Real Talk: It’s OK If Your Kids Don’t Go To Camp

Sometimes, I feel like the only mom I know who is not sending her kids to camps in the summer. When friends and neighbors ask me for my kids’ camp plans, and I tell them we have none, the first reaction I get is incredulity, followed closely by pity.

You don’t have to feel bad, though, I promise. We are camp-less… ON PURPOSE.

Let’s unpack some camp-free privilege before I go any further. I am home with my kids, so I don’t need to send them to camp while I work. I have plenty of resources, and energy to take them places and do fun activities with them, and I have the luxury of time to hang around the house and do nothing with them, too. My kids also do swim and dive team and play tennis every day in the summer, so it’s not like they are drinking hose water and communing with the TV babysitter all day long (although, I mean, THEY DO BOTH OF THOSE THINGS).

Still, even though I am committed to giving the long, lazy summers of my own 1980s childhood (with seatbelts!), our culture’s summer camp craze makes me feel guilty, like my kids are missing out on weeks of enrichment.

If you are like me and don’t want to spend your early spring stressed out about signing up for activities in August, let me assure you, you aren’t doing your kids a disservice. It’s ok to think library story time and the 5-minute craft at the end of the book qualifies as enough for a lazy morning. It’s ok to crank up the a/c and build blanket forts for a reading marathon afternoon. A quick trip to a splash pad or a playground? Definitely counts as a summer day field trip.

Sometimes I feel bad because my friend’s kid is learning how to code and my kid is learning how to annoy his brother to the brink of explosive anger and then turn on the charm and convince him to play knee hockey instead. But that’s a life skill too, right?

The school year is long and busy. My kids play sports every season, and I crave our lazy Junes, Julys, and Augusts all year long. When I am ordering yearbooks, sending trays of cupcakes out the door, warming bleachers in loud gymnasiums and alongside freezing cold baseball diamonds, and signing permission slip after permission slip in April, I am dreaming of cutting crusts off peanut butter sandwiches, applying sunscreen to tiny upturned faces, and singing along with the Peppa Pig theme song all summer long. Popsicles on the deck. Pool towels fresh from the dryer. Kids whining about their boredom and then stopping abruptly when they decide to, say, publish a family newspaper or form a backyard whiffle ball league.

It’s hard to keep my FOMO in check when I hear about art camp, theater camp, nature camp, etc. Camps are amazing experiences, don’t get me wrong. I met my husband at camp in high school, and I am sending my own high schoolers off to a similar sleep-away camp in just a few months. My little kids, though, are hunkering down in the home cave just like they always do, and I am delighted just thinking about it. If, like me, you decide to keep your kids home in the summer, please don’t feel like you’re failing them. It’s OK to go camp-free.

Sarah Jedd has a Ph.D. in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches and studies the rhetoric of Planned Parenthood. Sarah has 5 (F I V E) children: teens Harry and Jack, elementary schoolers Cooper and Dorothy, and sweet baby Minnie, born in August 2020. Sarah blogs about being a mom of many at harrytimes.com and overshares on IG as @sarahjedd. Sarah, her husband, and their kids live in Verona with the world's laziest dog.

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