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May 18, 2009
Financial aid, creativity can help parents afford summer camp

Hello muddah, hello faddah, yes, you can send kids to Camp Grenada.

And, there are ways to avoid blowing through your savings when you do it. The American Camp Association Northern California offers these tips for funding summer camp:

• Research the options. With more than 12,000 day and resident camps throughout the country, there likely is one that might fit the budget. Go to the ACA Northern California's Web site for a listing of camps or camp fairs.

• Register early. Many camps offer discounts for people who commit early, but be sure to ask about the camp's refund policy.

• Consider day camp. These types of camps tend to cost less than resident camps.

• Shorten the visit. Although camp programs run between a few days and 10 weeks, children generally benefit from camp despite the length of their stay.

• Ask for help. Camps give away more than $39 million in scholarships each year, and 90 percent of camps offer some form of financial aid. Non-profit camps may reduce or waive fees for families who can't afford to pay and some churches and social service groups offer low-cost or free options. Ask about an installment plan, discounts for siblings or referral fees when friends you recruit send their children.

• Get creative. Ask relatives to help pay for camp as a birthday gift or see if the camp needs parent volunteers.

• The cost of day camp may count as an expense toward child and dependent care, according to the IRS. Employees with flexible spending accounts also may be able to use money set aside to cover child care costs, which would include day camps.

Summer camp is important for children by helping them gain independence, social skills, responsibility and resilience, said Andrew Townsend, past president of the ACA Northern California and camps director for Kennolyn Camps in Soquel.

"A short period unplugging from daily life and reconnecting with an outdoor lifestyle is very important for kids today," Townsend wrote in an e-mail to the Bee.

It also benefits parents in several ways, including exposing their children to new interests and helping the child realize they can survive without a computer or iPod.

"Parents also get a chance to reconnect at home while knowing their child is away having fun and growing up," he said.

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