I have a nanny who takes care of my kids year-round. So every summer – or, February when camp-booking starts – I’m hesitant to sign up for camps on top of our daily childcare. In the past, she’s filled their days with swim lessons in the morning and an afternoon activity, then home for a break. But there’s only so much she can do with them every day of the summer to keep them both challenged, active, social and engaged in healthy physical activities. Plus, when it’s too hot to be outdoors, it’s way too tempting to go to a movie or come home and watch TV.
So this year, I want to put my 5-year old in a full-day camp. Considering he’s heading to Kindergarten in the fall — and we have a new baby on the way (leaving me home on maternity leave for July and August), I need him to be having fun doing enriching activities all day – and exhausted at night. (Translation: I need for him to NOT be bouncing off the walls around me all day.) I want a place that will teach him swimming, tennis, soccer, theater and random fun things like ropes course teamwork, climbing and archery.
Here are some other great health benefits that have convinced me to plunk down the money for camp this summer.
1. Learn – or Keep Up with – Routine
We all know that (most) kids thrive when on a routine. But a lack of schedule outside of school can lead to a summer slump – only making life harder come September! Heading to camp each day can continue the routine, getting kids to wake up, get dressed, eat and get out the door — on time. And for kids who aren’t in preschool yet, this will start a nice pattern for them to get used to before they head off.
2. Separate from Technology
Camp is a great way to keep kids away from the TV, and video games! Of course, so is good self-discipline, but that can be harder to accomplish (it’s 110 degrees; sure, you can watch a movie in the A/C!). But camp – and the counselors – can get kids exploring and playing new activities and games. All tech will be on hiatus, leading kids to turn to friends, books and letters home to keep them entertained.
3. Learn New Skills
Camp is a great time to try something new. Your child can try things like archery, pottery or water skiing – and maybe even discover a hidden talent! Or, book a week at a camp where they focus on one of their favorite things (robots, nature, soccer, dance) to enhance their current skill-set and meet friends with similar interests.
4. Expand Social Circles
Meeting new people and branching out of their own group of friends creates a life-long skill. Plus, coming away with a great experience boosts self-confidence and independence, which will empower your child for the next school year. If finding a camp where she doesn’t know anyone (or convincing her to go to one) is too difficult, see if you can request that the camp split up her clique, so that she makes new friends.
5. Meet Great Role Models
Most summer camp counselors go through a rigorous interview process, and have a nice work ethic. They will be your child’s support system, friend, teacher, and disciplinarian (sound familiar?). Most of these young adults have learned the value of hard work, respect, and honesty and they’ll surely relay those lessons onto their campers. Hey, you might even find a great babysitter for the school year – or tutor!
6. Gain Independence
They’ll be trying new things – and meeting new people – all without you prodding them to do it. My friend once said that her 4-year old wild-child came back a “whole new boy” after going to a four-week day camp program. Needless to say, my son is going there this summer. I think it might be the best prep before he heads off to Kindergarten.
7. Get Exercise all Day Long
With all the activities and classes, your kids will barely realize how much running and sweating they’re doing. From soccer to swimming to kickball to dancing, their days will be filled with fun physical activity. Make sure to send your child with a water bottle and good closed-toe shoes so they can keep up with their friends all day. All that exercise will surely have your child ready for a great night of sleep by the end of the day.
Katie Bugbee is the senior managing editor and resident parenting expert of Care.com. A busy working mother of two, she’s an expert on many parenting dilemmas, from appeasing picky eaters to finding the perfect babysitter.