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Navigating the Summer Camp Registration Process

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I’ve been working on summer camp registrations for my five-year-old son recently, and it struck me how much more complicated summers are for children now than they used to be.

When I was a child, I went to sleepaway church camp for a week each summer. That was it. And that didn’t even start until I was eight years old. Later, when I was a sophomore in high school, I also went to a summer scholars program at a college for two weeks.

But there weren’t many other summer camp options when I was a child, so it wasn’t like my parents were deliberately choosing to opt out of camps. We went to the swimming pool a lot, watched cartoons, rode bikes in the neighborhood, roller-skated in the garage, played a few Atari games. When my mom returned to work when I was nine, we did all those things with a babysitter on the days she wasn’t home. Perhaps there were other camps out there, and we just didn’t know about them. That’s possible. A few of my friends did go to Scout camp, but it always seemed to overlap with either church camp or our family vacation, so it was a possibility…just not for me.

Fast-forward to now. My elder son is in kindergarten. He’s only got about eight weeks of summer vacation this year, and I’m trying to fill some of those long empty weeks with fun stuff for him.  I’ve already registered him for a week of gardening-themed day camp at Cheekwood in June and a week of Science Camp with Mr. Bond in July. I’ve got leads on a couple of sports-related day camps that I’m planning to pursue, and I’m wavering about whether to register him for Lego Camp.

It’s quite a logistical process, too. You practically need a spreadsheet to map out the options and figure out which camps are offered when. Because it wouldn’t do to register your child for soccer camp during the only week that robotics camp is offered when soccer camp is offered for two other weeks, too. And you have to work around the school calendar. And you have to make sure you don’t miss out on registering early for the most popular camps because there are always some that fill up.

I’m lucky. I am self-employed, so at least my schedule is relatively flexible. Parents who work full time have an even bigger challenge because they have to work around the day camp start-and-end times, which don’t always match up with their work schedules.

Gah. And it’s still winter while I’m having to figure this all out.

Whoa, there, I can hear some of you thinking. Why are you trying to fill up all his spare time? Why can’t he have some down time, just to, you know, be a kid?

And you, my invisible friends, definitely have a point. Some of my best memories from childhood grew out of unstructured free time, time when I could explore or daydream or just make up something to do. I’m actually a big believer in boredom not being a bad thing for kids. Boredom builds character. It forces them to be creative and think of something to do. It teaches them that they have to be responsible for their own entertainment.

But as a freelance journalist, I really do need some quiet time during the week to work. My line of work allows me a fair degree of flexibility, which is why I chose it. I do want to spend some lazy summer days with my son at the pool or at the playground or the zoo or whatever. But I also have to have some time to get things done. It seems to be a better deal for my son to get the chance to attend a fun camp than to sit around and watch yet another series of episodes of “Sid the Science Kid.” Besides, if he goes to day camp, I get to work while he’s gone, and then we can have fun afterward together.

But the whole registration process? Crazy. Maybe I really will make a spreadsheet next year.

What are your kids going to do this summer?

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