I never went to summer camp as a kid. There wasn’t the diverse array of day-camp offerings back then, and because we spent the day outside in nature every day my folks saw it as a lower priority. Overnight camps were out of the question. Our family of seven kids didn’t have the money for those opportunities.
Even as a kid, I could recognize the differences between me and the kids who attended camps. They were transformed in a way, when they returned to school in September—back then all schools started after Labor Day; those were the days. Most of the camp kids seemed more confident, self-assured. They seemed like they’d gotten a little smarter, too, and the bullies seemed a bit less threatening.
As an adult who, for a time, worked in a youth theater setting, and as a parent now, I can see why my erstwhile peers seemed like they had just taken a step ahead without me. They grew.
The school year is a grind, even for little kids. The routine of school provides needed structure, but it wears on kids as much as it does on adults. In school learning is measured according to grades and standards. In camp it is measured in a sense of achievement and taking flight when given permission to fail.
And for some kids lucky enough to attend an overnight camp—spending a week away from home, often with kids they’d never met—the experience, I can see now, helped form their characters. Shy kids became a little less so back at school, for example.
And they seemed a little more ready to tackle the new school year, because they’d been engaged in learning.
I am not a fan of the trend toward year round schools—and never will be. The unstructured time of summer allows a kid to learn to be a person, to learn it’s okay to have days without entertainment or a social life, to find ways they’d never imagined to have fun, to visit cousins and grandparents.
Many educators say that traditional summer breaks cause a kid to forget what they’d learned. That might be true to an extent. But studies have yet to show that year round school affects that problem in the slightest way. Zero . . . sorry advocates of year round schools. What the data show is that kids who continue to learn over the summer are ready to learn when school starts again.
That gap can be made up with reading, travel, and all kinds of other educational engagement. A week or two in summer camp will give kids something they could never experience in a school setting.
Fortunately for families in Clarke County, there are some terrific learning opportunities here and nearby. And they come at a wide range of prices. The programs through Parks and Rec offer a real bargain, as do free programs at the public library. And many camps offer discount scholarships for qualifying families. Some even offer before-care and after-care.
Check out our annual guide to summer camps beginning on page 14.