This week I send my daughter to camp. It is not our first year, in fact it is our fourth, and I love it. It has its drawbacks, I know, but we have found so many more advantages that I can put up with the hassle.
Summer camp has its cons:
- The hours are shorter, so it is always a challenge for John and I to rearrange our schedules to manage drop-off and pickup.
- You have to pack twice as much stuff, so the bag weighs a ton by the time you are done, and making sure she has everything can get tedious. (The silver lining is that now that she can read she can help more.)
- They have a lot of theme days and stuff with special requirements to keep track of. (Tuesday is super hero day, and Wednesday they go to the pool and Friday she needs to wear green; sometimes it can be overwhelming, especially if you have multiple kids.)
- Sometimes the counselors aren’t experienced enough to handle a strong child. We had one camp counselor explain why she had decided not to take the training wheels off at bike camp. I heard her voice and my daughters words. It wasn’t a big deal, but I thought it was funny that a 5-year-old had out negotiated a 21-year-old.
- For more check out this blog Why I Hate Summer Camp by Mommy A to Z.
My daughter has learned so much from summer camp:
She learned independence.
She learned so much independence that when it was time to start school she was fine. Kindergarten was no problem after the organized chaos that was camp. I will never forget her standing at the end of the walkway with her backpack, waiting for the bus; so excited, she would ask: “When is it coming? Is it coming soon?” She even forgot to say goodbye when the bus arrived; we had to run over and kiss and hug her on the bus stairs. And her excitement didn’t diminish all summer.
She learned to ride a bike
She learned to ride a bike without Mommy having a heart attack. I am still somewhat handicapped and cannot ride a bike, run or walk very fast. Helping my daughter learn to ride a bike was awful. My husband had to do all of it, but neither of us really knew how to teach it. She had no problem with speed, but control or stopping was a constant challenge. Every time she would drift into an intersection, I would freak. I debated putting her bike on a leash. Bike camp saved us. She listened to the counselors better, she was driven by what the older kids could do, and she loved the games that taught safety and rules of the road. We picked her up on the Friday together so she could ‘show off’ and she was so proud.
She learned to swim
Our daughter learned to love the water from us. She learned to play from us. But she learned to swim at camp. She once told me: “I’ll learn how to swim from the teachers mommy, you’re just fun.” I figured I could live with that. I would rather play with her than be serious anyway. We have to be serious too much already.
She developed confidence
Although we have signed our daughter up for a some specialty camps, others have been more general. She has been exposed to a number of activities that she might never have tried otherwise. They sing karaoke, practice archery, do rock climbing and pet rats, lizards and snakes. She has had so many different experiences that she enjoyed that she looks forward to new adventures, even when she is worried about them.
The parents benefit too
My favorite part is the mornings.
There is no pushing her to get ready. There is no fighting with her to get out the door. She is packed and ready and waiting. “Is it time to go? How much longer?” A nice change from our usual school morning routine. If I am really lucky, she is in a camp that buses and I can skip the extra commute. Even better, she is in a camp with a lunch program and busing – this is my nirvana.
My favorite part is coming home.
When she gets home, she is exhausted. She has been so busy and so active and outside most of the day; she comes home with just enough energy for a simple dinner and then into jammies. Sometimes we snuggle on the couch and watch a show because we are both so tired.
The challenge with school is the amount of ‘sit still’, ‘pay attention’ and ‘be quiet’; it may be necessary (although I am not convinced), but it is very stressful for kids. Mine comes home from school emotionally wiped out half the time, with stories of hitting and fighting and lost ‘stars’, on top of that, she has too much physical energy stored up, especially in inclement weather when after school care doesn’t go outside. At camp she comes home with stories of games and activities and all she wants to do is sit on my lap and snuggle and tell me about it.
My favorite part is bedtime.
Camp days are always a race against the clock. Get her home, fed, changed and into bed before she Hits The Wall. She has been so busy and is so tired that, if we don’t get her to bed on time, it is a disaster. But, this beats the school year nights. Our daughter has never slept well and often lays in bed at night complaining that she can’t sleep. Not so on camp nights, she barely drags herself into bed before she’s lights out. And sleeps, all the way to morning. I guess everything my mother said about fresh air was true.
How do you pick a summer camp?
1. Know your options.
- Ask around as much as possible. Every time I get the chance, I ask other parents and other kids where they go. One year a parent told me about a camp at the end of our street. I had no idea, I passed them on my way to work every day. Another mother from across town buses her kids to a camp we can walk to. So I ask everybody, and I ask them the pros and cons, because there is always both.
- Pick up brochures wherever you go. Our community center is great because a lot of the budget friendly camps that don’t have a big advertising budget leave postcards on a shelf of flyers on the bulletin boards; I grab one of everything to look at later. Also fairs and community events often have tables that have camp information. I have a folder in my kids binder full of activity and camp flyers and brochures to look at every January.
- Do an internet search. Sometimes if my daughter in interested in something I know nothing about, there is a camp for it. I find this can be a great opportunity to introduce her to something beyond my expertise, although I try not to overdo these. A kids gotta just play too.
2. Consider their age, interests and independence
- Kids are all different, so what works for mine doesn’t work for yours and so forth. You know your child, so take that into account. Just because Billy loved Camp X, doesn’t mean Jenny will. Some camps are outside all the time, and some kids hate it. We went to camp to pick our daughter up one day and only half of the kids were there, I asked why. Half of them had stayed home or gone home ‘sick’ because of the heat, but my daughter was running around laughing and complained about going home. Set your kid up for success.
- Play to their interests. Make sure that each camp has activities and elements that your child enjoys. All kids will put up with arts and crafts, if there is soccer after or vice-versa. Eight hours is a long time to be miserable.
- Make sure it is challenging, but not too challenging. I learned a huge lesson my daughter’s first year of camp. The first 6 weeks went great, but the last session wasn’t. I signed her up for a camp in the country on a farm, with a petting zoo and their own pool. her grandparents even pitched in to help pay for it, they thought it was so cool. My daughter didn’t enjoy it; by the middle of the week she didn’t want to go anymore. It was just too long a day. The 45 minute bus commute outweighed all the fun activities. And the action was just too much for a little girl; she would sleep all the home everyday and we would have to carry her off the bus every night.
3. Plan the summer as a whole
- Set a budget for camp for the summer, then start choosing camps to fit within it. I use our less expensive camps to offset a week or two of specialty camp. By leveraging our city camps and the local camps in the schools and parks, I have enough money to send her to a fancy specialty camp for a week or two.
- Try to break up the summer as well, so that it has a good flow. If they are doing a camp that is more intellectual, try to fit that between the more physical ones. Alternately, if they are into something very physically challenging, break it with a more general interest one the following week.
- Check your work schedule. If I am going send her to a camp with longer hours, I will do it in the week that looks more challenging at the office. It is sometimes hard to know that far in advance, but many industries follow patterns, so consider them as well. If you are in finance, month end is a great time to have your kid attend the camp with the after hours programs. If there is a week that is easy to work from home a couple of days because your peers are in the office, then that’s a great week for your kids to bus it.
- Use my Summer Camp Planning Calendar to get a develop a great schedule for your family.
4. Get in early
- I usually do this between New Years and March Break. I know it’s early, but I get discounts and they can be significant with some of the pricier camps. Also, the city camps where I live do their registration pretty early, and there is always a race to get in, so I like to be ready.
- Get on waiting lists. Even if you missed signing up and there is no room left, get on a waiting list. Parents change their plans, so it is always worthwhile to give it a shot.
- Coordinate with friends. If you can, this is a great time to organize with your friends, family and neighbors. Sign your kids up for the same camps and then take turns doing the drop off and pick ups so that you can get in a full day at the office. If you plan this well in advance, it takes the stress off.
- Write down what you booked. Put dates and times in your calendar. Record pertinent details of your bookings – Day Camp Information Sheet, otherwise you will never remember any of it by summer.
How do you get ready for summer camp?
My daughter was 3 1/2 years old when she started camp; I was so worried she was too little. We signed her up early and discussed it with her. We put the brochures on her bookshelf, so she could look at them. One of the camps had an open house in the spring, so we visited the site and met some of the senior counselors. We talked about it a lot and what the activities might be. We took her shopping for clothes and such. The weekend before, we helped her pick out her clothes and labeled them. We packed her bag ahead of time and discussed why each thing was needed.
We started her out with a camp that was like daycare, except outside and with swimming. It was run by teachers and ECE workers. My husband and I had just started new jobs and we knew that we couldn’t manage pick up and drop off, so one of our criteria was there had to be busing. We briefed her on the bus routine, so she knew what to expect. We got a back up to meet the bus, just in case, and talked to her about it.
I will never forget the little tiny person, with a backpack as big and heavy as she was waiting for the bus, so excited to be a ‘big kid’, and to go on her first adventure without mommy and daddy. It still makes me smile and a little sad every time I remember it.
Look here for tips on packing for camp. Simple Packing for Summer Day Camp