Summer planning: pitfalls and lessons

summer camp

Complication, complication, complication – I think those are the three words that best describe summer planning as an expat with kids! I am kidding of course, but there is a grain of truth here. As an expat you are often trying to piece together a summer where you are juggling the desire to go home with wanting to explore your new community and country; add to that obligations of work and school. As kids grow older, the equation becomes more complicated as they start voicing their own preferences. Maybe there is summer school to consider or a summer job or internship on the horizon. Maybe the thought of spending weeks and weeks away from friends is too much to bear for your child.

Looking back at 15 years worth of planning summer camps, summer trips and general activities for my kids, as well as the whole family, the first thing that comes to mind is START EARLY, especially if you are thinking of summer camps. Sign-ups can start as early as January and popular ones fill up quickly. I learned this lesson when I failed to register my then 6-year old daughter for the camp she had her sights set. New as I was to this, I had simply not known that you had to physically line-up at our city’s recreational center bright and early the morning registration opened with paperwork and payment in hand, and that spots filled up quickly. These days, most summer camp registration is done online, so you probably won’t need to line up in person any more. However, being early is still crucial to get your child into the popular camps.

With three kids in the family I think we have tried most any type of camp available: sports and science camps, arts and theatre and dance; half day, full day and over-night. Some have been very good and others less so. Some, my kids have really enjoyed while others have been so-so. A couple of camps have been downright awful. I would venture that your child’s preference is worth considering, as sending a kid to a camp he or she is not interested in often ends up being a waste of money and a cause of tears and general misery. I have leaned that lesson as well…

It is no secret that many camps are expensive so it is well worth doing some basic research before putting down the big bucks. How is the camp run? Is the staff trained, and do they know first aid and CPR? What is the child to staff ratio? What does a day look like? Ask your friends for recommendations and opinions and call or e-mail the camp organizer with specific questions.

Some camps offer such a wonderful experience that your child will want to go back year after year. The camp counselors, who are often high school kids and college students, become heroes with boundless energy and willingness to engage; they are the ones who make it all seem magical and fun. My son became a camp counselor himself at one of his favorite camps after having been a camper for as long as he could. It was a stated goal after his first summer as camper that one day he would be a counselor there!

These days I spend more time trying to piece together a summer where hopefully we will all be at the same place at the same time for a week or two. With kids in college, high school and middle school, summers are more complicated than they used to be. I am juggling school trips with volleyball camps and internships with summer jobs, I am looking into service trips and desires for beach vacations along with going back home and seeing family. Also on my mind, who the heck is going to take care of the dog? I might have to send him to camp…

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