It's spring break next week for Hillsborough County students but it's time for parents to think summer break.
The best camps are filling up. The last day of school is June 4. Some camps start the next day.
Cecilia Hart has already booked 15 camps for her three children, ages 12, 10 and 8. Each gets a summerlong $1,500 budget, from which Hart patchworks a variety of low-cost to extravagant camps. She has a file of camp brochures and details "this thick," she says, holding her fingers several inches apart.
"A good South Tampa mom would have the summer booked by April 15," said Hart, an accountant who works from home.
Hart pays for camps with her flexible spending account. She's on top of deadlines and discounts. She gets her kids into city-operated Friendship Park, in about a five-hour window before it closes.
Hart's daughter loves Young Life, a Christian-based program for middle grades. Her son jams out at the Patel Conservatory.
Parents who search early will find dozens of options for kids from preschool to high school, including arts, sports and nature camps. The best bargains are offered by the city and county, with specialized programs at churches and private schools as well.
Popular specialty camps include the Curtain Call Performing Arts Theater in Carrollwood, where Susan Snedeker-Meier of Town 'N Country sent her 13 year-old daughter last summer.
"She has gained enormous self-confidence," Snedeker-Meier said.
So did the children of Marilyn Moss, ages 8 and 10. "They feel really great about what they've done," the Westchase mom said.
If you're looking for specialty camps, the Internet is your best friend.
For bargains, look to the city and county parks departments. But be warned: Those programs fill up early, and it helps to have your child already enrolled in an after-school program at the site.
Families who appreciate a little religion along with recreation will find both at area churches, which run vacation Bible schools.
Your search begins with our sampler on Page 7.
Staff writers Arleen Spenceley and Jan Wesner contributed to this report.