Guide to Affordable Summer Daycare

From yard-hopping in bathing suits to the ever-iconic Kum Ba Ya campfire evenings, some of childhood’s best memories happen during summertime’s delights. Summer is truly a time for kids to be kids. Free from strict routines and schedules, kids get a much-needed break from structured lessons. Instead, they learn important life lessons through play and social romping.

For many working parents, summer also poses childcare challenges. And for the guilt-prone working parent, summer is perhaps the most difficult time as the internal desire to play with kids and soak up summer conflicts with career demands.

Fortunately, there are many options for fun—and affordable—summer childcare, and most cost far less than preschool tuition.

As our work-life balance continues to evolve and parents opt for careers that embrace family life and flexibility, childcare options are becoming more and more focused and specific, keeping kids busy instead of turning them towards the television or locking them in a daycare room while the kids in the neighborhood run through the sprinklers.


The YMCA offers fantastic opportunities and outdoor fun. The YMCA of San Diego County, for example, offers summer day camps at 18 different locations. Summer camp at “the Y” is not a daycare file box that one might imagine. Instead, kids get to participate in summer field trips like swimming, beach days, hikes, and archery trips.

The Seattle area’s YMCA branch offers different outdoor day camp and discovery day camp options for preschoolers to grade six. The outdoor program touts, “Our days are jam-packed with activities that develop outdoor living skills and comfort in exploring nature in the Pacific Northwest.”

Their camps have a different weekly focus with scheduled trips to different locations so that parents can choose weeks based on their childcare needs and their kids’ own interests. Weekly fees range from $180 to $265, depending on the subject and the child’s age. Spending a week searching for booty at Pirate’s Cove sounds like a great way to foster exploration during summer break.

The YMCA in Highland Village, a suburb of Dallas, offers a summer day camp on the shores of Lake Lewisville: the Camp on the Lake. Kids not only get to take advantage of all that the lake has to offer but also can enjoy activities like archery and horseback riding, “activities that are usually exclusive to sleep-away camps.” Spending an entire summer at a storied “summer camp” will surely breed memories worthy of a contented childhood. Parents enjoy the convenience of dropping off their kids at a number of local YMCA branches where kids are then bussed each day to the lake site.

Check the local YMCA branch’s website to take advantage of nearby programs and search for locations.

Weekly Community Programs

The flexibility of weekly sign-ups during the summertime allows working parents to pay for the childcare that they actually need without feeling like they will waste money on absentee days when choosing to take time off themselves to soak up summer rays and play.

Savvy schedulers can fill their kids’ summer calendars with different weekly programs for a variety of summer fun, provided that on-the-ball parents make registration deadlines and are able to figure out their families’ summer calendars as early as April. Taking advantage of an assortment of programs week-by-week is a great way to keep kids energized and engaged all summer long.

Many communities and cities sponsor weekly adventure camps for kids during the summer. Summerlin, a large master-planned community within the city of Las Vegas, sponsors weekly summer camps for kids with themes like robotics, sports and fitness, and even an entire week of Lego™ building. Tuition is $250 per week, and many camps are located in local parks with swimming pools where kids get a chance to cool off in between focused activities. Camp starts at 8:00 and runs all the way until 5:00, so working parents get full days without having to worry about mid-day pick-ups.

Many beach cities offer junior lifeguard programs where kids get supervised sand time while learning important water safety skills. Emphasizing physical fitness and teamwork, kids build swimming strength while shaping their social skills.

Huntington Beach in Southern California offers junior guard camps for students ages nine to 17, but the city of Kure Beach in North Carolina allows kids as young as seven to participate in weeklong junior guard camps. For those lucky enough to live in coastal areas, adjacent cities often allow younger kiddos to take advantage of these active water programs. Only a 30-minute drive from Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach welcomes eight-year-olds to their program.

For younger beach-lovers, the city of Huntington Beach’s Sand Crab program offers kids ages 6 to 8 some much-needed beach play time. Little ones are even introduced to lifesaving techniques and first aid. Sponsored by the city, the cost is only $150.

Private Camp Options

Often overlooked, private schools offer summer daycare options that are open to the public. Tuition rates are surprisingly affordable as the programs typically focus on fun and activity as opposed to the rigors of the school year. Many camps allow parents to choose the weeks that their children will attend, only paying for the time they intend kids to go.

Merryhill School, a national private school chain, offers summer camps for preschoolers through age 14, depending on the location and the program.

Typically untapped by the middle-classers, private clubs offer quality, active summer camps for kids, and many are open to the public. Newport Beach’s Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club in Southern California has quite the buffet of summer camp activities. In addition to camp options, kids can enroll as junior members for only $49 per month and gain full club access even when the camp session is over.

All-day summer camp sessions include a variety of programs for ages five to teens. Six weeks of tuition is about $1,300, and that includes lunch—less than what many parents pay for preschool. Campers are grouped with other kids their age to enjoy sailing, techniques like knot-tying, and even racing. The Starfish program for littles ages five to seven includes swim lessons.

Similarly, country clubs offer outdoor golf camp options to non-members. Many are run by private instructors, so check out local clubs for info and contacts. South Carolina-based Scott’s World of Golf offers full- and half-day summer golf camps in the Charleston area for kids as young as four. The first week of camp is $269, but subsequent weeks are discounted all the way to $175 for a fourth week, making it a great option to keep kids having fun while honing some chic skills.

Progressive gyms are starting to attract families with curriculum-based classes far beyond the typical two-hour drop-off daycare facilities of yesterday. Life Time Athletic, a national fitness chain, has drop-in classes for kids, ages three to 11 with topics like Zumba Kids, gymnastics, language, and music. Savvy parents can take advantage of class time to catch up on emails after they sweat. For longer summer days, the Life Time Kids program offers summer camps with weekly educational topics like nutrition, physical activity, and even S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math).

Childcare Sharing

The concept of coworking is quickly gaining popularity as more and more employees choose careers that allow them to work from home. For parents who work from home, finding distraction-free focused time with children at home is nearly impossible.

Coworking facilities that offer onsite childcare while parents work are still in their fledgling stages. San Francisco-based NextKids sadly closed its doors in 2016 due to lack of revenue and difficulty with lease restrictions. However, there is expected to be a resurgence of coworking sites with childcare as the trend towards telecommuting continues to grow.

As a cure for summertime childcare challenges, work-from-home parents can form their own coworking groups using local social media sites like Nextdoor, Facebook, and Meetup. Borrowing from the concept of coworking, parents can choose to meet together in an agreed-upon location—even the park—to work while their kids enjoy playtime together. Several kids in a group keep one another busy and may require less individual attention from parents, so this free option allows parents to get some work done while still being present.

If children require a bit more “watching,” parents can choose to take turns as the primary care provider, perhaps switching every thirty minutes. I knew one group that passed a bracelet around amongst one another, and whoever was wearing the bracelet was responsible at that time, giving other parents focused time.

If forming a coworking group isn’t an option, having a shared nanny in the neighborhood is a great way to keep kids social and active during the summer. Parents can connect with other working parents to form nanny-share groups that will allow kids to splash in backyard blow-up pools and strategize on water balloon fights with other neighborhood pals. The energy of summer is felt as scooters and basketballs litter front yard lawns. But someone besides Mom and Dad is responsible for keeping tabs.

Tips for a Successful Summer Camp Experience

Plan Ahead: Registration for many weekly camps starts as early as March, so keep track of important early registration dates and deadlines.

Register in Person: When possible, plan to register onsite as many city servers go down on the day of registration, making online sign-ups frustrating. The more affordable or sponsored camps fill up quickly, so register as soon as possible.

Keep a Calendar: Scheduling various camps week-by-week—though it may sound tedious—will keep kids engaged all summer and parents can rest at ease knowing that their kids are busy with focused activities that they enjoy.

Encourage Early Swimmers: Many water-focused camps require kids to be water-safe before enrolling, some mandating a swim test in the spring after registration. Many communities and cities offer affordable swim lessons as early as infanthood, so make sure kids are water safe as early as possible to make the most of summer water fun.

Melissa Hatch
Melissa Hatch

After earning her master’s in composition in Oklahoma City, Melissa Hatch moved to Honolulu, where she taught advanced writing courses for Hawaii Pacific University and Honolulu Community College. Later focusing on online education, Melissa has taught online writing and research courses for community colleges as well as four-year universities. After a long stay in Hawaii, Melissa moved to Las Vegas and built a thriving real estate business, where she now resides with her family.

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