12 Things You Should Know About Summer Vacation and Day Camp

It’s arrived, that time of year where parents scramble to figure out where their kids’ summer hours are best spent. Will it be survival camp or computers? Ballet or chess? Is the commute even possible, and how much will the grandparents have to shell out to help pay for it? And aside from all that, is there even a spot for your child?

It’s obvious that you have to act fast to get your child into a decent program if you can afford it, and if you can’t – then what is the alternative? And by the way, why do we do this every year? Give our kids almost three months of time off during the most high-energy time of the year while we parents are lucky to get two weeks paid time off?

You might be surprised to learn several startling facts about our current set up, as well as some good tips for helping your kids get the most out of summer.

  1. Summer vacation has nothing to do with farming. The explanation we’ve been given for the extended break during the summer is not based on fact. If our national schedule was actually arranged around the “agrarian calendar” as we have been taught to believe, kids back in the day would be helping their parents plant in the spring and harvest in the fall. In the farming era when it mattered, there wouldn’t have been much for kids to do in the summer.1
  1. Urban schools used to be on a “flex” model. Schools used to run year-round and parents could pull their kids out when needed. This way families who depended on seasonal fluctuations had the extra help. Now schools run an official 180 days a year. 1
  1. The modern calendar was a compromise between rural and urban models. As of the late 19th century, calls for standardization pushed education into the current model. It had nothing to do with performance outcomes but rather, the fact that being inside during the dog days was counterproductive. Those longer breaks were also to train teachers and give them time for the next academic year. 1
  1. Low income kids suffer academically from the summer schedule. With working parents that are already stretched thin, kids from low-socioeconomic standing are often without a rudder during the long summer break, whereas middle-income kids go to camp, take summer school or travel. The performance disparity, referred to in educational circles as the “summer slide” is really obvious once kids return to school in the fall. 1 It continues to daunt these kids into adulthood.
  1. Summer Camp is a lucrative industry. More than 14,000 day camps and sleep-away camps exist in the US, generating a whopping $18 billion per year2.
  1. Day camp and summer camp fill in the gap when in comes to leadership, social and life skills. Because there is so much emphasis in the US education curriculum on academic achievement, kids don’t get many chances to learn how to start or put out a camp fire, how to read a compass, or form teams with different roles to accomplish challenges. The kids who have access to specialized organizations like 4H or Scouts get these “intangibles”. For many of these kids, going away from home for a week is a big deal, with lessons and challenges built into the program.
  1. Parents report that going to some form of camp helps kids:
  • Build self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Feel more self-directed
  • Build social skills and make friends
  • Gain more self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Increase independence and flex more leadership skills
  • Deepen their friendships and feel more comfortable socially
  • Gain a willingness to try new things2
  1. Do your homework when looking for a day camp. You want to make sure the organization is solid, so ask parents of older kids for recommendations. Check out the offered activities and don’t just go for the stuff that your child loves, but make sure there is a blend of new things for your child to try.
  1. Sleep away camp is great ­– when they are ready. The recommended age by many seasoned camp directors for overnight stays is somewhere around 12. Some kids are exited, while others will need some coaxing.
  1. Sunshine isn’t optional. They spend so much time inside sitting at a desk during the school year, this should really be an opportunity to get outside and interact with the natural world or get their game on. If you want to enhance learning, consider a week-long stint at a STEM camp that you can sandwich between lots of outside time. Remember that kids are likely to become lethargic and even gain weight during the summer1.
  2. Mix it up. If it’s in the cards for your family, mix in some travel, some education, some day camp and some specialized programs. It’s a great time to visit family, camp, hang out on a farm, or take a train ride to see something new.
  3. Apply for help. In attempt to correct this economic disparity between kids who can afford camp and those who cannot, many programs offer scholarships, low-cost enrichment or subsidized camp to those who qualify. Putting in the time to get your child settled in a good program will pay back tenfold throughout his or her life. 

    Get creative with how you sell the ideas for summer and lean on the resources available to you so that your child gets that fresh air, freedom, but gains some skills and some experience too.




    1. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/debunking-myth-summer-vacation/
    2. http://www.acacamps.org/press-room/aca-facts-trends


About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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