Thursday, April 22, 2010

DCMM: Shouldn’t Summer Be for Taking a Break?

Recent high temperatures in the area make me all too aware that soon, summer will be here for good. Most area parents awoke from their winter’s slumber when the announcements for camp started arriving daily in their mailboxes around January.

At my own home, I received notice of a camp at Monkey Business – a Falls Church business where my daughter has attended classes; the zoo – we’re long-time members but have yet to take a class there since sibling interlopers were discouraged from attending the class that made the most sense for my older child; Arlington County – oh the choices!; Adventure Theatre – where my son, daughter, and I have a partial season ticket; Classika Theatre – where my son and I see shows occasionally; and a few others that I’m not recalling right now. Each ad promised an enriching experience for my children. That, and a day packed full of fun – and learning! I read each ad, thought about it, generally thought about how cool it sounded, and then thought about my own childhood memories of summer.

I don’t know if we didn’t have summer camp when I was young, or if my parents just didn’t think it was important. As far as I can recall, I spent one week each summer at Kansas State University Family Camp with my family and one week each summer at Camp Daisy Hindman with other area girl scouts. I remember the archery range, the snack bar, making ice cream sundaes, and complaining about the outdoor toilets. I also remember hiking, wading through creeks (my sister’s troop is still legendary for going so far upstream that State Troopers had to bring them back), and feeling so free. But beyond these two places, I have no memory of camp. Instead, my million memories of summer all center around one location: the neighborhood swim club.

Thinking about it now though, I can name only one of my son’s friends who won’t attend several weeks of camp this summer. And I wonder if that’s what’s best for our children? Sure, we live in a place with fabulous summer offerings. But shouldn’t there be one time a year when kids can just be kids? Are we shortchanging our children by giving them so few choices over how to spend their time that their creativity ends up being stifled? Sometimes, as working parents, we don’t have the luxury of giving our children nothing to do. We go to our jobs, our children need to be in the hands of an adult. It’s a convenient relationship, for sure.

But even as I ponder how wonderful each summer program could be, I am reminded of Richard Louv’s book "Last Child in the Woods". He points out that rather than computer camps and space camps, and every other kind of camp, children need unstructured time in the woods. And the woods needs the children too. For how else can we expect our children to protect this Earth when they don’t even see it as part of their lives?

But don’t think I’m totally immune to the idea of camp. In this rather comprehensive list of summer camps compiled by a local mom, one stands out for me. It’s the summer camp being offered at Potomac Crescent Waldorf School (where my son attends school). Two weeks, that's it. There will be lots of unstructured outdoor time, and I already know from last year, he’ll come home exhausted and dirty (things I look for in children’s activities). I checked with the administrator there this morning, and a few spots remain.

The summer I was pregnant with my son, my husband and I walked to our local swim club and signed up to be members. And not a moment too soon, given the wait list. Thankfully, we’ve secured our spot at the pool, but if we hadn’t, we’d go to the slightly less convenient Upton Hills public pool. We'll spend our summer hiking through Lacey Woods Park, splashing in the creeks at Long Branch or Gulf Branch Nature Centers, and playing at the pool. You might even see my four year old jumping off the board— a feat he perfected last year!

With all that going on, who has time for camp?

When Elaine is not cleaning dirt off her kids' clothes, she writes about them getting dirty on her personal blog. Special thank to her friend Thrift Store Mama, for the photo.

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Posted by ElaineMM on April 22, 2010 at 02:00 AM in Elaine | Permalink

Jenn said...
I think camps are so popular because parents work. I went to camp as a kid because my parents had to have somewhere to put me during the day. If you don't work, then, yeah, let your kids be kids. But most families have two working parents and so if you have to put them somewhere, you might as well put them somewhere that sounds really fun.

Reply April 22, 2010 at 05:49 AM ElaineMM said...
I agree, Jenn, we're always choosing the best possible settings for our children. But I wonder if there couldn't be more free-form, non-themed, just general play "camps" set up for kids to explore in, rather than camp coordinators thinking they need an educational hook into the programs they run.

Reply April 22, 2010 at 07:05 AM Jessica C. said...
If I had family around or a reliable and inexpensive babysitter, I'd love to just take a break from activities and do fun stuff. But I can't go for two months without childcare or my son would end up sitting in front of the TV while I tried to keep up on work and volunteer responsibilities. I suck at providing rhythm when there is absolutely no imposed structure, so I'd rather we have some stuff to hang our hat on. He's a social kid who doesn't yet have a sibling, so a day without playing with other kids is incomplete in his book. He's constantly asking me about the camps we did last summer and when he gets to go back.

I hope that when we are a family of four we can create more meaningful stuff to do on our own. But this summer, while mama is gonna be big with child, little boy is signed up for 4 weeks of programs.

Reply April 22, 2010 at 07:36 AM ElaineMM said in reply to Jessica C....
That's such an important point! When my mom left my sister and I at home, we had close neighbors and in many cases, extended family around. What a difference that must have made!

And, don't get me wrong, I'm not questioning whether kids have fun in the various camps they attend. I'm questioning whether it's the best use of their time.

I suspect you already create lots of meaningful stuff with your family.

Reply April 26, 2010 at 07:18 AM Gunfighter said...
My youngest will be going to soccer camp, Amusement park camp, two weeks of Girl Scout camp, a week-long trip (with mommy) to visit the grandparents, and Vacation Bible Camp. She is going to have a great summer full of activities that she can only have because mommy and daddy spend their week days busting their humps for uncle sam.

The last two weeks of summer, we will all be together for two weeks with Mickey Mouse in Florida.

Big fun!

I remember the free-form summers of my youth... my mom went to work, and the three of us basically took care of ourselves. I sort of wish I had the kind of summer that my kids have had

Reply April 23, 2010 at 07:57 AM Helen said...
I'm betting I'm the friend with the kid not attending a summer camp. :)

Reply April 26, 2010 at 07:14 AM ElaineMM said...
Yes, that is the distinction I give you. Although now that I think about it, I think you recently emailed about some music company? Maybe I'm wrong?

Reply April 26, 2010 at 07:16 AM Helen said in reply to ElaineMM...
Hmmm. I don't remember sending any emails about camps. And neither of them is going to any camp this summer.

But if you hear about any camps for toddlers that teach the under-three-feet set to STOP SCREAMING, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, well, please do tell me, because my toddler could use such a camp.

Reply April 26, 2010 at 10:13 AM ElaineMM said in reply to Helen...
Ha! That would be the useful camp eery. And it would be fully subscribed before I even knew it existed.

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