Camp is wonderful, but don’t let it rule your summer

Today is the day I register my kids for summer camp.

This is relatively new territory for us. We have been very lucky in that for the past two summers, my husband has been able to take unpaid time off from work to stay home for summer vacation. The first year we tried out a camp just for the experience, but last year we didn’t do any because neither child was interested. This year? Well, like so many, we will need summer coverage. But we are trying to resist the pull of all camp, all the time.

It’s not that camps are bad. They are great. There are art camps, nature camps and sports camps. There are half-day camps, full-day camps, and overnight camps. There are camps for every age range and every type of kid. There are some great benefits to camp, including leadership opportunities, skill development, and, yes, fun.

But there are great benefits to non-camp, too. Giving kids time to decide their own schedules and activities–something known to experts as “unstructured play”–allows them to develop different skills, such as planning, self-entertainment, and group interaction. (Anyone remember what it was like to sort out a neighborhood game of tag without a grown-up around?) It’s a set of skills that studies show we don’t let our kids practice enough. It’s a set of skills that are hard to make enough time for during the school year. But they are custom-made for summer.

So ask yourself: how much camp does your family really need? I’m very sympathetic to the need for childcare, but do you need to fill their summer from beginning to end? Is it possible to give them a few weeks of the luxury of summertime boredom?

As for us, we are registering our kids for camp, but we are being really conscious of leaving a few weeks blank. We aren’t sure what we are going to do with them. We might tag-team days. We might lean on family for help (hi, mom). We might try to catch-up with like-minded neighbors and trade-off duties. But we do know that those days will have no aim, no schedule, no real plan. They are going to be purposefully, intentionally set aside for that peer-reviewed, doctor-approved, incredibly important unstructured play time.

Also known as summer.

Last summer, partaking in what I used to call "bath time."

Last summer, partaking in the evening outing I used to call “bath time.”

Cherie Galyean

About Cherie Galyean

In a perfect world, Cherie Galyean would spend hours every day chasing her kids up hiking trails, pretending to garden, and baking things. Instead, she works full-time in the non-profit sector and fits those other things in-between loads of laundry in her free time. A Maine native with multiple hometowns, she currently lives on Mount Desert Island with her husband, seven-year-old daughter, five-year-old son, and the best shelter mutt in the world.