I remember the first time I realized that school just stopped over the summer. Of course I remembered from my own childhood somewhere back in the dark recesses of my mind (“Summer break! Whoooo!”), but as a grown-up confronted with the reality that I’d have to find something to occupy my son’s time for three months, I was far less enthusiastic. I feel bad enough when I plop my kid down in front of Netflix for the duration of Columbus Day...so what was I going to do for an *entire* summer??
I researched options and discovered summer camp - one of those things that I had heard about in the past, but hadn’t really let sink in with regard to its relevance to my life because I was just barely hanging on juggling lunches, weekend activities, dinners, diapers...and a full time job!
And so, as with so many things that go along with becoming a new mother, I sat down with my trusty search engine and Moleskin and commenced my research, from which I derived seven lessons. Please benefit from the fruit of my research so that your foray into summer camp may be less stressful than my own!
Start planning early
The first thing I learned was that summer camp doesn’t necessarily (and most probably doesn’t) involve any actual “camping”. It’s mostly just a place that kids go during the day with a theme around which activities are built.
If you name a focus (coding, outdoors/nature, videography, computers, sports, science, theater - you name it!) you can likely find a camp near you that caters to it. This was a revelation to me! I was (and am) excited about the prospect of directing my son’s education in an intentional manner - and in a way that isn’t primarily academically focused.
What’s more, you can piece together multiple programs with many focuses to create an amazing and diverse summer experience. I have a friend who enrolls her daughter in a different week-long camp each week for the *entire summer*, each with its own focus. *Slow clap*...am I right?
But beware! Great camps fill up FAST. I encourage you to enroll soon (as early as January!) so that you can reserve a space. You can also often take advantage of discounts for early enrollment that certainly help given the expense of some of the camps available.
Cast a wide net in your search
How to find a camp nearby? Although they generally run only during the summer, most summer camps are set up as their own organizations, so you can track them down with a simple Yelp or Google search.
But don’t limit yourself to just those avenues; check places like local museums and schools, too. Many organizations develop internal programs specifically for kids and summer.
Also, ask your mommy network about options that they may know about. Post to the world on your social media network of choice and get recommendations. Your friends can also give you the low-down on their experiences with each place as well, which can often be much more trustworthy than reviews online (which can easily be faked).
You get more bang for your buck at summer camp when compared to daycare
The first thing you’ll notice is the price tag associated with camp. And of course, anything is more expensive than tossing your little one in the living room jungle with an ipad, some puffs, and Ninjago playing in the background, but barring that - summer camps can be comparable to a babysitter, nanny, daycare, or private school for the same period.
According to the American Camp Association, “the average weekly fee for resident camps ranges from $200 to over $1500 per week, and the average day camp fee is $100 to $275 per week, and can be as low as $75 per week.”
To laser in on how much camp might cost for you, check pricing on candidate websites - or again, through your mommy network. There are many options out there!
Most importantly to me though were the intangibles that summer camp was to bring (and has brought) to my little guy.
Camp keeps him active and engaged throughout the day, with never a dull moment
It’s helped build confidence, social skills and teamwork through group activities and engaged camp counselors
He gets more out of it than simple day care or supervision
He spends the day in a “device-free” environment, which likely would not be the case were he to be at home all day (and which would leave me feeling incredibly guilty!)
There are other considerations when choosing a camp too
Of course price is a big factor. But there are others to consider, as well.
Location (in relation to home and work), credibility, counselor-to-student ratio, age and experience of counselors, range of activities and daily agenda, history and reputation, whether they have after-camp care - and I’m sure you can think of a few others. Make sure you measure each camp according to these criteria.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for references from other parents during your evaluation process. This is your baby you’re sending here - you need to feel confident in your choice!
Lastly, don’t forget about your own mental health!
I struggled with this for a long time, but ultimately realized that when I’m happy, my son is much happier and healthier too. A happy mom yields a happy child.
Feeling good that my son is in good hands with attention being paid to his body, heart, mind and soul gives me peace of mind - and that’s important!
In my research, I found that camps can also be a great antidote to the “summer slide”, whereby your little one loses some of the learnings and progress they made in the previous school year. Engaged activity and learning throughout the myriad activities can keep the skills learned the previous year strong (depending on the camp, of course). Further, you can also get a head start on skills necessary for the coming year. My little guy just turned five, so while academics haven’t been a huge part of the “Adventure Camp” I sent him to last year, in future years I plan to work with the counselors to focus on particular skills in prep for the coming school year for targeted attention.
And all this makes me very happy :)
Are you considering summer camp? Did you too just realize that you have to do *something* over the summer and are trying to figure out the best option? Well, if summer camp is for you and your little one, don’t delay! Start planning now! With a little effort and research, you can have your kids in the camp of their (and your) dreams in no time!