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The kids are going back to school, pumpkin spice is hitting the shelves, and the days are getting shorter. So maybe now is the time to think about summer camps.

Millions of kids go to them annually—in fact, the American Camp Association estimates that approximately 14 million children attend camp in the United States—to roughly 12,000 camps. But why now? Take for instance the offerings from the Smithsonian Institution, which offers an extensive program of summer camp activities for children and teens.

The Smithsonian Institution opens registration for its summer camps in February. That’s right—months before these camps begin, they are open to enroll… and popular camps can open and close in the virtual blink of an eye.

If you’re in one of the places where getting into camp is a competitive sport, it pays to know about these deadlines and make plans well in advance. For that reason:

  • Do your homework. What camp or camps does your child want to attend? Are these affordable and can you take your child to and from them every day? When is registration open?
  • Attend an open house event where diverse camps will present their programs. These can be invaluable in deciding the best fit for your child. Local parent groups will likely announce when these are being held, often as early as January.
  • If your child attends an afterschool program, find out what summer camps they offer. You have probably done this already, but it’s worth exploring your school’s aftercare, because many offer options for summertime.
  • Be realistic. It’s not easy to deal with the effort of getting your child ready every morning, out the door and off to camp. It can sometimes feel even harder than school. But if the program is worth it, you’ll both benefit. And even activities that only take a week or a few days can be invaluable; check out the options available at the Department of Energy National Laboratories!

Even though the weather is going to turn cool soon and we’re coming to the last few pages of the desk calendar, now is a good time to start thinking about next summer—because it’s always here before you know it.