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    Summer Camp Guide 2023: Summer is the ultimate balancing act for families
    • March 26, 2023

    As a mother of two, there comes a day every spring when a wave of panic washes over me as I realize that summer is approaching steadfastly, and with it many, many weeks devoid of plans(or structure) for my children.

    Don’t get me wrong; I savor meandering summer days, trips to the beach with little to no agenda, and the occasional road trip to visit grandparents, aunts and uncles who live out oftown. But those do not fill an entire summer season. For La Habra City Schools, for example, instruction ends on June 1 and begins Aug. 15. That’s 10 full weeks — and some change — ofbreak.

    For many local parents, this is where summer camp comes in — though the sheer number of camp options can be as overwhelming as the 70-plus days you’re trying to fill. But you have tostart somewhere. Sometimes I even print out an empty calendar of the summer months, plug in happenings already scheduled, and go from there.

    More from our Summer Camp Guide

    How to book a ‘just right’ camp
    Academic and STEM camps
    Arts camps
    City-run camps
    Faith-based camps
    Foreign-language camps
    Sleep-away camps
    Sports camps
    Swim, surf and sailing camps

    Word-of-mouth helps me each summer; my 10-year-old daughter has been doing varying camps since she was 5. I ask neighbors and fellow parents at school what camps their kidshave loved (and not loved), and I consult local publications, where camps tend to advertise or be reviewed.

    Stephanie Mack, a mother of three in Costa Mesa, says she usually splits her kids’ summer in half: five or so weeks of camps and five or so weeks of down time or vacation. She admits,though, that this plan is doable because she works part-time, and the part-time work is flexible in nature. But also achieving that balance of “things to do” and time to just be is the goal.

    “We all thrive on some structure,” she said, “so summer camps are important. I see my girls growing up with old friends and new, and benefiting from exposure to different activities and opportunities. Camps provide structure, fun, education and physical activity. So they are a win.”

    Mack looks for camps that check multiple boxes; they must admit both 7- and 9-year-olds so that she’s not shuttling kids to different sites, and offer activities that align with interests. Luckily,her older daughters tend to like the same things. Last summer, that included one week each of golf camp, craft camp, basketball camp and Vacation Bible School. The summer before, tenniscamp was in the mix.

    Sometimes a camp is selected because it offers a new opportunity. For example, Mack’s kids don’t take golf lessons during the school year, so summer camp is a great time for them to build their skills on the green. Mack will also sign them up for a week or two of “theme-less” camp at their school.

    I follow a similar thought train for my now 10-year-old daughter. She often requests a week or two musical theater camp, per her interest, and then we try new things. Last summer that meantswimming camp and writing camp, and this summer, we’re hunting for a cooking camp, because making omelets, waffles and smoothies all on her own has become part of life at home lately.

    Rachel Kirshenbaum, a director with Steve & Kate’s Camp for six years, says parents might also think about how a particular camp is organized, and/or what their philosophy is for camperlearning. Steve & Kate’s Camp has locations around the country, including one in Costa Mesa, and they all follow the company’s core value of self-guided learning; myriad activities are set uponsite, from stop-motion animation to sewing, and kids come and go as they please.

    “We encourage campers to use their reasoning skills to navigate the activities at camp,” she said, “and rather than training our staff to do things for the kids, we aim to train the kids to thinkon their own, so that they feel confidence in their ability to figure things out.”

    If that “free-range” style isn’t ideal for your child, you’ll likely lean toward a more structured camp. Kirshenbaum understands that parents know their child best, so it’s important to choosea setting where you predict your child will feel successful and have fun.

    Other things to consider include time frames of a camp, flexibility of dates, and of course cost. Steve & Kate’s camp is incredibly flexible; you can buy just one week of camp, or a full summerpass, or drop in for just a day. In terms of cost, Mack says that she sees local camp prices range from $300 a week to $800, which can be prohibitive for parents, especially if they havemore than one child of summer camp age. Determine a budget that works for your family and stick with it.

    My family saves dollars throughout the year in anticipation of a few weeks of summer camp, and we chalk it up as a mental, emotional, and physical health plan for our oldest child. She’s at theage where I see her droop if she’s without friends for too long, or on a screen for too long, or not “sweating it out” in some capacity each day. “Camp Mama,” which we affectionately call anysummer day when I push her out of the house and into the great outdoors for a dose of Vitamin D, is our default when a summer camp hasn’t been booked. Neighborhood walks, beachsessions and park play dates are affordable ways to be active and offset camp costs. But when you can save up and send them to camp, you’re bound to feel good about the expenditure.

    Shannon Tripp, a pediatric nurse and parenting expert, agrees.

    “Summer camp is a great opportunity for your kids to focus on their own identity and independence, Tripp said,” and this can be great for their overall mental health. We’ve never had as large of a mental health crisis as we have now for our youth. Kids are so inundated with the web, social media, and their phones; summer camp is an opportunity to get off of that, especially for teens. Exercising and being outside is healthy and healing for kids as well. If your child is nervous about going to camp, it’s important to remind them that every kid there is experiencing the same things and that there will be adults there to help.”

    ​ Orange County Register