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Find the Best Summer Child Care

counselors and kids at summer camp

Summer is just around the corner and if you’re a parent that means that you are preparing to take on your summer job as chauffeur, event planner and all-around logistics-wrangler for your kids.

If yours is one of the 21 million families in the United States where both parents work outside the home, you are also faced with the challenge of finding affordable child care during work hours.

Planning ahead can help you reduce costs or at least budget wisely. There are a variety of options for summer child care, and many families mix and match more than one strategy. Here are some common options:

Summer Camps

Summer camps for children and teens offer a wide variety of activities from sports and arts to learning about the great outdoors.

In addition to traditional overnight camps, there are a variety of day camps which may last a couple of days or a couple of months. Costs vary depending on the level of services and activities provided. Check with local recreation centers and nonprofits for affordable summer programs.

Savings Tip: Many camps offer discounts for early registration, multiple enrollments from one family, or partial scholarships and financial assistance. Your local 2-1-1 call center may be able to help you find an affordable option in your area.

Choosing an appropriate summer camp can be overwhelming. To narrow down the choices, consider:

  • Budget
  • Day camp vs. sleep-away camp
  • Location
  • Drop-off and pickup times
  • Camp length
  • General vs. specialty camp
  • Coed vs. girls’ or boys’ camps
  • Structured activities vs. free time
  • Camp size

School-based Programs

Some public schools have child care options over the summer break. These programs can range from summer school to fun day trips in the community. Cost and availability vary depending upon the individual school or school district.

Savings Tip: If your school does not host a summer program, or has a program that does not match your child’s needs, check availability with other local public schools. If your child has special needs, a summer program may be included at no cost in his or her Individual Education Plan (IEP).


If you’re unsure how to find a sitter, do an Internet search for babysitter matching services in your area. Many of these sites save you the hassle of background checks and give you options if a sitter turns out not to be a good fit.

Hourly babysitting rates vary. You could pay less than $10 an hour for a sitter, but more experienced sitters charge more.

Savings Tip: Don’t overlook close friends and family members as potential summer babysitters. High school and college students are potential candidates, as are teachers who are off for the summer break.

Play Groups

Take turns with other families hosting play groups at each other’s homes or at neighborhood parks. The children stay close to home and expenses stay low.

Savings Tip: Every little bit helps. Participating in a play group once a week can trim your weekly child care expenses by 20 percent.

Child Care Centers

Full-time care at a child care center easily can cost several hundred dollars per month, but there are a variety of services available, and if you are willing to do your research, it is possible to find a deal. Just be sure to budget appropriately to make sure you can afford it.

Savings Tip: Ask about half-day schedules, discounts for enrolling more than one child, and child care assistance from your employer. Nonprofit child care centers may offer lower-cost options.


When you hire a nanny, you can specify a summer program tailored to your child’s individual needs including what they like to eat, the activities they prefer, and the school subjects they need extra work on. But you’ll pay for all that customized child care. A nanny may charge several hundred dollars per week for his or her services. And a whole summer could cost you several thousand dollars.

Hiring a nanny entails additional costs because he or she is considered your employee, which obligates you to pay Social Security taxes. Some states also require you to pay unemployment taxes.

Savings Tip: Look into “nanny share” programs that allow you to split the cost with other parents.

If your child is a qualified dependent, you may be able to use pre-tax dollars from a dependent care flexible spending account to pay for child care. You may also be able to claim the child and dependent care tax credit for your summer child care expenses.

Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by National Endowment for Financial Education.