What I learned from summer camp

Written by contributor Lora Lynn Fanning of Vitafamiliae

Our family has been in survival mode for a year. We managed to continue with schooling, but we didn’t get out much.

When we finally came up for air, my husband and I wanted to give our kids some bonus fun, a chance to get out of the house and be around other kids.

Fortunately, summer was on the horizon and there was a plethora of summer camp options to choose from.

Learning AND socialization? SIGN. US. UP. We let each of our boys pick one activity and then we committed to getting them there.

Getting them there really was a commitment. For a family that stays home most days, getting out and shuttling kids Monday through Friday was exhausting! Soccer Moms – I commend you! But I was excited to see all the things my kids could learn that I didn’t have to teach them myself.

After the first day of cooking camp, I had the following conversation with my son –

So, how was it?


Did you have fun?


What did you do at cooking camp?

“I got to cut up some stuff.”

Did you cook anything?

“The teacher did. We watched. But it tasted good. We ate a little and then the staff finished it.”

My tuition fees fed the camp’s staff all week. I was thrilled to be able to serve them in this way, of course. And I was equally thrilled to hear that my son’s favorite experience from cooking camp was getting to swim during recess.

Thrilled, thrilled, thrilled – she said through gritted teeth.

I held out hope for the next week’s art camp but the outcome was pretty much the same. One craft a day followed by movie time. Even my son admitted to being slightly disappointed. But he made friends and ate junk food, so the week was a Win in his book.

Most recently, my six-year-old went to “Pirate Camp” at the local children’s science museum. I had no idea what sort of science they would pull out of the pirate theme, but like most summer camps, pesky details like actual learning didn’t weigh anybody down.

Each day after five hours at camp, my son climbed into the backseat, his grinning lips stained red from high-fructose corn syrup laden beverages, and we’d have this conversation:

So how was it?

“Good. We watched a movie about pirates. And we made a pirate puppet.”

Great! What science did you do?

“Ummmmm, we went onto the third floor of the museum.”

Isn’t that the floor with the Dora the Explorer exhibit?

“Yes. I played with blocks.”

Ah, science…

So here’s what I learned –

  • Nobody takes a child’s learning as serious as his parents do.
  • Most summer camps are simply glorified day care.
  • Too much red kool-aid can wreak havoc on uninitiated bowels.
  • My kids had a ball, I didn’t have to do any work except chauffeuring, and we still got to count these as school days.

Because I am a mean and cruel mother, you’d better believe I’ll be making the cooking camp kid make us dinner this week. And I’ll require written paragraphs from the other two all about “What I Learned At Summer Camp.”

But beyond that, I think we’ll just revel in the fun they had and the lesson I learned: Nobody schools my kids like I would.

Have you tried summer camps? Give me some suggestions for how to pick next year.

About Lora

Lora Lynn Fanning blogged for 11 years about her family life with seven kids at Vitafamiliae. These days, she homeschools her growing brood, teaches writing both in person for co-ops and online for Brave Writer, and writes at her new site, LoraLynnFanning.com.


  1. My kids did the “Christmas Break Camp” at the science museum this year. I was kind of shocked that they played and colored all day (esp. for the price), but we chalked it up to something different and a fun time for them. We signed them up for a summer camp somewhere else, and same thing. They had fun, but the learning was a minimum. I think it is good for them to get a break from the routine, but it is a break not a real learning time. I hope when they are older we can get them in more specialized camps that truly teach.
    McKt’s latest post: Day 5: Hanford, CA to Half Moon Bay, CA

  2. Michele says:

    My son is nearly six and this is our first summer with any sort of camp. I think most camps are play based and I think they should be. Summer is supposed to be FUN!

    The local parks and rec department has a woodworking class and we just finished the second day and my son is in love with it! We signed up for the second week on the spot because he was so into it. On deck is a farm camp (harvesting vegetables at a local farm, doing some gardening, making snacks, playing), a full day camp (swimming, arts, sports, etc.), and possibly a soccer camp.

  3. We sent our kids to a one week day camp this summer. It was the first time for all of them. For two it was a no brainer ~ I sent them to the camp at our small dance studio. The third child wanted to try something new. I looked for weeks for a camp that wasn’t fancy child care and finally gave up and put her at out little dance studio. It was the best camp for all of them. The girls got three hours of dancing, 1 hour of Aeiral Arts, and 1 hour of crafts and free play. Our son had 5 hours of pirate camp that included buiding all manner of pirate stuff (wooden sword, fort, mini figurines), fencing lessons, dance lessons, and aerial arts. I was shocked at how pitiful many of the other camps were and they wanted about the same amount of money. I am sorry you guys did not get the camp experience you wanted.
    Blessings, Dawn

    • Ugg! I got distracted and pushed send. My advice is to look at the small camps put on by small organzitions. They seem to put their heart into more.
      Blessings, Dawn

  4. My experience with summer camps growing up was that they were fun breaks but not particularly educational.
    Steph’s latest post: Props to Experienced Moms Re: Potty Training

  5. Our kids got to go to a camp at a local historic house—the first thing that happened was they were issued colonial clothing, a haversack and a tin cup. They were expected to wear the clothes every day. They made crafts, cooked over a fire, did dances and played colonial games…

    I was so impressed and pleased, the more so because most of our camp experiences have been like yours. I think that the leaders really feel that what they are doing is important, as do the counselors. They really love colonial history, and that made the difference in how the camp went.

  6. We have had great experiences with summer camps, but I don’t look for “teaching” camps. I look for outdoor camps that have a true “camp” feel. They have been quite expesive as well, so this year when the kids didn’t want to go (it is SO hot where we live), I figured I could find about a million other ways to spend that money.
    I did cave at the last minute though this year and signed them up for a less expensive “farm camp” at our local CSA. Two out of my three kids want to have a farm when they grow up, and all 3 kids LOVED farm camp.
    Since we homeschool, I have always figured that summer camp is a good chance for my kids to “get out there”, but I was sad to learn that some of the kids we kinda mean. Other than that, and the heat, I have found camp to be a great experience, so I would encourage those interested in an outdoor camp to look for a really good, private camp, if funds permit. The best ones I have found are at super exclusive private schools where my kids would never have a chance to attend during the year. These are the kind of schools that have cabins for clasrooms on acres of land, with animals, gardens, ponds and woods around.
    I also agree that summer camp isn’t necessary to a good childhood. There are lots of other things to do.

  7. goodness, sorry about all the typos!

  8. We did a 3 hr a day water themed camp through our towns parks and rec. The description said different water games and activities, but they just swam in the pool for about an hour. The rest of the time was spent coloring and eating snacks. I was a little disappointed, but she had a lot of fun and it was pretty cheap.
    Lindsey’s latest post: Back to court

  9. We have participated in a bluegrass workshop for 2 weeks this summer. The teacher is fantastic and they get to play in small groups. Some of the kids seem to expect only play, but mine jump right in and make huge strides in their learning. It is a great break from their regular music lessons.
    Jen@anothergranolamom’s latest post: 4th of July Hiking: Maple Canyon

  10. I loved this post Lora. Thank you!

    It made me feel better because camps are not an option for us this summer, even VBS isn’t happening. There is no VBS where we live and we are still in survival mode with just settling in to a new home, after moving three times this past year.

    I sometimes feel bad that the “only” things my kids get to do this summer are travel with us to cool places (a month in Montreal), visit cousins & grandparents in Nova Scotia, swim in the ocean, and hike in the mountains, and play in the river. And days at home are spent playing with fire (burning the wood reno debris and moving boxes), crafting, and actually a bit of school lessons because of a two month break we already had in May & June.

    I hear there are circus camps where we live. Quebec has a huge circus culture. I think that would be an awesome day camp. But where we live not much else is available – just the great outdoors!
    renee @ FIMBY’s latest post: Group Homeschool Coaching Session ~ Save the Date!

  11. Same thing happened to us. After pirate camp last year, I asked my son what he’d learned about pirates. “Actually, mom? I don’t think I learned anything. I just played a lot.”

    And that’s okay. Time to socialize is always good. I just won’t put so much stock in it next time as a learning experience.
    Angela’s latest post: How To: Refinish A Desk Using Paint, Poetry, and ModPodge.

  12. One thing I have found worthwhile over summer are swimming lessons! We are finishing up three weeks of swimming lessons every day and boy, has it been worth all the carting around!
    Corli’s latest post: happy days …

  13. This is for high schoolers, but PCC’s Summer Music Academy is worth the money. I went to a music camp at a local college the year before, paid the same amount and learned nothing. At PCC I received 2 weeks of excellent instruction for what I paid for one at the local college.

    I’ve also learned that specific Christian denominations offer the best summer activities. You have to decide for yourself what doctrinal influences you want your children under, but I would consider branching outside of your own and seeing what other churches offer.

    Also, some private music instructors are now following the trend of offering summer music camps to their students. Some branch out and offer them to the community.

  14. The beauty of camp may not be in what they’re supposed to be learning, but through the new experiences of behaving for another authority figure, trying something different, and making new friends. I figure if they learn something, too, it’s a bonus! ; )

  15. Totally cheering you on with this! Love your lesson learned so much.
    Arianne’s latest post: Eco-friendly dishes for kiddos

  16. This was my experience with an art class I put my daughter in when she was 5 (so far, our only outside activity). I would drop her off for an hour and a half, and when I picked her up, she had a bag of candy and some art that looked like an adult had done it for her. She didn’t even get to pick what color markers she used! Her art was supposed to look exactly like the teacher’s.

  17. Too true, too true, unless it’s a really good focused VBS, it’s just a good way to get the kids out of the house – but NOT a good learning experience (at least, not often). You go mama, make that kid make dinner! I would too, hee hee 😀
    Lauren’s latest post: Getting Around to Goals

  18. we have had good experiences with our local YMCA branches. they have a wonderful weekly camp and five-week class cycles all summer long. even if you are not a member it is still priced well. last summer, my oldest went to a few one-week themed camps at our local community college. they were higher in price but she was definitely learning while having fun and she got to spend time on a college campus daydreaming of young adulthood adventures in academia. you may want to check on your local parks as well, as someone else commented, since they often have weekly themed camps that are higher quality with staff that is better equipped professionally and motivated since the kids are outside and active all day. best of luck for next summer!

  19. Ha! Just when I was thinking about it… My kids are too young for camp, but I was tempted to think everything I could get done when they are older and I can put them in camp. But then again, I think it’s a waste of money and you’re right, nobody teaches them like I do! We are mostly home. Okay, we’re home all the time. I do want to throw something in there when they are older. At the least some VBS at a local church 🙂
    Anastasia @ Eco-Babyz’s latest post: Back 2 School Giveaway Hop {Tea, Umi, Fundanoodle}

  20. I don’t mean to be rude, but I think that you are overgeneralizing a bit. How much research did you do on these camps before you sent them? Sorry Mom, but you need to do your homework too. Some things you might have asked about before you signed the kids up: What is the daily schedule? Are healthy snacks provided? What is there definition of a healthy snack? What activities are planned? Who will be teaching the kids? (a bunch of high school students or certified teachers?) What is the ratio? I personally sent my son to a camp over the summer at a university (he is nine) that was taught by professors and college students. He had a blast and learned a ton. I could only afford to send him for two weeks, rather than the longer time I would have been able to send him to the less expensive option, but sometimes there is quality over quantity.

  21. BEEN THERE! My son had an awful “Pirate Camp” experience at 4, and hasn’t been back since. I think most camps are just glorified day-care. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because I understand that some parents need day-care and I want that to be a viable option. But not for us…
    Jenny Bardsley’s latest post: The Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour, 2012 continues!

  22. My son has done two of his three weeks of camp. First one, he learned a lot about animals, rode rides at the Park, and really struggled with group dynamics. This second one he is where he goes to zoo school during the year. It’s a photography/animal camp and he’s doing great and learning, though his favorite things are always water activities (it’s Florida and it’s HOT). But he can tell you all sorts of things that he’s learned. His whole class is benefitting from having him in there — his counselors were told to let him do his thing as long as he isn’t disrupting things (his homeschool class teacher directs the camp), and his counselor reported that she’s been letting the other kids follow him if they’re inclined, and she said this is the best session of this camp she’s run thanks to him.
    Beth’s latest post: Curriculum 2012-13 Reconsidered — Katie

  23. I think the biggest ‘lesson’ my son learns at camp is independence. He’s on his own all day (within a group of his peers) and has to make decisions good or bad and deal with the consequences. He comes home and tells me some of the things that he did but he doesn’t tell me everything that has happened. And that’s ok. It’s his time and he’s discovering how he will navigate his way in the world when I’m not around. That’s a lesson that can’t be taught any other way. He loves summer camp and so do I.

  24. Oh, this was funny! I loved your paragraph on being a cruel mother ;0). I have had similar experiences with VBS, but at least I don’t have to “expect” them to be learning. And, some VBS’ are absolutely great!
    Rachel at Stitched in Color’s latest post: Copied or Inspired? my answer

  25. Okay, WHERE DO YOU LIVE???? When I read that Dora was on the 3rd floor, I had an inkling, but then when I saw that McWane shirt, I knew it!!! We’re in Alabaster!!!!
    Tasha’s latest post: Weekly Wrap-up, Is it Friday already?

  26. My 5-year-old son did a Lego camp this year – Pre-Engineering with Lego. When I signed him up, I sort of scoffed at the academic-ness of it all. Feeling that in our neck of the woods the park & rec department was truly playing to all the tech folks sending their kids to day camp and wanting overly-rich learning experiences for their tiny ones. But then, once he attended and I got the low-down from him and the teachers, I was impressed and surprised to find out that it was just as academic as the title and description proclaimed without losing out on the fun. The kids had to build cars that wouldn’t break when they crashed into a wall. Houses that were strong enough for the instructors to stand on. Crazy! and oh-so-cool for him!
    Danielle’s latest post: 9 Summer Crafts for Kids Ages 2-6

  27. Get your kids to go to sports camps to enhance their skills and have fun at the same time.

Share Your Thoughts


CommentLuv badge

Travel the world all summer with our
FREE summer book club, starting soon!

anabolic pharma