Our family’s new approach to summer camps

Every February, I turn my dulled-by-winter brain to thoughts of summer camp for our two children, now 8 and 5.5 years old.

I don’t know what it’s like in other parts of the country, but here in Toronto we have to start planning our kids’ summer activities while there are still icicles hanging from the eaves. Otherwise we run the risk of everything booking up.

This does not make me happy. I’m a last minute type of gal, and my kids can change their minds like the wind changes direction, so I resent having to make decisions so far in advance. But not enough to actually let everything book up without having some kind of plan for at least a few weeks of the summer.

The last couple of years we had our kids signed up for a mixed bag of camps, each specializing in one area of interest such as art, martial arts, musical theatre, or, in last year’s case, bugs. This was crazy-making for me and inevitably in the middle of the planning stage I would start wishing for some kind of software to help me figure out which kid was going to be where and when. I started to take the same approach again this year. Then I realized that things are very different for us now.

In many ways, they aren’t the same kids that they were last year. Now they are interested in a much wider range of activities, especially physical activities. And now we know how important that is.

The other difference is that I’m even more committed to making sure the kids are outside as much as possible and a lot of the arts camps are strictly inside deals. I’ve been able to rationalize that in the past, but this year with a new awareness about nature deficit disorder, and the effect of nature on physical literacy, I just can’t justify it in the same way.

So we’ve landed on a couple of two-week camps, one in July and one in August. The first is a really special outdoor camp here in Toronto that embraces kids of all abilities and offers a program focusing on the arts, gardening and nature, and free play. This will be our daughter’s third summer there and our son’s first and they’ve told me that this camp is their number one priority.

I agree with them that it’s a lovely camp and an important experience for them, but the emphasis is not on developing their physical literacy and what about swimming, sports, and all the rest of the things they want to participate in?

To address this we realized we need to send them to a day camp that will complement the experience they have in July, fills in those gaps, and offers a wide variety of activities. We have found one that seems to have everything we are looking for, so that takes care of another two weeks of the summer.

What’s really exciting about this camp is that they have every sport and activity under the sun (literally, the kids spend their days outside unless it’s raining) and they focus on skill development. The camp offers everything from archery to golf, soccer and baseball to lacrosse, beach volleyball to climbing walls. The list goes on and on and if the kids can dream it, they can try it. They will also get to swim twice a day, instructional in the morning and recreational in the afternoon, which is a huge bonus. Plus there are all the artistic activities they already know and love and more.

For parents who are working out of the home, camp can be a crucial piece in the summer childcare puzzle, but I am lucky to have a flexible work-from-home schedule that allows me to have some unscheduled time with my kids throughout the summer.

So it’s possible for us to keep the remaining summer weeks unscheduled and leave ourselves open to whatever the days bring. Since I’m not huge on planning big adventures during the week, they will probably spend their time off scootering and biking, playing at the park, going for walks, running through the sprinkler, and looking for bugs in the backyard.

As I look out my window at the snow and slush, it feels like those summer days are a long ways off, but just thinking about them makes me feel like I’ve gotten a shot of vitamin D from the light at the end of the tunnel. And maybe that is the upside to having to plan summer vacation in February.

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