Kids may well count the days until summer vacation, but their parents are dreading it.

That's because when school's out, camps are in. And we've got to find a way to pay for it somehow.

Time was, summer meant three months of running free, finding ways to kill hot summer afternoons at the community pool or with friends or in your backyard campsite. Those days are over.

Now the culture dictates that kids have to be stimulated 24/7. The kids expect to be entertained, and the grown-ups need for them to be elsewhere while they work. The result: Summer camp. Science camp, art camp, ocean adventures camp, cooking camp, horse camp, Spanish camp, overnight camp...etc. etc. ad nauseum.

The folks who run these summer camps know they've got us over a barrel. The costs of camps range from the painful to the improbable. The cost of one week of Lego camp at a community center near me is $170 a week. Times two (for both kids). And there's a $75 registration fee. That's $415 for one week of activity that will keep the little nits out of my hair for three hours a day while I work.

I'd better be productive then. By my estimation, there are 11 weeks to fill.

According to the L.A. Times, more parents are putting off signing up for summer camps (March and April is when you typically have to sign up your charges, lest the camps fill up without you). And more of them are requesting financial aid in order to do so.

This doesn't surprise me at all. Camps are a huge financial burden for middle-class parents. Lower-cost options like Girl Scout/Boy Scout camps and YMCA camps fill up the quickest. The costs just go up from there.

Allow me to make a modest proposal. What happens if we all agree that this has to stop? Keep kids home from camp in lieu of a good old fashioned, boring summer experience. Get a neighborhood group together and establish a sort of summer co-op, by which the parents who are at home supervise the kids (kids in a group of friends will play for hours without bothering you, it's been established.). Let them run free, play ball, swim in the pool, bury each other at the beach. Working parents can offer their services one evening a week or on the weekends.

I know, I know. This is how it *used* to work, back when kids had nothing else to do in the summer but be kids and ride their bikes through the neighborhood all day. And smaller children require more supervision than grade school kids. Still, the idea of a long, hot, boring summer is an idea whose time has come around again. Why can't it happen?

Maybe not so easy. But much easier on the pocketbook.

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