May is here and that means summer camp season is just around the corner. Recently I have seen an influx of summer camp brochures in my mailbox filled with promises to provide to provide amazing experiences for our children. One such overnight game camp boasted the inclusion of one hour of outside activities for their “balanced time.” Could it really be true that someone thinks this is a good idea? Does one hour of outside time constitute balance? Summer camps are wonderful opportunities for our kids. They allow children to try new things, socialize with others, shoot a bow and arrow, and jump in the lakes. None of these experiences can be accomplished with a screen in hand.
While a full day of gaming may be on the top of every kid’s dream list for the summer, parents recognize that, developmentally speaking, young brains can not handle concentrated time on entertainment screens. Medical science tells us that too much dopamine and limbic center stimulation (over 20 minutes at a time) is out of balance according to some neuroscientists. Children begging for a full day of gaming at a screen camp might need a traditional camp more than is realized. Most kids spend too much time on screens during the school year and their screen-saturated brain need a rest.
Game design and coding camp. If your son dreams about being a game designer and wants to go to game camp then challenge him to think differently about his gaming career. If your daughter loves Minecraft and wants to go to coding camp then research other alternatives she may enjoy and challenge her to do something completely new. It’s not that game design is a bad thing, in fact many highly intelligent individuals have crafted excellent programs which has positively affected society. However, loving video gaming entertainment does not equate to having a coding and game design interest. Hoping to impress mom and dad, children have learned to promote game camp in an attempt to acquire more game time. Good game designers know how to work on teams and interact with people and traditional non-screen camps are a great place to learn those social skills. Keep in mind that today’s game design camps will be using technology that will most likely be outdated by the time your child is ready for a game designer job.
Media camp. While journaling and writing are great skills for building creativity, most media camps include heavy doses of “playing on social media”. Tread carefully. Instead, search for a traditional creative writing or “outdoor” nature journaling camp. These camps stir the imagination, use traditional pen and paper, and provide time outdoors where children are allowed to dream big.
Think about balance. The Kaiser Foundation research says that today’s child spends 58 hours a week on screens. This statistic points to an imbalance in childhood screen use. Most kids love donuts, but that doesn’t mean that they need to go to a doughnut eating camp all summer. Balancing kids’ activities is key to their future success which is why a traditional camp may be the best choice. Do kids really need more time on a screen?
Summer camp in your own “backyard”. If you are frustrated with the difficulty and expense of finding good camps, consider having one in your own backyard! It may be easier than you think. Get together with a few parents and brainstorm ideas. You can rotate houses, meet at parks, or hike greenways and trails. Have the kids bring their own lunch and any other supplies they may need. Consider a do-it-yourself “sports camp” theme or even an art camp! I do “summer camp” every summer at my house for my 12 year old boys and we love how easy it is. The entire family looks forward to it every year.
Top Three Tips for Media-Savvy Parents on Picking a Summer Camp:
Go Screen Free. Since many kids struggle with screen overuse during the summer months, it is important to participate in camps that will promote creative thinking, exercise, independence and social interaction. You are paying good money for camps, so don’t let the summer be absorbed by screen saturated experiences. If the camp of interest allows or provides screens, consider healthier options. Kids need a break from screens! Including the word “outdoor” in a summer camp google search will broaden your options for screen-free camps.
Social Media Safety. There are important safety considerations to remember when choosing to send your child to camp. Many summer camps have online picture albums posted on various social media accounts for which a signed release is required. Viewing photos of our kids at camp is a wonderful gift, however make sure your child is never tagged, and that live and streaming video is prohibited. Excess information about your child, including location and identification, is dangerous. In addition, all Social Media albums should be private and only permitted to be seen by families of campers. Unfortunately, even these precautions will not stop families from sharing or reposting an image online. Finally, many counselors take pictures of themselves with their campers and allow their campers access to their smartphones. In order to prevent a picture being taken of your child and then floated around the internet or your child being exposed to inappropriate content, do not hesitate to inquire about the social media and smartphone policies for the staff. Sadly, many children experience viewing pornography for the first time while at camp.
Schedules. Scheduling is extremely important. Feel free to ask about the daily schedules and don’t be afraid to ask questions or offer ideas. If movies and TV shows are used as an alternative to outdoor time on rainy days, encourage the camp staff to engage in indoor games, arts and crafts, reading time or drama exercises. Kids thrive on being creative and they deserve more than an afternoon of television. Indoor bowling tournaments, paper airplane contests, summer snowball fights and kite building should highlight rainy camp days. After all, when you pick up your child after a fun day at camp and ask about the day, do you really want to hear about watching TV?
In conclusion, camp should be an exciting, fun-filled experience for all children, and camp should also be safe. Proper screen use and monitoring needs to be a concern when enrolling your child in summer camp. If you allow screens during the school months as part of your child’s entertainment, consider choosing a camp that will give your child a real taste of carefree childhood. Our children only have a few years to really enjoy their summers and create the memories of childhood camps. Let those memories reflect long summer nights by the fire pit, dripping ice cream cones, adventurous reading and lifelong friendships…no screens necessary!