Category Archives: camp

School vs Summer Camp

I find it interesting that one often hears or reads testimonials from parents (or  alumni) about how transformative their experience at a certain (usually- but-not-always  “overnight”) summer camp has been, but yet they are equally attached to the school they are sending their kids to the other 9-10 months of the year which in many ways expouses the polar opposite in ideals and structure.

Camp: play, freedom, age-mixing with teen-age counselors

School:  sitting, following someone else’s agenda, no age-mixing — spending the entire day with other kids who are exactly the same age (or at most 1 year’s difference)

How does this make sense? I guess the idea is that the school year it’s time to buckle-down, but then I would think you would hear lots of testimonials about the transformative effect of school.  “It was so hard to sit still, but wow it was an amazing experience!”

At least swap the 2 and 10 months.  Not too long ago, kids went to school for only a few weeks a year.  Like summer camp today.

Or go whole hog and send your kids to a democratic free school, like Sudbury Valley School (SVS) and let them have a transformative experience all year long!


I’m not saying there isn’t value in mixing things up and doing different things at different times of the year — e.g. our kids enjoy having a break from SVS to do other things, and I enjoy the seasons in New England — skiing for part of the year, swimming for part of the year, etc.

I’m also not under the delusion that a democratic free school / Sudbury school is trying to serve the same purpose as a summer camp.  My sense of the summer camps that have such rave reviews (from my kids as well) are the ones (in additional to having ample time for free play and freedom to choose activities instead of following a set plan) also have excellent teen-age and college-age (or older) counselors who excel in their roles as active mentors within their cabins/tents and during free activity periods.  That’s not exactly the same thing as a Sudbury School either where any mentoring is absolutely student-initiated.   My sense (again, from my kids) is that the active mentoring aspect is nice to have for a little bit — a few weeks per year, OK– but my kids (even when they were 4 and 5) end up MUCH preferring the complete freedom they get at SVS for a few hours each day (now it’s 5 or 6 hours, but when they were little it was just a few.)

You should see the excitement I see as they get ready for school (there is often a lot of gear!  They are WORKING on things!) and head off toward the main building to sign in each morning.




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Filed under camp, mentoring / apprenticeship, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Choosing a summer camp

Here are some lessons learned in picking summer camps.  I am talking about a specific type, since that is all I have experience with so far — namely a general day-camp for kids who are (at the moment) 6 and 9.  Not overnight.  Not specialized.  We’ve experienced 4 different camps so far and talked with friends about 3 others.  So here goes:

1. Established.  Organized.  Not a mess.   This is pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how disorganized some town-run camps can be.  Not all.  Just noting my experience.  Go with the camp which has been around for 40 years and with the same director and very low counselor and CIT turnover.

2. Must have buildings.  This will rule out great awesome camps but so be it.  When the thunderstorms are threatening, you don’t want camp cancelled or for kids to be bussed off-site.  Trust me.  You do not.  It leads to complications and disorganization and inability of parents to work.

3. Kids must want to go.  Duh!  If after a day or 2 your kid doesn’t want to go to camp, then AS WITH SCHOOL, this should be a clear sign to you that it’s time to choose a new camp.    Sorry, just stating the obvious… but camp and school should be FUN!  We are not warehousing kids here!

4. Freedom.  I am sorry, but kids like to be FREE.  I know you might not believe it, but yes, even 4 and 5 year olds like to play completely on their own (with adults available if need be but not leading or structuring things).   So it might be hard to find, but trust me… the more options and freedom at camp the better.

5. Cost vs Driving.  Remember your driving.  So if there is an awesome (but expensive) camp closer by, it is probably worth it.  Not even including your time, driving costs roughly $0.50 per mile overall.   Including your time, well… forget about it!  Choose the closer camp!  Skip the school bus options and pre- and after- care options if you can.  Try hard!

6. Mix it up.  Ideally do a few different camps.  Even with the best camp in the world available, it’s fun to mix it up.

7. Mix up the ages!  The best camps allow total age mixing.  Grouping by activities not ages.    Never heard of that!?  I assure you they exist!   Like <a href=””>Sudbury Valley School</a>

8. Pools trump ponds and lakes.  Either are great especially with slides and diving boards.  But note: Here in New England, ponds often get too hot and/or yucky.  Some lakes can be too cold.   If you have a sailor ask about realistic wind.  Marco Polo works better in a pool.

9. Chill on the camp swim lessons.  Some camps the kids have loved lessons.  Others not.  I am not sure how to evaluate, but I am telling you… some are better than others!  Probably the ones that are FUNNER and FREER get better reviews.  That’s my basic take from talking with my kids.

10. Culture.  Not sure how to evaluate this, except it seems the well established camps tend to do a better job of having a camp culture of RESPECT, FUN, FRIENDSHIP etc.

OK, that’s the list for now.  I might add to it below and it might change as the kids get older. I will link to updates.

See also:

Kids need freedom not camp counselors

Choosing the familiar over the optimal

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The problem with 180 days of school is that 180 days is 36 full weeks (180/5…. when subtracting school vacation weeks and holidays) so that means 16 weeks are left.  And I don’t have 16 weeks of vacation time!

And family with 2 working parents (or single parents) are well aware of this.  Heck, even families with a stay-at-home-parent are often aware of it.

Options for pre-teens:

– screens (tv, computer, video games) or other at-home fun.

– camps (of which there are many types… day, overnight, weekday overnight, general, special topic/interest or a 1/2-1/2 mix with general)

– grandparents

– babysitters/nannies

– unorganized neighborhood fun (rare these day)

– organized neighborhood fun/kid-watching coops

– sports leagues, bands, orchestras, lessons (dance, music, martial arts) etc etc etc

– neighborhood pool coop/pool club

Many of these still require a parent around for either transport (typical camps are 9-4 unless you do pre and/or after care for example) and you can’t drop a kid at most pools unless they are at least 12.

Just saying.  It’s very tricky to work this out.  Even for parents who are lucky enough to a) be married and b) have flexible work schedules

In some European countries it is a little better since they have less summer vacation.  But they often make up for it with more time off during the school year.  2 weeks off at 3 different times plus random days off) = 7 weeks off vs our 5 weeks (in Massachusetts, USA)

1- columbus day
2- thanksgiving thu and fri
10- winter break – 2 weeks
1- mlk day
5- feb vaca week
5- april vaca week
1- memorial day

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Filed under camp, howto, school, work

Whatever happened to ‘go outside and play’? — I’ll tell you! :-)

CNN: Whatever happened to ‘go outside and play’?

(I think everyone actually knows this, but here’s my list:)
1) More families with 2 working parents.
2) More TV and video game options. Yes, they existed when we were kids, but not as many or as interesting
3) More organized activity options. There are many many more options for organized activities these days.
4) Parents sense (right or wrong) that if not #3, then #2… so “organized activities” is the lesser of two evils.
5) More homework — depends on where you live
6) Parents worried about their kids being kidnapped/abused.
7) More suburban sprawl — hard to get places on foot or bike safely
8) New playgrounds are boring — where are the BIG slides, swings, zip lines and dangerous teeter-totters and merry-go-rounds?
9) New playgrounds are built in inaccessible locations. Rare is the good playground in a walkable location.
10) FORGOT THIS ONE: Divorce rate is higher (meaning more single parents usually meaning more daycare)

Some of this stuff is catch-22/chicken-and-egg stuff. When kids aren’t around and playing in the neighborhood, it encourages other parents to schedule organized activities or plug kids in to the screen too.

– Consider cohousing or moving to a denser/slower neighborhood. Structure matters. When driveways are long and people drive straight into garages, it’s harder to strike up conversations and have kids to run into each other. Amazing neighborhoods with kids running around still do exist, but it’s rare, and sometimes fleeting.
– — alter your current neighborhood starting with your own house/yard (see also book: “Reinventing Community”) Be the change.
– Move somewhere rural enough that kids can ride around on their own on horses. My wife as well as many other people (in online comments) have had amazing childhood freedom with horses.

KID FIXES (bring the kids somewhere)
– Sudbury Schools — e.g. Sudbury Valley School — as a way to recreate the “childhood of your youth” with like-minded families. Bring the kids to the neighborhood. Nothing beats this!
– Drop-in unstructured camps — e.g. Stow, MA is offering an unstructured camp in Summer 2013. At a playground/huge field/basketball court/pavilion area with “counselors” there to help, but not to “do anything”.
– Skate Parks — My kids get bored at normal playgrounds fast. But at skate parks (with skateboards, bikes, scooters) they can often stay for hours. With lots of different aged kids. Up through teenagers and above. Age-mixing is amazing stuff. (Like at Sudbury Valley School I am always impressed with the older kids and their interactions with the younger kids. They really step up the respect and responsibility. And fun!)

– Lakeside beaches — nearby lakes with town beaches you often get kids playing together who don’t know each other at first for hours (if the parents can stay that long) Ocean-side beaches usually don’t have this same level of intermingling. But sometimes.
– Camps – there are some amazing day camps and overnight camps that are unstructured enough that they give the feel of this freedom and responsibility.
– Family Camping Trips – same idea as kid camps, but with the parents along. Not necessarily seeing each other all day, but together maybe at meals and in the evenings.

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Filed under camp, Cohousing, kids -- freedom and responsibility, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School