I’ll be blatantly honest – I treated signing my kids up for summer camp this year like an Olympic sport. Washington D.C.-area camps always fill up fast, but with many of them at half-capacity this summer, finding open spots was even tougher. Back in January, I found out which camps were opening registration on which day, I pre-coordinated a beach week with both sets of grandparents, and I put all the local programs into Waze to see how long the drive would be.
Since I started working full time, summer camp has always been my childcare. This year, with my office reopening, I really needed to find somewhere for them to go. But I also really regretted that my daughters (ages six and seven) didn’t get a camp experience last summer. Some of my best memories as a child were made in the theater day camp I did at my town’s local park.
But there are also a lot of well-researched, data-driven reasons why I’m sending my kids to camp this summer. Now that schools are back in session, and many adults and teens are vaccinated, it doesn’t seem like as much of a risk as it did back in January.
It’s good for their mental health.
It’s not surprising that the pandemic worsened the mental health crisis this year, including among kids. Earlier this year, the CDC released data showing that the number of emergency room visits for children’s mental health skyrocketed from 2019 to 2020. I felt lucky that my kids are young enough that they didn’t really lament the change in lifestyle this past year (if anything, they still love being around me at their ages and were happy to get more mom time). But they’re getting old enough now that another summer stuck at home would really have an impact on them.
2. Spending time outside is good for their physical health.
I know I don’t get outside enough; my annual bloodwork consistently comes back as low in Vitamin D (like many adults). I’m hoping this isn’t the care for my kids. Spending time outside raises levels of vitamin D, which helps with immune function and protecting bones and muscles. Time outside has also been shown to reduce ADHD symptoms.
3. Summer camp can help them at school.
When our public school announced that they were offering free summer school in July to help kids catch up academically, I wished I had known that earlier (because I would have saved a lot of money in camp fees!). But I feel much better now that I’ve learned that learning in nature (versus in the classroom) can actually lead to higher scores on standardized tests. A number of studies have documented this. Also, now my kids won’t be mad at me for sending them to school in the summer.
4. Kids really need more (non-iPad) playtime.
Socializing and play are foundational to kids’ development. Even before COVID, 75% of children didn’t get enough playtime. Camp can really help give kids real playtime, with other kids, instead of watching tv or playing on their iPads.
To all military parents who have struggled to entertain or homeschool kids through deployments, crazy work schedules and moves, my heart goes out to you. Give yourself permission to send your kids to camp without feeling guilty, and take a bit of a break for yourself this summer.
Feature image: U.S. Army photo