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February 21, 2007

The Summer Camp Saga

It has begun.  Sixteen weeks to go till summer starts, and already we have to start planning our children's summer.   Some families will be headed out to an Italian villa or to while away the summer under the Tuscan sun.  Others will go home to families across the country or across the world, and spend the whole summer playing tag with their cousins.  But for the rest of us with not enough time or money or family, it's time to start planning and signing up for summer camps.  All the summer camp schedules are out.  Our city's Summer Camp registration guide was mailed to us last week.  Early registration (get $20 discount on a $300 camp!) ends next week.   You'd better get busy.

We've got ten weeks of no school to fill, but don't worry, the list is endless -- dance camp, cheer camp, every-conceivable-kind-of-sports-camp, language camp, science camp, lego camp, math camp, chess camp, art camp, and camps where kids actually camp.   We're going to need to map out all the possibilities on humungous spreadsheets so that Billy can attend his soccer camp with his friend Bobby while sister Susie attends her ballet camp, but not on the week that Daddy wants to go camping in Yosemite.

For such an endless list, the slots fill up pretty quickly.  Are there just not enough camps to go around, or does everyone want to sign up for the same camp?  To get the camps that match their kids' interests and their family's schedules, parents are forced to camp out overnight to register, or join a lottery and plan their child's summer on the assumption that somebody is surely going to draw their child's name out of a hat.  If your child do get in, expect to pay $300 dollars per week of camp, and that's for a day camp where you pack their lunch; room, board and a week's worth of nights' out with your husband are not included. 

For working parents, the choice is made for them; for stay-at-home moms, there's too much choice.  It's hard to find the usual once-a-week, one-hour lessons in the summer;  even ballet academies and swim schools and art studios join the gravy train and only offer one-week-every-day-half-day-or-all-day sessions.  So if I don't send my daughter to camp, am I condemning her to three months of boredom?   I can't even tempt her with the prospect of unlimited playdates with her friends, because all of her friends will be away at camp.   If I send her to just one week of camp, will everyone else know each other and leave her out of things?  Will she fall behind if she doesn't keep working on her language/academic/athletic skills?   Are the cheaper camps cheaper because they suck?   Am I hindering her development if she stays home and does --gasp! -- nothing?

So what are we going to do?  I'll try to find out which camps her friends are going to, sign her up for  a week or two, and hope she gets in.    Maybe we'll go on a short trip for one week.  I did find out that our local pool offers swimming lessons -- not swim camp, just forty-minute lessons -- in two-week spurts.  We'll probably go to the playground thirty minutes before the lessons start, and eat a picnic lunch thirty minutes after the lessons end.  Two sessions ought to keep us busy.  For the rest of the time, I'm going to pump up the tires on their bikes,  print out some coloring pages, buy some books, rent some videos, get out the lemonade stand, mix up some cookie dough, fill up the wading pool, slap on some sunscreen.  And if there's anyone out there whose child didn't get into any camps -- or if you're giving your child a vacation from organized activities -- hey, we're available for playdates.

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