Sunday, January 30, 2011

Camp and Play

Talk is cheap. Talk about the value of unstructured play for kids seems especially cheap these days. Cheap and abundant in the media and blogosphere, invaluable and scarce in the "real world."

An example: a few days ago, I received as an insert with my daily Globe and Mail, the glossy Our Kids Go To Camp summer camp guide (also available online). It seems a bit odd to receive such a guide in January, when the temperature is minus 24 with the wind chill. But I suppose it makes a certain sense: during the season of SAD we're more likely to pore over the beautiful pictures, fantasizing fondly about mosquito infested woods and heatwaves that make you actually want to take a dip in a freezing northern lake. Plus, from a practical perspective, the camp guide, which lists most overnight and day camps in Ontario (and some in Quebec), allows parents to plan in advance to ensure that they pick the right camp for their child, and that they enroll him or her early to avoid disappointment.

This year's guide, like those of past years, is full of articles extolling the benefits of camp for kids. There are, for example, a series of mini-interviews in which prominent people—ranging from reporter Jane Taber to entrepreneur Seth Godin—talk about their camp experience. There are also short informative articles about the various ways in which camp benefits kids. One short piece in particular by Lisa Van de Ven caught my eye. Entitled "The Value of Play," it begins with a statement about today's play-deprived kids:

Kids just want to have fun—and they need more of it, too. Many children today simply don’t get enough of unstructured playtime. “If you look at time in school, time at home, time watching TV, those things have either stayed consistent or gone up,” says Michelle Brownrigg, chief executive of Active Healthy Kids Canada. “But active playtime has decreased.”
No argument there. The article goes on to state:

Camp gives children the playtime they need while encouraging creativity and social engagement. “What’s really unique about the camp environment—whether it’s a day camp or an overnight camp—is the opportunity for kids to explore being active in creative ways that aren’t as adult-driven,” Brownrigg says.
Here's where I disagree. In a piece I posted last summer entitled Camp-Keep-Me-Busy, I argued the exact opposite: i.e., that the problem with many camps today is, they offer the same kind of overly-structured days filled with adult-directed activities as kids experience the rest of the year. The only difference is the type of structured activities offered and—in some instances—the natural backdrop.

If you have a minute, read the camp post and let me know what you think.


  1. I wonder if it has to do with changing workforce patterns. Back when there were a lot more stay-at-home moms, people sent their kids to camp because they wanted the kids to go to camp. Now they send them to camp because they need child care coverage, so you get a lot of parents who aren't necessarily motivated by the same ideas about independence, wilderness, etc.

    My kids haven't gone to camp yet, but they do like to sign up for a few activities during the summers, like tennis or art groups, etc. I have a rule of thumb: if an activity takes an hour, it's likely to be serious and teach the kids something; if it takes three hours or more, it's daycare, and we shouldn't expect the kids to learn much from it.

  2. I send my kids to lots of full-day camp over the summer. My older daughter goes to art camp, usually for several weeks. My younger daughter attends an old-fashioned sports and arts and crafts camp for most of the summer. They swim twice a day!

    We really need camps for the kids, even though we're all home. There's not enough other kids hanging around the neighborhood to keep my kids company.

  3. Oops, I guess I didn't pore over my post carefully enough to catch that one. :-) (In my defense, though, it was a typo not a grammar error. That said, as a descriptivist in matters of grammar, I predict that "pore over" is on the way out, if only because the verb "pore" is used so infrequently. Some grammar books actually agree with me on this!)

    As for your earlier comment, I wrote this the other night:

    FedUpMom and Chris -- I just posted a response and then accidentally deleted it! I'm too tired to re-write it, but the gist was: I'm not opposed to camp. My kids have tried out many day camps and have hated most of them, but last summer we found a relaxed horseback riding camp (with shortened hours) that they loved.

    What I'm taking issue with is the implication in the article cited above that camps provide kids with a lot of opportunity for unstructured play. In my original Camp-Keep-Me-Busy piece, I argue that most summer camps today in fact offer kids the same kind of over-scheduled busyness that they experience the rest of the year. I also touch on the point you make Chris, about camps now serving more of a day care role. I don't think there's anything wrong with this (since a need is certainly being filled), but parents shouldn't delude themselves about the kind of experience their kids are going to have at "camp."

    (My original comment was much more coherent and better written, but oh well.)

  4. FedUpMom: To add to the confusion, according to most dictionaries (e.g., Oxford, Merriam-Webster, Random House), the verbs pour and pore both derive from the Middle English verb "pouren." So it seems that the modern spelling of the verb "pore" (as in "pore over") is somewhat arbitrary—as is most modern spelling. (I studied both Middle English and Old English, in grad school, and I confess I'm kinda partial to the pre-modern, loosey-goosey approach to spelling.)

    And now back to "pouring" over those lovely camp brochures. ;)

  5. That's funny, I wrote a computer program that linguists use to study Old and Middle English. It's a mervaille, the many connections we have ....