The Ultimate In Free Choice Camps

So, my girls spent a couple of days at Steve and Kate’s camp this summer. I think this was the first year it was held at a local Los Gatos site. I’d heard it was coming before summer began but wasn’t so sure whether it would be right for my girls…or me. Besides the fact that it was one of the more expensive camps, there seemed to be no structure to the days’ activities. So, I crossed it off my list of camps to consider. But as the summer went on, I ran into other parents I knew who’d put their kids there. And the reviews were mixed – from simply amazing to not right for my kinda kid. Of course, this made me rethink my earlier decision to cross it off the list. I mean, the reviews were somewhat extreme. I didn’t hear a single “it’s okay” from anyone…and I felt that I should let my girls try it out.

On their first day, I joined the little group that toured the camp. I was really impressed with the equipment and plethora of activities available to the kids – making a short movie using one of the videocameras, recording their own CD’s, an electronic drum set, a sewing room with looms and sewing machines, a game room with an air hockey table, video games and Karaoke machine, a lounge with Legos and other building type toys…and that was just indoors. Outside, there was a rather large soccer field with inflatable sides and rubber ground, the weekly entertainment of a Jurassic Park-themed inflatable jumpy house and slide, an area to cook, create pottery on a pottery wheel, clay for more freestyle ceramic pieces and more! As we toured each studio and activity area, my girls’ eyes got wider and wider. It was all they could do to contain their excitement.

The reviews of the first day were grrrrrrreat…then mixed. Both of my girls said they’d like to go back and were looking forward to the second day. But later, one of my girls made a comment that the camp made her think of me and she was sad. What? She meant that she’d felt lonely there sometimes. This came from my more social one who has no problem going up to another kid and asking to play or to say Hi. Hmmmm

The next day, there was no protest from either girl. In fact, they couldn’t wait to get there so they could start a few more projects. One wanted to make a  movie while the other wanted to weave a hat for her new baby cousin. Whew!

Later that day after I’d picked them up, they both seemed very happy. Both asked if they could return but the summer would run out before we had any more time to spend a day there. I told them, maybe next summer. A few feeble protests and we rushed off to Tae Kwon Do class.

Overall, I think the experience was a good one. They now know what to expect and can plan their projects accordingly for next summer…if we return. You see, I’m not sure yet. My daughter mentioned again that she was sad and lonely and missed me at certain times during the day. She had to hold her cries because she didn’t want anyone to see. So we chatted about it and I think I know what happened.

You see, since kids can run around to any activity they want, whenever they want, they’re all going to be on their own schedules…except for lunchtime and brief huddles. And when Storyteller finished a project, she went outside to look for her sister and her friends and could find noone. Hence, the loneliness. And this is what surprised me. She’s the twin that can play by herself quite happily. She’s the one that can make friends quite easily. She’s the one that has several interests to keep her busy. I asked her about the new friends she made. Her response was that she only made a few and she didn’t get to really play with them. So, she didn’t feel like she knew them very well. And she couldn’t find them when she was done doing whatever she was doing so that she could play with them…and get to know them better. And therein, I believe, lay her problem with the [lack of] structure in this camp.

I really thought both of my girls would looooooove Steve and Kate’s camp…and they did. But I think that what was missing for one of them was the camaraderie that builds from more structured camps through Los Gatos Rec, Camp Galileo, Destination Science and Girl Scout camp. Each of those have more group time together where they create projects together or solve mysteries together or play games together. For a kid that’s very friendly and highly social, I think she would like those settings where kids are brought together…and she has a chance to meet and play with them…to get to know them. Hmmmmm… again, this experience did not turn out the way I’d thought it would but it did show me other sides of my girls I hadn’t contemplated. Do I think we’ll return next summer? I’m not entirely sure but I’m leaning toward Yes, I think we will. My girls absolutely loved the things they got to do…whenever they wanted to do it. And as for the loneliness? Well, I think that she’ll be another year older, the camp will be familiar to her and she’ll learn to work it out. As much as I’d love to make sure she doesn’t feel that way again, I have to let her deal with it herself…knowing she will.

Original post to It’s Never Easy But It’s Always Fun blog.


5 responses

  1. Thanks for the perspective. I had heard about this camp and I was curious. We decided against because of the price though it sounds like they certainly have a wide variety of activities there!

  2. Thank you for the insight. The camp has been held at my son’s elementary school, so location and ease of getting him to camp has been a big appeal. I want my son to broaden his horizons and really challenge himself to entertain projects that capture his interests, with or without his friends. I suppose for this reason it would be interesting to try for a summer. He’s grown to dislike park district summer camp programs over the past 1-2 years because of the group/clustering of other kids who seem to isolate him or he just didn’t ‘fit-in’ with. Steve and Kate ARE pricey, compared to thrifty park district programs. But, I suppose it’s time to give them a try.

    My other concern is (and I have not been able to find documentation on) how are they with special needs kids… even high-functioning kids with special needs. Hmmmm…

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