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.

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Lovin’ Their Summer Camps!

Well, well, well…even though I totally procrastinated on the whole summer camp planning thing, it seems my girls are quite happy with what I chose. Whew! Given vacation schedules and such, there was really only 5 weeks of camps I needed to schedule. My daughters’ only requirement – that another friend was there. Easy-peasy, right? hahaha Let’s just say that I was assured that at least *one* of their friends would be at each camp…sometimes more.

The Great Teddy Bear Adventure started off their summer camp season with fellow Brownie Girl Scouts at Camp Metro. Not only did they get to create and name their new friends, they got to make clothes, feed them and build a house for them. This was exactly the kind of thing my girls love to do.

Next up? A couple of Los Gatos Recreation camps – Destination Imagination and Mission Possible. This is the first summer they’ve offered camps at Union School District locations. And not only do my girls like the themes underlying the crafts and activities, they love the field trips twice each week – a day at Memorial Park, running around the Silver Creek Sportsplex, splashing in the LGHS pool and an afternoon movie (The Smurf Movie). Did I mention these field trips are included in the cost of the camp? And that kids can be dropped off as early as 7:30 a.m. and picked up as late as 6:00 p.m. without additional “extended care” fees? These are certainly the most cost-effective camps around and ideal for families with working parents.

I don’t know why I missed out on these LG camps before. Over the last few summers, I’d stuck with Camp Galileo and Destination Science. Both are fantastic camps and my girls loved them. But admittedly, they are expensive. And I had signed up for them in February when they were offering significant discounts on them along with the extended care. But as I mentioned, I procrastinated…and that has worked out well this summer.

This coming week, they’ll be sampling Steve and Kate’s Camp for a couple of days. I’d heard about these before summer. Apparently, the Los Gatos location is a new one for them. But I worried about the lack of structure in the camps…and the cost. It’s a free-choice camp – kids choose their own activities and their own meals and snacks. Like any other parent, I worry that there would not be enough supervision or that my girls would feel left out or shy and not take advantage of the myriad games and activities. This last thought is not a big concern but still…the cost is up there.

School is peeking around the corner and there are only two more weeks until it starts. This week will also include a few days at vacation bible school at their extended care place, which they like because several of their friends will be there and they always get to do some really cool arts and crafts.

My original plan for the summer with my girls included a week free of camps the last week before school started…but it was not meant to be. We’d been meaning to get them into a basketball class for a while now and hadn’t found one that suited our schedules. We finally did…and that’s where they’ll be in the mornings.

I kinda thought we would mellow out and hang out at home as school approached…but it seems that things sped up. Hmmmmm…I’m certain it was my fault somehow. But oh well. I can’t help myself. I’m still in that mindset of letting my girls try new and different experiences. After all, they’ll only be this young for so long.

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