Summer Camp: Why It’s Important For Your Kids

Summer Camp: Why It’s Important For Your Kids

KidsI have NEVER relished the idea of sending my precious child to overnight camp.  In my last post about Lulu leaving for camp, I tried to come to terms with why it was a good idea for Lulu (and for me) to go to camp. Since writing that post, I have been approached by a few parents wanting to know about Lulu’s personal experiences at camp and how specifically, she benefited from the experience at such a young age.  (Lulu was 7 years old when she attended Camp Thunderbird in Bemidji, MN.)  I thought that her experiences and my observations were worth sharing with others who might be considering sending their children to overnight camp this year.

friends1. Make new friends: Learning how to get along with other children

Lulu has never had a problem venturing into new environments when she doesn’t know a lot of people.  Lucky kid, right?  But because she is an only child, she has also learned how to survive amongst ADULTS and not necessarily other children. It seems that meeting and befriending adults is a lot easier than befriending children her own age.  Being at camp has helped Lulu learn the social cues appropriate for children her own age. A well run camp allows for social trial and error without there being lasting and significant social consequences.

2.  Working together as a cabin and a community teaches teamwork: one of those “rest of your life” skills

Overnight camp is more than just a place to do”Arts & Crafts”  and “Swim in the ice cold lake.”  Lulu is part of a bigger group made up of campers, counselors, specialists (or teachers) and Camp Directors. Because she lived among all of these people and could not go home, she worked to get along with people from a variety of backgrounds. She couldn’t run back home for assurance.  For example, the girls in Lulu’s cabin worked together to keep their cabin clean so they could win a multi-scoop ice cream sundae at the end of the summer. They had to negotiate who would do a variety of chores including cleaning the bathrooms and showers.  I think that may have been the first time that Lulu willingly picked up a broom, let alone cleaned a toilet.  (BTW:  The cabin did not win the “Paul Bunyan” Sundae challenge last summer.  I guess her toilet cleaning skills were found a bit wanting.)

3. Facing the consequences:  Making choices (good and bad) and becoming self-reliant.

While I don’t consider myself  a “helicopter” mom, I definitely don’t hold back from sharing my opinions on all sorts of topics related to my child.  Summer camp gives Lulu the autonomy to make choices for herself without her parental figures influencing her opinions and actions. As soon as she got to camp last year, Lulu had to decide, and then negotiate with her cabin mates, which bunk to sleep in:  the top or bottom?  Which 2 clothing “cubbies” were hers and where it was okay to hang her poster of Justin Bieber?  Each day, her counselors asked her what she wanted to do during the 4 activity periods the next day. She could decide whether she wanted to swim or practice archery.  Work at the farm or go horseback riding?

4. She has ownership over her life.

As Lulu so eloquently put it when I asked her why she loved camp so much: “I can really just be myself and everyone accepts it.”

Camp counselors typically don’t hover the way that parents do.  Campers are responsible for making many decisions on their own, and face the consequences of those decisions. For instance, if Lulu spends her whole summer working on pottery, she might miss the chance to try out for the camp play or go on a fishing trip. At camp, Lulu owns her choices and, other than reading a letter from home, doesn’t have to share them with anyone or receive anyone’s unsolicited input like she would at home.  And we’re hoping that practicing these skills might help her when she gets a bit older and we aren’t as accessible to talk through choices and consequences with her. The best thing about becoming more self-reliant is the incredible sense of self assuredness and confidence Lulu has when she comes home from a summer away from home.

Despite spending several summers at camp, my daughter still relies on Adam or me to remind her to make her bed or brush her teeth. Camp is a great way for children to learn to do these things on their own. Because I’m not there to remind her, Lulu is forced to remember them or suffer the consequences of the camp counselors or director. When she returned home from camp last year, I was astounded that she made her bed and brushed her teeth without my constantly having to remind her. (Note: The Camp Director told us that this would happen and that it could last up to a month.  It last 2 weeks before I had to remind her to make her bed and feed the pets. But those we 2 very wonderful and liberating weeks for her parents.)

5. Hey! Slowdown girl!  Life slows down for 8 glorious weeks.

No cell phones ringing.  No dvd players, television or video games glaring to distract my child from the world going on around her.  And yes, there is at least an hour a day where the girls must play quietly in their cabins, read a book or listen to music on their iPods. There is a big part of me that’s convinced Lulu actually learned how to read because she couldn’t watch television at camp. And she didn’t seem to miss her electronic toys—at least she never mentioned them in her letters. Without these distractions, she was able to find new hobbies, connect with other kids through card games and jacks and, perhaps, sharpen her imagination and story telling skills.

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6. Who knew that I could light a fire with just one match?  Or play the guitar? 

It’s obvious, but one of the benefits of summer camp is that kids get a chance to learn new skills. Regardless of the type of camp a child goes to (sports, art, circus), a child comes home with new skills and perhaps a lifelong love for something she may have never discovered had she not attended camp. For a mother who attended a Quaker (aka: no violence, please) high school, it’s ironic that my daughter loves and is good at Riflery.  They don’t call her “Eagle Eye” for nothing, you know?

7. I really MISSED you MOM!

This one’s my favorite:  All year, it is taken for granted that Mom and Dad are around to make my tween’s life easier  When she comes home, at least for the first few weeks, Lulu is SO appreciative of all of the little things that we do for her: like put her laundry away. All of the sudden being picked up from ice skating lessons takes on a new importance and appreciation.


So there you have it, seven great reasons to send your child to camp for the summer.  I admit, in January, summer camp seems a million years away.  But the time creeps up on us parents pretty quickly.  Between running back and forth to school, making sure that homework is done and ensuring our children make it to sports practices and music lessons on time, the idea of camp may actually sound pretty appealing to many parents.  My point is that not only will you benefit from some time off from your parenting responsibilities but so will your children.  You will be amazed at how much they grow, change and succeed!

The saddest sign to a camper:  "So Long."

The saddest sign to a camper: “So Long.”

The Babysitting Chronicles: When the Babysitter Lies to You

The Babysitting Chronicles: When the Babysitter Lies to You

A Parent's Nightmare

My husband and I are really lucky when it comes to childcare.  When we go out, we have a built in babysitter anxious and willing to spend a few, uninterrupted hours with our child: Grandma.  And while we don’t always agree with what transpires while we are out, in general, the household rules are followed.
 
But every so often, Grandma is not available and we need to hire a babysitter. We have had good experiences with the teenage sitters in our neighborhood.  Our household rules are pretty lax (yes, K can watch t.v., no, there is no set bed time while we are out. Occasionally, K might mention that the sitter was too strict or wouldn’t let her have dessert. We don’t consider that to be a major issue even if our child does.
But what happens when the babysitter tells your kid to keep something secret from her parents and flat out lies to you when you ask her about it? We recently experienced this situation and are wondering about the actions we should take.
 
While attending a theater event on a Sunday afternoon, one of the neighborhood teenagers (who was highly recommended to us) agreed to watch our child.  While we were gone, a few minor calamities occurred: balls flying and landing on the roof, a few toys breaking from misuse and a sketchy decision by our daughter to use suntan lotion as a way to “draw” on the driveway.  None of these things is a big deal to me.  Really… I have done and experienced much worse first as a child and then as a mother.  What I struggle with is the decision to “let’s just not tell your parents” by the sitter.
 
Note, there are three basic rules in my house:

  1. Be courteous to ourselves and one another
  2. Safety first.  Before doing something ask yourself if this is safe.
  3. No secrets from Mom or Dad.  It is much better to just tell your parents what’s going on rather than keeping it inside and letting them find out about it later.

 

When we arrived home from the theater and subsequent dinner around 9 p.m.. My husband took some trash out of the car  went to throw it away in a large garbage can that sits outside of our house.  The next day was “trash day” so the can wasfull with the weekend’s refuse.  He stopped short and stared into the bin.  Finally he called me over and asked me if I knew why there were so many wet paper towels filling the trash can.  Thinking that something had happened with one of our pets (we have an ancient cat and a large dog) we both ran into the house and called the babysitter’s name.

 

One can imagine our surprise when not one voice answered but two.  Our daughter was wide-awake, not in pajamas and watching a movie with the sitter.  Again, thinking that something had happened to the cat, I disregarded the non-sleeping child and asked the sitter and K if something had happened that necessitated the use of an entire roll of paper towels.  They both said “No” and assured us that the animals were fine.  But, I recognized a look in my daughter’s eyes; something was amiss.  There was something that she was not telling us. Call it “Mommy Senses” but I knew that my daughter was lying to her father and me as she ran passed me and up to her room. (No hug, no hello kiss, and no goodbyes to the sitter.)  For a child who hates to go to bed, she sure shot up to her room like her butt was on fire.

 

My husband stopped K on the stairs and with a little pressure, she confessed that she had used sunscreen on the driveway to draw some pictures.  She admitted that the sitter gave her the paper towels and told her to “clean it up.”  While she was telling Adam the story, I turned to the sitter (who was still standing on the stairs landing with me) and asked her where she was while K was drawing on the driveway?  “Ordering the pizza.” she replied. Adam surprisingly had heard her response and called down the stairs, “Well, you know, the worst things can happen when you take your eyes off of them for 20 seconds.”

 
In typical middle-child tradition, I tried to break the tension by first shrugging my shoulders as if this was not a big deal and then, of course because I was a bit nervous, giggling. I have to admit that I was afraid if we questioned the kid too much that we would make her cry.  The sitter admitted to me that she was going to tell us about the ball landing on the roof and that she was really sorry about it.  Again, now wanting to create tension, I just shrugged it off and said that it was no big deal.  But…at the time, I didn’t know what she told my child: “Don’t tell your parents about the sunscreen.  Let’s just keep it a secret.” Had I known, I would have stopped giggling immediately.

WHAT? 

 

Why wouldn’t the sitter want to tell us about the sunscreen?  Was she afraid that she’d get in trouble?  That we’d never hire her again?  Kids do all sorts of stupid things when you turn your back.  Weren’t we paying her to watch our child?  If she was getting PAID wasn’t it her responsibility to give us a (brief) but concise rundown on what occurred while we were gone including any problems she or our child may have encountered?  What else is being kept from us?

 

Fortunately between my mommy-senses and K’s guilt of keeping secrets from her parents, we were able to pull even more of the story out of our daughter.  After she told us about the whole evening. (By now, I had dismissed the sitter and sent her home.) We reminded K of the three household rules.  Imagine her surprise when I told her that we weren’t going to punish her for sunscreening the driveway because she told us the truth (and because she had already cleaned up the mess.)  We felt that the more important lesson was to tell the truth without our needing to pull it out of her.

 

What to do about the babysitter?   I want to let it go (so non-confrontational of me, isn’t it) and never hire this sitter again.  But my husband (and my mother) pointed out that we may not be helping this kid if we don’t approach her about the incident and at least give her a chance to explain.  As an employee (we did pay her, after all) shouldn’t we talk to her and advise her about why being truthful is essential to trust and how she has lost ours?  Or should we call this kid’s parents and discuss the incident with them?  After all, she is not our child to reprimand, right? Shouldn’t the parents be made aware of their child’s poor choice?  Should we share our experience with other parents and caution them about this sitter? Or is there another option that we haven’t considered?

 

So, what do you think?  If you were in this situation, how would you handle it?  Would you do something different?  Is it really our responsibility to confront a teenager or is it better to just lay low and find another sitter?