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Navigating summer camp sign-up, schedules

Sunday - 3/9/2014, 8:35pm  ET

SummerCamp.JPG
While this winter's snow days have added some extra days to school calendars, kids will be running amok, shouting, 'No more pencils, no more books…' before you know it. So it's time to get started. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON -- Summer camp is all fun and games for the kids who get to attend, but planning for camp can be a real headache for parents - especially working parents who use camp as an answer to child care woes during the summer months.

What makes planning for "camp season" so stressful?

For starters, the sheer cost of camps - both overnight and day. The average ranges from $200 to $500 a week for day camps. Overnight camps can be in the thousands.

The second obstacle is timing. Many camps don't last all day, and a 3 p.m. release is a nightmare for parents who work 9 to 5.

Another complication many parents experience is finding camp schedules that line up to fill all 10 weeks of summer vacation - some last two weeks; some are only be offered on certain dates and some might run mid-week, say, Wednesday to Wednesday.

And while this winter's snow days have added some extra days to school calendars, the kids will be running amok, shouting, "No more pencils, no more books…" before you know it. So it's time to get started.

Sandy Garrity is a Charles County, Md., mother of two. Since both she and her husband work full-time, Garrity has mastered summer camp mayhem. She has some tips when it comes to tackling the camp mailers and registration websites - and her first tip is to start now.

"After St. Patrick's Day is when I really like to have my whole summer planned out," Garrity says. "Some [camps], the availability starts in January, some starts in February, some don't start until March, so you have to sort of be on the ball in order to catch the camps you want your child to be in. And if you don't, you're out of luck."

When it comes to picking the right camp for your children, Garrity says to pay attention to their interests. There are camps for a number of things, such as swimming, horseback riding, hockey and technology.

The National Zoo has camps her children enjoy, and Garrity says area parks and recreations departments are a great resource for active camps.

To navigate the awkward late drop-off or early-release camps, Garrity says, in the planning phases, to find a friend whose child is going to the same camp.

"And split the commute. One family does the morning, one does the afternoon, or whatever is for convenient," says Garrity, who has a 10-year-old and a 7-year-old.

There are also some ways to save money on camps. For starters, many offer a discount when you sign up multiple campers or register for multiple weeks.

"And at some of the other camps, there are no kickbacks. You're just paying full price and really hoping your child enjoys their week at that expensive camp."

Garrity, who signs her kids up for four or five camps a summer, says she could get some sort of at-home child care for her children, but says camp really exposes them to fun and engaging activities that they wouldn't be able to do at home.

"You're going to find out really quickly when your child comes home from camp: If they're tired and happy, it's been a good day," she says.

Looking for summer camps for your child? This month's issue of Washington Parent Magazine has compiled an extensive list.

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