Summer Camps Are Coming...
What to expect of summers as your kids reach camp age
This week is a slice-of-life and parenting post - if you are looking for product building & tech career guidance, check out our Product and Career sections on our Substack website. Adam’s post last week - ❓ Partner/VP/Exec: What's the job really like? - is really insightful and has garnered a lot of conversation within our community. Thanks for the shares & likes.
It’s the end of April and our entire summer (which by the way is 10 weeks in the Pacific Northwest) is fully booked out. By the numbers, this breaks out to be about two weeks of family vacation and 8 weeks of summer programming. I, along with many fellow parents, have been booking camps and coordinating with fellow parents and neighbors our summer schedule since mid-February.
I am now catching my breath and asking two questions. How did we get here and how do we survive this madness.
Here is what you can expect to get out of this newsletter:
🤦🏼♀️ Parents whose kids aren’t YET old enough for summer camps - you will get a preview of what your life will likely entail and you can mentally prepare for what lies ahead. Skip it if you just can’t. I get it.
✌🏻Parents with kids doing summer camps - you will be seen and validated that your craziness is also my craziness. If I missed stuff, please add your experiences and tips in the comments or send me a note. The struggle is real.
🥳 Parents who are past this phase or people without kids - good popcorn post that you can read and feel gratitude that you are past this or will never have to do this.
When I was growing up, my summers were either living at our “dacha” (summer house in the suburbs of Moscow) with my grandmother or hanging out at home with my sister once we moved to the United States (I was 10 at the time and my sister was 5). I think of these days fondly now but back then, I definitely remember being “bored.” As I’ve written before, there is lots of research confirming that boredom is great for developing an imagination and building resiliency, so I write this as a reminder for us all, that there are many ways for kids to spend a summer. We are all balancing what our families need against the resources that we have and our values.
Fast forward to me now being a parent and Adam and I have made a decision that we will be part of the summer camp madness. Given that we’ve made this decision, we try to optimize to make the most of this path and do it as well as we can manage.
Why camps and not a full-time caregiver at home?
Adam and I are both working full time and do not have family nearby. We are fortunate that we are able to afford camps and believe that our kids will have more enrichment and fun over the summer in activities vs. at home with a nanny.
The biggest trade off that we end up making (other than cost) is that routines are thrown off and there is a different kind of chaos that we manage. Summer camp life means that there is a new schedule every week with mental load to keep everyone organized and getting to the right places on time. In addition there is the emotional complexity of our kids feelings and experiences at camps - sometimes they are great, sometimes they are ok, very rarely they are terrible and you have to make a plan to address the issue.
Are camps about childcare or enrichment?
For our family, it is a little bit of both - as our kids are getting older, we are trying to support their hobbies and find camps that are interesting to them, where they can make or strengthen friendships, or where they are having a new adventure.
If this was strictly about childcare, we would hire either a summer college student or a full time nanny to hang out with them, but we are finding that not work as well as having more structured activities.
So now we ask the questions - how much outdoor and sports time is right, how much do we push our kids to try new things and make new friends, how much do we coordinate camps with school friends and the list of questions goes on.
It is a lot of work to fill 8 weeks of time with activities so my bar is to get it mostly rightly and take notes for the following summer (as well as mark calendars for when the camps my kids liked open registration).
How long do camps last?
This varies greatly. But here are the different types:
Half-day camps - usually 9-12 or 12-4, week long. These are usually for younger kids (under 7) and exmaples include half days of tennis camps, bike camps, yoga camps, outdoor park camps. Many of them have a “full day” option (9-3) When you opt in for those, you really still need access to a fulltime caregiver over the summer to support pick ups, lunch and afternoon activities.
“Most of the day” camps - 10-3pm, 9-3pm. Most of the camps that we’ve been utilizing fall into this category. Gotta love the 10am starts or the 3pm finish times for working parents! Most of these usually last a week but you can sometimes do multiple sessions. For example, we have done theater camps and have at times done two sessions or one longer 2-week session.
Overnight camps - we are just starting to crawl into this category but these can be a week-long to multiple weeks at a time. We are starting with Camp Zanika this year for a week-long camp for both kids.
Where do I find camps?
Parks and Rec usually put on a lot of summer programming. Their brochures usually come out in March
Word of mouth - Neighborhood facebook groups and neighbors
Other places that usually have some kind of camp programming - local gymnastics studio, art museums, and zoos
When do I need to start booking camps?
As mentioned earlier, most camp registrations run from February to April. If you are doing activities throughout the year with this organization, you usually get first dibs on summer camp slots. For example, our kids go to a gymnastics studio, and they got to register for summer camp a week before it was open to general registration. Sometimes you get the same courtesy if you are a returning camper (or at least you are usually on the email list so you may see it in time).
Generally, there are two types of camps - Type A and normal camps.
The Type A camps fill up within a day (sometimes faster). For those, you should mark your calendar and wake up when registration opens to get the spots you want.
I found out the hard way in my area by missing the signs ups for cool outdoor forest camps so then I would know for next year. So ask around which are the camps that fill up really fast ahead of time and act accordingly if you really want to get into one of those.
If that is too much, do not despair as there are plenty of “normal camps” - registration for most opens between mid-February and April and you usually have a few weeks to get your act and schedule together and get a spot. However, it is still helpful to track when registration opens so that you can get your preferred spots and times.
Who does pick up and drop off?
Up until last year, we had a full-time (or close to it) nanny who would do the logistics and driving. [link to nanny post]. This year, we have switched to a part-time nanny/household manager.
Our plan for the summer is to a do a mix of our nanny + Adam and I driving + carpool with neighborhood parents to get kids from point A to point B.
If needed, I will also hire a college student home for the summer
How do I keep track of camp logistics?
End of spring break is usually the time when I start getting organized for summer. The biggest unlock for me is having a shared calendar with all the details - dates, addresses and any other camp notes (like which friend is also doing the camp).
I also use text and WhatsApp groups to coordinte carpools and logisitcs with other parents which is becoming more and more critical as our kids need to be in different places at different times. Both Adam and I are included on these as well as our nanny/household manager so that everyone can stay on the same page with who needs to be where and when.
Joint camps for siblings - If possible enroll kids into the same camp to simplify pick-ups and drop offs
Early drop offs and late pick ups - The 10-3/9-3 camps often have an option to pay for early drop off and/or late pick up
Most camps have some kind of “end of camp” performance - whether it is a show or a bike parade. so plan your schedule accordingly
Keep your kids prepared - sunscreen, hat, extra snacks, water, change of clothes, a towel and flip flops are packed for most days my kids are in camp. Getting a sunburn in week 1 makes everyone feel terrible.
Increase bath frequency - camps are dirty. So we try to bathe kids more frequently in the summers.