The average employed American worker received 18 vacation days last year, according to CNN reports, and used only 14 of those days off. Meanwhile, summer vacation for their kids is at least nine weeks long. So what are parents and kids to do when their vacation days don't align. How can kids have the memorable and fun-filled summer they deserve? Camp is a perfect answer whether you’ve got a three-year-old or a teen!
Ruth Ann Ornstein, Executive Director of in Madison, says “both day camp and overnight camp provide independence.”
“It’s teaching kids new things – stuff we don’t do in our normal everyday lives,” she adds.
One of the Camp Laurelwood games, for example, is Paint Tag. “It’s like freeze tag but with paint. The kids paint and they end up designing a T-shirt by playing tag.”
“It’s something your mother would never let you do in the house,” she says. “It’s something you do at camp and have fun doing it.”
Growing and working together as a team
Then, there’s the ropes course. “You think your kid would never get up there.”
Or, you think your kid is not a team builder. “Camps provide opportunities for kids to grow with a team and work together and try new things.”
In school you learn to read and write, but camp is a time to “learn to use a bow and arrow or hold the tennis racket the right way or shoot a basketball or be a good sport,” Ornstein explains.
Delving deeper into special interests
Camp Laurelwood offers “choice periods” for kids who want to delve deeper into particular areas such art or videography or sports.
“In the summertime in the old days when we all had neighborhoods, we all went to the neighbor's or if someone had a pool or a beach club. Now, parents are working and kids don’t know how to self-entertain because they have computers and text,” she says.
No computerized anything is allowed at Camp Laurelwood, and this policy applies at other camps in the area as well.
Going into text withdrawal? Sounds like a good thing ...
“The overnight kids especially go into text withdrawal. Their little fingers don’t know what to do with themselves!,” she said.
So, for the first two days there’s a program for the older kids on how to communicate with one another.
“It’s independence and the fresh outdoors. It’s so easy now for our kids to turn the television on or the computer. They're not out there anymore,” she said.
Learning how to be accountable
Parents, Ornstein finds, “feel their children are growing.”
Particularly for overnighters, kids learn that they have to be accountable. They learn, for example, "that if they don’t put their laundry in the laundry basket, they won’t have clean underwear in a couple of days because mom’s not there to pick up their dirty laundry.”
“For parents of overnight kids, they all say their kids come back stronger and more independent.”
Getting kids used to the water
in Clinton runs a top-rated summer program for 3 1/2 to eight year olds. Director Linda N. Stuhlman finds, "the benefits for the little kids is, in our program in particular, the swimming because in our program we do the developmental approach."
"We get them acclimated to the water and get them comfortable, and then we encourage them individually to make progress," she explains and adds, "The approach is different at Red Barn than it is at some places where everybody does the same thing at the same time."
Children also benefit from being outside and are involved in "anything from collecting bugs to hammering flowers to see the color that comes out on paper."
Learning through engaging in new activities
"They're learning a lot of social-emotional skills in terms of being a part of a group. They're learning a lot about their own bodies in terms of the swimming and climbing and playing. And, they're learning a lot in terms of the cognitive because anytime they're doing an activity, the teachers are using new vocabulary," Stuhlman points out.
While many feel kids aren't growing cognitively in the summer, "really children do because of the exposure to science and nature," she says adding, "Science is a huge thing that can happen in a summer program."
While the benefits for young children are much the same as those for older ones, "the difference is that it is done developmentally appropriate," according to Stuhlman.
Safety and security provide peace of mind
Parents of those attending the Red Barn summer program, she says, "have the assurance that the child is in a safe place with teachers who are going to pay attention to them. That safety and security gives them peace of mind."
Knowing what to do with kids going into junior high and high school can be particularly tricky for parents. "Sometimes parents think they don't need anything; they can patch it together ... but it's those two or three hours that the teenager is home alone that they can get into the medicine cabinet."
"The whole idea of having children engaged in a safe, secure place is essential for children of all ages," she notes.
Day camp adventures
Deer Lake in Killingworth offers both Day Camp Adventure for kids in kindergarten through grades eight and Venture Wilderness School for kids in grades nine through twelve.
Director Patty Clifton says Deer Lake is "an opportunity for the kids to be outside with great role models with the counselors who are college age and up, learning skills such as rowing, canoeing, archery, wilderness skills, etc., and meeting new friends from other towns in a safe environment where people are respected."
The camp has "fields to play sports in, lakes to swim and boat in, valleys and cliffs and swamps ... a whole variety of terrain."
The parents, she says, "like the fact that their kids are going to a program similar to what they did when they were kids."
No computers, a good old-fashioned camp
There's no skatepark or computers. "It's all original," Clifton points out and adds, "it's a good old-fashioned camp but with safety measures in place."
Social skills, she finds, "are lost with kids sitting around computers and cell phones." Thus, there is a no cell phone policy.
At Deer Lake's Wilderness School, "this is the first time in their life they are responsible for someone else's life until they get their drivers license because when they're rock climbing, someone else is belaying them."
Leadership development emphasized
Those at the Wilderness School, Clifton says, "go in as kids and come out as men and women."
"Ours is a leadership development thing with learning and bonding and trusting each other and taking that leap of faith," she adds.
“Children and teens have camped at our Y for 64 years,” says Rich Ward, Camp Director of Valley-Shore Y Day Camp, which has locations in Westbrook and at the Joel School in Clinton. “When at Day Camp, kids are given new responsibilities and they learn independence while getting to explore their creative side as well. As a result, they become more confident, open to trying new things and grow as individuals and as part of a group.”
Over nine weeks, Day Camp, Special Interest Camp, Before & After Care, Teen Camp, Swim Lessons and Archery Lessons are offered.
Ideal for working parents, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“The Valley-Shore Y has been known for years to offer a convenient option for parents especially,” Ward says. “Starting at 7AM, parents are able to drop off their children at the Y, and given the option of pick up as late as 6PM. With both parents working full-time, this enables them to give their children a safe and nurturing and very active environment each and every week.”
Special Interest Camps are a new trend at Valley-Shore Y. “This enables a child to participate in a very quality driven program at a very affordable rate. Conveniently, the Special Interest Camps have a half-day or full-day option,” he noted.
Wide array of offerings from Madison Beach & Rec
offers athletic summer camps and "regular" summer camp, which is "what most of us think about when we think about summer camp; they do everything," explains Recreation Supervisor Carrie Gazda.
The benefits of attending camp include: "making new friends, being outdoors, being active, playing, fresh air, and learning a new skill," she believes.
Electronics are not allowed at Madison Beach & Recreation. "Kids get a full day of fun and never think about them ... we keep them too busy," she said.
"They may get to go to a new place they've never been before, and they're always active and busy so health-wise it's a great thing," Gazda added.
Summer camp, of course, is fun. "You have to have fun, especially if Mom and Dad have to work. Instead of dreading going somewhere, you're somewhere you actually have a good time."
For many kids, camp is very social. "Friendships are very cool. They meet new people and have a good time," she said.
For the parents the benefits are: "one of our goals for the summer is we send them home tired and dirty. They have a great day, have fun, and can't wait to go home the next day," Gazda said adding, "the parents are excited because the kids are excited."
"The kids actually get something out of it. They maybe learned something, maybe met a new friend, and had a good time. That's a huge benefit for the parents."
"To know that your kids are someplace actually having fun is a relief," she said.
Plus, "Not only are the kids in a safe environment, but they're maybe coming home with a new outlook, new skills and friendships."
According to Gazda, a working parent herself, "Camp is pretty much required these days with parents at work. It's nice to know that they can be someplace that they love."