(I love alliteration.)
You may have noticed that my posting schedule has slowed down recently. Some of it is due to vacations. We’ve had two in the last two months. Some of it is due to the vast number of dogs we are sitting lately. However, this week it’s something new, a grueling summer camp schedule. (Me, my wife, and a kid all have colds too, but I wanted to focus more on the summer camp.)
Warning: This is a rant. I understand it may be off-putting to complain about child care when so many people have had little or none for over a year now. I ask that you read it through and think about the overall value. Then I think you’ll be able to see the conundrum.
Here’s what my day with the kids’ summer camp looks like:
8:15 – Leave the house to bring Kid 1 to camp by 8:30
8:42 – Return home to pick up Kid 2
8:47 – Leave with Kid 2 to bring him to the SAME CAMP
9:15 – Return home to start the day
During this time, I’m feeding dogs we are boarding, shopping, doing laundry, cooking, dishes, some light cleaning, clearing out emails, and miscellaneous stuff like a dog doctor appointment and a dentist appointment. I guess you’d say that typical errands you might do. Then:
1:15 – Leave to pick up Kid 1
1:45 – Return home
1:45-2:30 – Free time (45 minutes)
2:30 – Leave to pick up Kid 2.
3:00 – Arrive home with Kid 2.
It’s two hours of driving to accommodate the camp’s staggered drop-offs. They are doing that for COVID, but we are talking about kids, outside, wearing masks, in a highly vaccinated state (RI)… and in this case in the same family. I’m all for COVID precautions, but even the most stringent CDC guidelines would be against that.
That 9:15 to 1:15 block is four hours of productive kid-free time. We pay extra for “full-day” care or those end times would be even sooner (12:30 and 1 PM).
We had no way of knowing the full schedule of things when we signed up. The logistics of the staggered drop-offs were a surprise to us until before camp (too late for refunds). The camp offered us the ability to drop the kids off at 9:00 and pick them up at 1:30, but that’s still the same 4 hours of productive kid-free time. That “solution” saves driving, but it also means less camp for each kid or wasting the money we paid to extend the day for the second kid.
The price of the summer camp for the two kids (combined) is around $750 a week. That’s roughly $3,375 a month as the average month is 4.5 weeks. Or if you want to put in yearly terms, that $750 a week is $39,000 a year (750 * 52). That’s after-tax money, so it can be seen as requiring around a 50k salary for these 4 hours of productivity (or 4.5 hours of the time they would be in care – it would be unfair for me to hold the driving time against them if it was a standard drop-off).
So I think I’ve set the scene accurately with this camp… except for one thing… these are specialty camps within a camp.
One of them is a Snapology franchise, which is a robotics class using Lego WeDo. They build the Lego bricks and code how they work in small teams of 3 people. I’m a little jealous that I couldn’t be a part to be honest. My 8-year-old loves it! Every day he has a billion things to say about how great it is.
My 7-year-old is doing and art specialty. It’s not a fancy franchise, but it is the one that runs longer in the day time and is a little cheaper. The art camp seems to cover several different classical techniques from Monet to Van Gogh to Jackson Pollack. I’m not sure my 7-year-old is going to become an art history major based on this one-week class, but exposure to all these types of art is great for him. The only downside is that he caught our bug and missed a day – $75 down the tubes I guess. He isn’t as enthusiastic about loving it as his brother, but that’s not really his personality. He made it clear it was awesome.
I think you get the point, this camp is very inconvenient (for me), expensive, but the kids love it. There are other camps like this in the area. It’s a picture of privilege as you might in Newport, Rhode Island. We have the Tennis Hall of Fame and they have a camp. It runs for about 3 hours and it’s expensive. It wasn’t running this year due to COVID, so I can’t compare the numbers. Sailing goes for only 2.5 hours, but is only $170 for the week. We tried to get in that, but maybe it’s for the best we didn’t make the deadline. It’s a longer drive (30 minutes each way), so I’d be tempted to stay there and try to work off a mobile hot spot.
If I haven’t already lost you, none of this is where I wanted or expected us to be. All the above camps are a lot different than what I had growing up. I think my mother said she sent me to camp for about $25 a week. I built zero robots, but it was fine. Fine in the sense that it built character. The swimming lessons were at 9AM and the pool was ice cold. You could opt-out, but that meant missing free swim when it was 3 PM and a day in the sun has worn you out. They had arts and crafts and sports, which were (again) fine. We went on long hikes which were not fun, except for the destination, which was usually a great view or a dinosaur rock.
The Traditonal Camp
The equivalent to that near us is the local YMCA. They offer around 3-4 different types of camps with prices around $225 a week (give or take $20 depending on the camp). They have a gymnastics camp, a ninja camp (which seems to be boys gymnastics), sports, traditional, etc. For both kids combined it would be $450 a week or possibly a little less as members get a discount. (We found that membership in the past was worth it just for the camp discount.) The hours are 8 AM to 5 PM (but camp starts at 9 AM and ends at 4 PM). With this camp, I can get close to 8 hours of work in. There’s no staggered drop-offs that make our current camp difficult.
To put the math in perspective, here are the costs of the two camps per hour.
Current/Specialty: $750 for 45 hours (4.5 day * 5 days * 2 kids) = $16.66 per kid hour
YMCA: $450 for 75 hours (7.5 day * 5 days * 2 kids) = $6 per kid hour
It seems like our current camp costs more than 2.5x more than the YMCA camp. Building robots and specialty art is expensive.
This is a financial blog, so I have to crunch those numbers. What’s more difficult is to quantify the kids’ enjoyment of the camp. There is no excitement about the day at YMCA camp. It’s often a coin flip between fine and bad. They both complain that YMCA yells at them. The “swim” is more of a slip-and-slide than a pool. The quality of camp seems objectively very, very different.
I’m not sure if a middle ground exists. I’ve researched camps extensively a couple of years ago, but COVID closed everything but YMCA last year. (YMCA had no COVID cases all summer.) My research was mostly focused on what the kids were interested in. I eliminated the tennis camp very early because 3 hours was ridiculously too little. I was interested in the sailing camp, but they were too young at the time, so it was easy to dismiss.
So that’s the conundrum. I could also keep the kids at home, which comes at costs zero dollars. There is an opportunity cost though. With the kids at home, I don’t have much time to work. I know the kids wouldn’t mind this, but it’s also not the best thing for them.
Next spring I will look at camps more discerningly, but it might be a mix of all three: specialty, YMCA, and camp.
What do you think? Do you have kids and send them to camp? Is this conundrum (outside of the Newport stuff of sailing) something that you experience or is it just me?
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