Moms Talk: Happy Campers

What will your kids do this summer? And for how long?

Are your kids all signed up for their summer camps? Oh, not yet? Hm...good luck!

Parenting is often this strange mental time warp. You have to think 18 years in the future when you look at your newborn and consider paying for college. You have to think about September each February, at school sign up time. And each winter, you have to think about summer camp.

This is not just mental twister because you’re trying to imagine outdoor overnights when it’s snowing. You're also trying to project what your child will want to do in July, and for how long. Good luck, again!

I find it hard to know what my daughter will be interested in five minutes from now, much less several months in the future. If I’d signed her up for summer camps when many first became available in January, I’d have been signing her up based on a kid who loved Kung Fu Panda, swimming, and Perler Beads. Now I have a child who loves The Voice, gymnastics, horses, and Legos.

My daughter doesn’t just change her mind; she rewrites history. When she decides that she no longer likes a certain type of granola bar, she declares that she never liked it. 

Of course not. That’s why I bought a freaking case of them at Costco. Because you weren’t eating two a day.

So signing up for future events is a gamble. But even things she loves can go desperately wrong when experienced in week long, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. format. When we signed her up for rock climbing camp last summer, she was ecstatic. She’d been climbing every Friday for months and just loved it. We really started to believe that she’d finally found “her thing.”

Three days into 6-hours-a-day camp, and she never wanted to climb again.

Full-day camps free up parental time, and mimic school hours, so we assume that all will be well. However, a camp that focuses on a single specific thing can become very repetitive for a small one. We now make sure that our camp choices understand this and have a variety of activities planned. Whether a camp has a “mental” focus, like a writing camp, or a physical focus, like a swimming camp, good schedule planning should include both physical and mental stimulation, as well as plenty of breaks and opportunities to fuel up.

Also, timing matters. A full week of an educational camp that starts on the Tuesday after the Monday last day of school may be too much, whereas that same week in Late July might just be what your kid’s bored brain needs.

Finally, know your kid. My daughter’s is having his first overnight camp this summer. That’s fantastic. He’s totally ready for it, excited about it, and I’m sure it will be a great fit for him.

My girl is just not ready for that, even though the two are almost the same age. She’s happy at a sleepover where she knows everybody, but the idea of spending the night with a large group of people she doesn’t know is terrifying to her. She’ll let me know when she’s ready for an overnight camp, and I’m looking forward to it. 

In the meantime, for us it will be a morning camp or two, a couple of all-day camps, and many, if not most, weeks unscheduled. Sure, having her underfoot will eat up my time, and make it hard to get things done, but it frees us up for the kind of summer I love. Relaxed lounging at (has there every been a more appropriately named park?). Playdates with her school friends so that she doesn’t forget their names by fall. And real tent camping with my friends who have kids that she can play with while the adults have a drink around the fire.

Now that’s my kind of overnight camp.

Pauline April 27, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Nice that you don't have to work and have the option of a morning camp here and there and you get to pick and choose which weeks your daughter goes to camp. For those of us moms who DO have to work full-time during the summer, the Renton Parks Dept day camps are AWESOME. My son loves his summer camp, the counselors are great, lots of fun activities and field trips every week.
Caitlin Moran April 27, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Hi Pauline, thanks very much for the recommendation of Renton Parks' day camps. I don't think Malia's column was intended to start a messy debate between working moms vs. stay-at-home moms, and I'm sure each parenting situation presents different challenges with choosing a summer camp. Thanks again for the recommendation!
Ann April 27, 2012 at 09:52 PM
I don't think there is a "messy debate" here at all! Pauline is showing another alternative to the information given. Many of us parents are working all summer and the lack of that information is disheartening. This column seems to have become a complaint department for the author and I'd prefer one that reaches more of the community. There are lots and lots of moms blogging about their personal lives and not a lot trying to mentor or educate the rest of us on what Redmond offers.
Caitlin Moran April 27, 2012 at 11:00 PM
Hi Ann, we certainly do appreciate Pauline's suggestions and encourage all our readers to share their feedback, both positive and negative. My only intention with the above comment was to make sure the tone of the discussion stayed civil so others would feel comfortable contributing as well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Malia Kawaguchi April 28, 2012 at 05:15 AM
Pauline - I deeply apologize for ignoring that fact. In an earlier draft of the column, I did more explicitly mention that I am very lucky to have the choice I describe in the second to last paragraph, and I'm sorry if my decision to cut that wording made the article seem to exclude you and other parents who work full time outside of the home. I have the greatest admiration for moms and dads who work outside of the home. I watch the parents with full time jobs who have children at my daughter's school - which requires a huge volunteering commitment - and their enormous amount of unpaid overtime work that it takes to make the school's required hours on top of their work hours and their at home jobs as well. I respect these parents, and the many others who have the same workload, very highly, and would never intentionally negate their needs. I apologize again, and thank you for pointing out one of my blind spots.


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