Updated on 08.15.07

Summer Camp In The Neighborhood: How To Get A Collective Of Parents Together To Save A Ton Of Money On Daycare During The Summer

Trent Hamm

A while back, I made an offhand reference to a neighborhood summer camp:

All of the children three and over are attending a rotating day camp at the different houses of their parents. Each week, one set of parents uses a week of vacation, hosts the camp at their house, and watches all of the kids while finding fun activities for them. If daycare costs $100 a week per child that you have and you have two children, this can save $2,600 over a thirteen week summer.

If you happen to live in a suburban area with a lot of families with children nearby, this type of arrangement can save all of the families involved a mint.

I asked one of the people involved with this a few questions about it. Here’s how it works.

Fourteen families on the block with children ages three to twelve agreed to have a “summer camp.” Each week, the parents in one of the families would take a week’s vacation to run the summer camp. For those five weekdays, that family would “host” the summer camp – they would watch all of the children, provide meals for them, and come up with numerous activities to fill their days.

Isn’t that a lot of kids for one couple? There were also three older girls on the block, ages fourteen to seventeen, who were hired to help manage all of the kids. For the week, the parent in charge of the camp paid those three girls about $150-200 each (I don’t recall the exact amount) in cash. This turned out to be a lucrative summer for the girls, as they raked in north of $2,000 in cash each.

What about safety? Obviously, with lots of kids, there are going to occasionally be bumps and scrapes. They all signed a legal agreement (drawn up by one of the members who was a lawyer) where all of the families involved basically agreed not to sue and trusted the others to take care of their children. I would imagine that something like this could easily be drawn up, basically entrusting the family watching your child as being a babysitter with very limited liability. This does require some trust of the neighbor, which is why this works in a suburban neighborhood with children all roughly the same age that already play together – the parents already know each other.

What did they do? Basically everything you can imagine. There were lemonade stands, slip and slides across the front yard, giant cardboard castles, countless games of hide and seek and red rover, and so on. They made many batches of cookies and brownies. They made Father’s Day gifts one week where they actually made clocks that incorporated pictures of themselves and their dads on the clock faces (painted and decorated, of course). They planned and hosted a Fourth of July party in the park for all of the parents where the kids set everything up, served hot dogs and beverages, and cleaned up everything. They had tournaments for every game you could imagine throughout the summer with a “point” system so that a “king/queen of the neighborhood” could be crowned (this really got some of the older kids involved). One week, they planned a parade, made “floats” for it out of various materials and wagons, and had a parade on Saturday afternoon right down the main street of the neighborhood. There was a “Christmas in July” where they decorated a Christmas tree and had a big gift exchange (bring two gifts under $5 each, each child gets two gifts at random).

How did they plan? There were apparently several meetings in the weeks leading up to summer vacation to get these ideas in order and make sure there were no allergy issues and nothing that would bother particular parents.

How much did it save? The person I talked to estimated that their week cost them about $700, but they were paying about $300 a week for daycare for their two kids combined, so over the fourteen weeks of summer, they saved about $3,500. That’s a lot of savings, even if it means one exhausting week.

If you live in an area with a lot of children of appropriate age (between three and twelve, let’s say) and you know and trust many of the families, this sort of “summer camp” can save a lot of money for everyone in the neighborhood.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. GeekMan says:

    Interesting idea, at least for people who live in more suburban or rural areas. However, I’d like to know how the parents feel about “losing” a week of vacation/rest by having to take care of many children during their time off. If your job only allows for two weeks of vacation a year then you’re suddenly “losing” half your work-free-yet-fully-paid-for time. I’m sure most parents able to participate in this summer camp feel it’s worth it, and I think it’s great, but I do wonder how they might feel should they later suddenly find themselves in need of paid vacation time to take care of emergencies?

  2. guinness416 says:

    I think this is a fantastic idea, but I would be concerned about passive aggressive games that often exist on suburban streets.

    If next year one parent/s want to go to France for three weeks does the whole scheme fall apart and do the rest of the parents end up resentful? Do all the parents on the block feel pressured to participate? Is there a healthy mix of two-earner families? The other risk is that the parent/s compare food served, activites etc and it becomes a contest.

  3. Erica says:

    I think that’s the point guinness, a suburban neighborhood putting all the competitive rubbish to one side to give the kids a summer to rememeber and save themselves a shedload in the process.

    It’s pessimistic to assume that it would become a competition.

  4. PF says:

    The fact that this neighborhood managed to pull it off is a remarkable achievement. I’m impressed. They should write a book or start a blog or something. Well done!

  5. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    From what I understand, there were about thirty families that wanted to participate, but they whittled it down to just fourteen based on a bunch of factors – available vacation time, no major conflicts, etc.

    Also, I don’t think that one family wanting to go on a trip for a week or two or three would disrupt this, provided that family also took their week off to manage things. It’s still a huge savings for them. I would guess that at least some of the families did just that.

  6. m360 says:

    It’s interesting that you mentioned a legal document. Having a disclaimer is essential if you are going to do something like this. It’s sad but we’ve become so sue happy, people are always looking to blame someone else for everything. I feel uncomfortable babysitting friends kids nowadays, like one of my friends complained that this girl didn’t change her son’s diaper in the 20 she was gone, saying ‘she put my kids life in danger’…Maybe there are more responsible parents in your community. I would be worried that some parents would be all for the idea of getting a week of free daycare but when it comes time to do their share they would make up excuses or make themselves unavailable. I think that it would be wise to charge each family something like $50 a week to prevent this or at least help to ease the blow if you have to cut your losses.

  7. Stu Mark says:

    This post on communal daycare was nominated for Hot Stuff Of The Week by our readers at GNMParents. Congrats, and good luck in the voting!

  8. kc says:

    While a week would be a little exhausting, that could probably be eased by having each parent take 2-3 days off. That way there’s still a responsible adult to supervise the teenagers that are babysitting.

    m360 made a good point about people backing out when it’s their week. Ideally, these would be people you know well and trust (after all, they’re watching your children!). However, if there’s already a “let’s not sue each other” legal document, I can see requiring a $50 deposit for each child, refundable as soon as you finish “your” week.

  9. Sandy says:

    While I never did this in our neighborhood, a group of friends got together with our about 3 year olds, and formed a cooperative preschool.
    We had 4 moms and 4 3 year olds, 3 of the moms had younger babes. So, while 2 moms were teaching, the other 2 babysat the younger ones.
    We met once per week for the school year. It’s really easy and cheap to do, once you make sure that everyone contributes $10 or so for basic supplies for the year. We learned our colors, learned songs, had outdoor play/explore time in all weather except bitter cold, read stories, and of course, snack time (the color of the food matched the color we learned about that day (strawberries for red, pea pods for green, etc…).
    My daughter loved it, and I reckon it saved us each over $500 in preschool costs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *