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So Many Camps, So Little Time

“We turned out okay, didn’t we?” is a thing my husband and I have said out loud and fairly often when doing a cost-benefit analysis of a particular experience for one of our kids.

The sleep-away camp is a good example. I am the youngest of six – five girls and one boy – and as it happens, my brother was the only one of us who went to a sleep-away camp. It was a basketball camp for two weeks at a state college, and I remember thinking it was a fantastic opportunity for him, and also this: “Please God, don’t let them send me to sleep-away camp.” They didn’t. And I turned out okay, didn’t I?

Another tenet we have relied on over the years is the “times three” credo. I’m sure my parents used this one decades ago, only they said “times six.” Here’s how it works: Every time I looked at an expenditure for one of our three kids, I thought about that cost – times three. It was in this way that all motions for American Girl dolls, Crocs rubber sandals, and yes, sleep-away camps were usually killed in committee.

Until our firstborn really wanted to go to a running camp.

It was the summer before high school and our daughter (who was fit, but not much of a runner) asked to go to a running camp in the hills of western Virginia. It was the best camp (for running) and her best friend (a runner) was going. She wanted to go so badly that she even went for the you-pay-half-we-pay-half plan. She came home a week later, after logging close to twenty miles a day, and said everything about the camp was awesome – except for the running. Was this a negative sleep-away camp experience? I don’t think so, but it did make me question the hundreds of dollars – ours and hers – it cost, and if that money could have been spent more wisely.

Although the infamous running camp was my family’s only experience with sleep-away camp, we have discovered there are all kinds of day camps in and around RVA. That said, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned about summer camps. Let me know if you have any to add, and next year, we’ll run another list!

1. Don’t kick yourself too hard for not signing up your child for that one camp everyone is doing. While it’s true it’s probably a great camp (that’s why it’s full), your child may benefit from not being around the same kids he has been around during the school year.

2. If your child is highly proficient in a certain sport or activity, look at camps that involve something else. Or try a multi-activity camp. Honestly, if your daughter can do a back-handspring at six, she probably won’t be happy running around a gym with a pack of kids at an all-level gymnastics camp.

3. As convenient as it seems, it might not be a good idea to enroll all your kids in the same camp during the same week. It looks good on the calendar (and I know from experience it feels good) to see that everyone is scheduled for art camp that last week of June. But bottom line, you’re probably paying for one of your kids to spend a week doing something she really isn’t that into. Also, one of your kids might actually prefer solo time to get ahead on summer reading or to just figure out how to handle boredom.

4. If a child only wants to enroll in a certain camp because a certain friend is signed up, it might not be the best fit. There are a few factors to consider here. First, some camps (but not all) are expensive, and can you really afford that much money for what is amounting to a glorified play date? Second, the odds are really good that the kids won’t be in the same group or spend that much time together anyway without some world-class whining from parents and kids, so no one is winning in this situation.

5. Along this same line of thinking, try to avoid asking a friend in front of the kids if her kids would like to do a camp with your kids. We had a firm rule (translation: budget) about the number of camps we did per kid, per summer, so the idea of just adding on an extra week for the heck of it wasn’t exactly an option.

6. Finally, ask your kids what interests them and what camps they want to do. And listen – really listen – to their answers. If you have to talk them into going to the camp, drop-off will stink for at least the first day, and maybe the entire week.

If you’re in summer camp-finding mode, but it feels like your child just got out of diapers, you know how the years fly by. And guess what? Summers do, too. As your kids get older, there aren’t as many summer camp opportunities, but the memories from the good ones will last a lifetime. I’m here to tell you (and my women-children will tell you, too), there are a lot of good camps for Richmond-area families.

The RFM Camp Finder is a helpful parenting resource.

Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.
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