizanteson.com.