Originally published in the Calgary Herald

Registration has started for summer day camps in Calgary, but for some families, the cost is too steep to register all their children in the courses they want. So let’s talk about the subsidies available, how the fitness tax credit can help, how to find inexpensive camps, and ideas for planning doit-yourself day camps.

The City of Calgary offers hundreds of day camps at various locations, and fee assistance is available for Calgary residents in financial need.

If your family qualifies for fee assistance, children 17 and under may take up to four programs during a 12-month period. You pay 10 per cent of the registration fee (up to $100 per course).

Nadina Kaminer of the YMCA says that YMCA Calgary wants everyone to have the opportunity to take part in its programs.

“Financial assistance is available through the YMCA Strong Kids Campaign, which raises much needed financial support for children, teens and families who are unable to afford the full cost of participation in a YMCA program or activity,” says Kaminer.

“This includes the cost of all our camps, which include branch day camps, Camp Riveredge and our residential camp, Camp Chief Hector YMCA, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.”

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary offers summer day camps and sleep-away camp adventures, also heavily subsidized.

Whether the fee is subsidized or not, you can claim the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit at the end of the year. This allows a nonrefundable tax credit up to $500 per year for eligible fitness expenses paid for each child under 16.

An eligible fitness expense must be for the cost of registration or membership of a child in a physical activity program. Check with the day camp organizer to ensure the program is eligible for the credit, and they will determine the part of the fee that qualifies for the tax credit. You must request a receipt for tax purposes.

If you’re not eligible for financial assistance but still on a budget, the city also offers free Park ‘n’ Play and Stay ‘n’ Play sessions across all quadrants in city parks, depending on the weather. Call 311 for more details.

Some parents create their own day camp adventures, either because of budget or because their children are too young for traditional day camps. When Nichole Menard’s boys were aged two and four, she was involved with a group of moms who took turns.

“If you were the host you planned the morning and assigned tasks to the other moms,” explains Menard.

“We did crafts, games, snacks and free play.”

Menard has a background in teaching, but she says all the moms had one thing in common: “We were stay-athome moms who wanted to provide our children with rich educational, play experiences and supervised social time.”