Dd14 is home from four weeks at camp, ds16 is now at camp, and it’s finally time for me to post about camp. I’ve been pushing this off since last summer because there’s so much to say and I don’t really feel like saying it all!
>>Can I ask one more thing? I have read in your previous posts that you do not care for some of the Jewish extra-curriculars (Pirchei, plays), but you send your children to sleep away camps. <<
I’ve sometimes been asked about why I send my kids to camp – I’ve gotten the impression from a number of people who asked me this that it’s inconsistent of me to send them to camp if I’m not sending them to school. Just because something is part of the mainstream doesn’t mean that I’ll have an automatic knee jerk reaction to opt out without considering if there’s any value in it for our family. Being a person of integrity means that we should think about things honestly, not just react. Conforming to the expectations of the non-conformists is just as senseless as following whatever the majority is doing.
Now, it’s true that camp does have many of the negatives of school. However, there are enough differences that are positive that we’ve felt it beneficial for our kids to go. While there may be a lot of similarities between camp and school, there are also a lot of differences. The biggest differences in favor of camp are: children are there by choice, the focus is on having a good time, and there are a number of ways to be successful in camp (vs. only the academic model). There at means there are more opportunities for children to have a success experience.
Socially it can be positive, if you’re children are ready for it. We don’t send our kids to sleep away camp until they are at least 12 – we sent our oldest when he was 11 for three weeks and that was a mistake; it took more time for him to readjust to being with our family and unlearn the attitudes he picked up than the actual time he spent in camp! Last year I sent my dd who was a month away from her 12th birthday, knowing how mature she was, and feel that while she had a mostly positive experience, I should have waited until this year. Tonight at dinner my dd12 commented that she can see that every year older my dd14 is, the better her camp experience becomes.
The reason I wait for kids to be 12 is that I want to know that I can trust my kids to act according to our standards even when we’re not there. That’s a pretty big thing to expect, but I’ve seen that at 12 all of our older kids have been able to do that. Four weeks away from the family is a long time, and there’s a lot of social pressure that kids face during that time.
I want them to have a well developed sense of self and identity that can withstand the peer pressure they encounter. Especially as homeschoolers, they’re doing something very different from the crowd and the crowd doesn’t tend to look favorably on people they classify as ‘different’. You might wonder how my kids deal with all the questions or reactions about homeschooling. It’s really not a big deal to them. They’re very comfortable with homeschooling and don’t have any sense of discomfort just because it’s a different educational choice than most people. Maybe because of their comfort with homeschooling, they rarely encounter negativity or anyone looking down on them or speaking badly of them. Their peers end up finding it very fascinating. My dd14 told me she got asked the same questions so many times that everyone in her bunk knew the answers, so it got to the point that when someone would ask, she would smilingly motion to her bunkmates and they’d answer for her. She said that the only negative comment she got this summer was from one girl who blurted out, upon hearing dd is homeschooled, “But you look so smart! Aren’t you supposed to be dumb if you homeschool?” Dd straightened her out pretty fast. You could say she’s doing her part to educate the next generation about alternative education!
I have to be very clear, however, that I feel camp is a luxury. It’s nice to be able to send kids to camp when the conditions are right, and I’m grateful we’ve been able to do it and that our kids have gained from it. But it’s by no means necessary and it’s often not even beneficial. I’m referring to both sleep away and day camps (I’m referring to the child’s developmental needs, not the parental babysitting needs). I find it troubling that so many people regard this as an absolute necessity, to the point of endangering their financial well being by taking on long term debt to pay for one summer.
Part of why I think that many parents feel it’s necessary because they’re uncomfortable with a child having an unstructured summer and feel that it’s beyond their abilities to create the structure with their children. I’ve repeatedly heard the concern about kids lazing around and doing nothing, as if this was a crime. When we do it, we call it down time or unwinding, but when our kids do it, it’s being lazy and unproductive?! I really don’t agree with that, especially when they really need time to decompress and unwind from the intensity of the school year. And ironically, the age group I most hear this concern expressed about is teen boys, who more than anyone need a chance to unwind due to the stifling school schedules they have.
I’ve sent some of my kids for part of the summers to day camps, though I haven’t sent anyone for the last couple of years. I’m at the point that I just don’t feel that there’s much of a gain. Sure, they do nice activities. But for the money I would spend on day camp fees, I can buy a lot of craft materials for projects, take the kids on plenty of trips, and do lots of fun stuff. (I don’t actually do it to that degree, but I’m making the point that your money would go a lot further at home.) They can get together with friends any time of the day they want, and they can enjoy the relaxing tempo of the summer schedule.
Another concern is how the social dynamics play out. There’s often pettiness, nastiness, competing and comparing, inappropriate language, and general disrespect of others. Kids pick up behaviors and attitudes very quickly from their peers. If the adults in charge are on top of the social dynamics of the kids and cut off bad attitudes and behaviors from the start, then day camps can be a very fun experience, and if a person can afford it, then I think it’s a nice opportunity. But again, nice and necessary aren’t the same thing!