It seems like just this week we’ve turned a corner, with families far and wide starting to piece together their summers, and what that looks like now that many camps have postponed operations.
With it, I’ve also seen a ton of new and fun blogs and articles pop up on the many different virtual summer camps available, along with posts dedicated to virtual summer camp ideas parents can implement at home.
If nothing else, tasked with figuring out how to engage kids at home is bringing out the creativity and innovation, and is producing some really interesting results.
In it all, though, I started thinking more and more about the summer camp experience, and how unique and special it is, and how it might not be so easy to create such magic at home. Like I said, there are many great suggestions and thought-starters popping up daily, but it seems many are failing to mention or incorporate key elements that make summer camps everything that they are.
So first, let’s have a refresher. What makes a summer camp a summer camp? Or, asked differently, what are the different benefits of summer camp?
Summer camps help kids build new and unique interests. Meaning, even when camp used to only be about archery and building campfires, the appeal of such activities was the fact that these were things kids couldn’t or didn’t do in their everyday lives.
And now, especially, with more and more specialized summer camps, a big beneficial piece is that kids can spend a week or more in the thick of building a new skill; something they don’t have the opportunity to do during the school year.
Summer camps help kids build new and strong relationships. It’s weird to think about, but many kids walk away from a week of camp with lifelong friends. Five days of companionship, more or less; that’s it! That’s all it takes for a child and another child to go from complete strangers from different walks of life to best friends.
Well, a week’s time together non-stop can really accelerate the friendship timeline, sure.
But beyond that, at summer camp, you’re also going to have kids working together, competing together, learning alongside each other. All things that can easily boost any relationship to levels more than that which would come from kids simply going to school together and seeing each other in the same class or at lunch, etc.
Not to mention that at camp, it’s the first taste of independence for many kids…
Summer camps allow for independence and empowerment. So, to build off the previous point, a week at summer camp might be the first week a child has had away from their parents. The first time they’ve had to be their own boss; to tell themselves to brush their teeth, to get themselves to be somewhere on time, etc.
Such independence helps kids build relationships with each other as mentioned above, but it also allows for personal growth, and for them to feel empowered to the point of “I can do this” when it comes to taking a leap into a brand new challenge.
So what’s the point of rehashing the above? Because for as much as we can be doing at home with our kids this summer, it’s important to realize that summer camp is more than just “doing something.” And thus, recreating the experience at home isn’t as easy as simply providing structure. It’s a great start, yes, but there is more to consider.
At-home summer camp tips
Given all of that, what can we do with our at-home summer camp activities to really elevate them to levels close to what kids might experience at an in-person summer camp?
This is a tough one, right? Kids are at home, and we are parents, naturally. So, it’s just instinct for us to watch over them and ensure they’ve eaten enough, don’t need a snack, and “are doing OK.”
While it’s great to come up with a long list of things to keep kids busy this summer at home, try to incorporate activities that don’t require 24/7 supervision. Most “try this” lists are going to suggest activities like cooking, or backyard camping, etc. Again, all great things, but all things that require constant supervision, and thus less if not any independence.
Our kids love us, and we love our kids, and everyone on both sides knows it. But, there is a reason they go to summer camp, right? Parents need a break, and kids need to interact with new and different groups of people.
So, when planning your summer activities, think about how kids can interact with others.
For instance, with something like the different types of online learning, it’s easy to settle in on a “point and click” option where your child sits at a screen and keeps themselves occupied for an hour. Doing so might help them with their independence depending on how they go about their problem solving, but it’s really not doing much for their socialization.
Same goes for things on the other end of the spectrum—if your child is in an online summer camp with 20, 30, 60 other kids, it’s tough for them to really socialize, right? They’re most likely on mute as everyone watches what’s unfolding in front of them.
So, consider options and activities that include other kids, but also allow for interaction between them all.
Incorporate relevant skill-building
One thing many parents forget or haven’t yet even thought about is the fact that summer camp can be used as a springboard for their kids into a new interest or passion.
Again, I’m not against ice cream socials, tie-dye, and ghost stories. All fun stuff. But just look at the summer camp landscape. Coding camps, 3D printing camps, and more. Fun stuff AND relevant to the skills needed to traverse the current and future job landscape.
Aim for a true camp experience
With the above, let’s not forget what summer camp really brings to the table, and that replicating it at home usually requires more than a full schedule. Many kids rely on summer time to make new friends, build new skills, and importantly, grow.