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Here's how parents can be happy campers

Sending your child off to summer camp can be an easy choice, but picking the right one? Much tougher.

There are more than 2,400 camps nationwide, with weekly fees ranging from under $100 to more than $1,500, depending on the kind of camp (day or overnight) and its programs, according to the American Camp Association. "There's a lot of diversification within the camp community," said chief executive officer Peg Smith. "We're constantly trying to keep track of the trends."

Don't choose by the cost alone, said Chris Thurber, founder of CampSpirit.com. "Camp is very much a situation where price does not necessarily correlate with quality," he said. "It behooves parents to do some research on the camps they're interested in."

Consider which have activities your child might enjoy. (See charts below for some of the most popular at day and overnight camps—and how easy they are to find.) Then talk to the camp for a sense of daily routines and structure to see if it's a good match for your child's personality and age. Picking the wrong camp in those regards can be an expensive mistake, if it means your child is miserable, he said.

Popular overnight camp activities

Program/Activity
Camps say it's popular
Camps offering it
Recreational swimming 31% 89%
Archery 24% 80%
Challenge/ropes course 22% 67%
Arts/crafts 18% 93%
Canoeing 10% 77%
Sailing 9% 38%
Waterskiing 8% 23%
Music 5% 53%
Wilderness trips 5% 29%
Religious study 2% 18%
STEM 1% 18%
SOURCE: ©2014 American Camp Association

Popular day camp activities

Program/Activity
Camps say it's popular
Camps offering it
Recreational swimming 46% 73%
Arts/crafts 30% 92%
Archery 17% 45%
Challenge/ropes course 13% 33%
STEM 6% 31%
Canoeing 5% 31%
Theater/drama 4% 48%
Dance 3% 50%
Computers/technology 3% 20%
SOURCE: ©2014 American Camp Association

OK, but what if the perfect camp has a less-than-perfect price? Experts say there are numerous ways to cut the cost. (Watch the video above for some of the most effective.)

One of the most effective tactics is to approach the camp directly. Camps give out more than $216 million in "camperships" and other kinds of aid, said Smith. "You always want to ask if they have special discounts," she said.

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