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Play-Based vs. Activity-Based Summer Day Camp (repost from @BAMRadioNetwork article)

PollitasHouse_1This article was originally published on the EDWords blog at BAM Radio Network. I am re-posting it here.  

This is my first summer without home-based childcare. Although I work from home, keeping my seven-year-old, only child daughter home with me is not a good option because she is (as previously described on my blog) not very good at entertaining herself. I have work that I need to do, and I certainly don't want her on her device all day long.

Most of the time, she goes to a small nearby childcare center that is play-based. During the summer they have weekly themes, and they offer supplies for different craft projects according to those themes. But they are very low-key, and it's typical for me to go by to pick my daughter up and find the kids doing something like making a cooperative book or practicing a show. [And sometimes they are watching a movie - you can't have everything.] But in general, it's a pretty relaxed environment, and ranges from 2 to maybe 6-7 kids there at one time. She's there during the school year after school, too, but there are more kids then.

Wanting to mix things up a bit, I had also signed her up for two weeks at a bigger, more structured day camp, held at a local elementary school. There were lots of STEAM activities - science and art projects (which are now taking up considerable space around our house). There was plenty of time outside running around, themes for the different days, music, and tremendous enthusiasm on the part of the young counselors. We know a bunch of other families who also attended this camp the first week, and most of the kids loved it.

My daughter? Not so much. After the first day, I basically had to force her to go every day. She kept whining and asking why she couldn't just go to the regular place. (Because I had pre-paid, and was not about to pay for 2 different things at the same time.) The best she could tell me about WHY she didn't like it was that it was too much like school. Reading between the lines a bit, it was like school but without the free play at lunch and recess, without any reading, and without seeing as many of her friends (especially the second week - the second week was very painful). She didn't like having to go from activity to activity on someone else's schedule. She didn't like having to run around outside in the heat. She didn't like being with 150 kids instead of the usual handful.

Some of this, I think, is a tendency in the direction of introversion. But I also think it's just the appeal of free play over structured activities. When I went to pick her up today, her first day back at her usual place, she begged me not to make her leave. About six kids were in the middle of a project to make a restaurant, which was at least partially my daughter's idea. She was punching holes in construction paper to make … something. I'm not really sure. Other kids were arranging chairs and thinking about how to make centerpieces. The teachers were offering ideas if the kids wanted them, but weren't pushing them or telling them what they had to do, or when they had to finish. I felt guilty that it was time to take her home. As any working parent knows, having your child beg you to STAY at childcare is a true blessing.

Please understand that I'm not knocking the STEAM-based day camp. Everyone there was clearly working hard, and most of the kids seemed to be having a good time. Even my daughter was inspired by the camp to build a cardboard and duct tape house (shown above), on her own at home, for the camp director's stuffed bird. But for my daughter overall, even when she had close friends also attending, it just wasn't a good fit.

The local place isn't perfect. The kids don't get outside as much I would like, or get much exercise, and there's the aforementioned movie watching. But there are some plusses that I hadn't really noticed before. The kids are of different ages, ranging from maybe 3 or 4 to 10 (which my reading on play tells me is good for kids). And even when they are watching movies, they have to decide themselves which one to watch. They negotiate and cooperate, and the teachers seem to maintain a pretty light hand through it all.

So, unless something changes, I expect that we'll be using the local place for most of the summer next year, and foregoing the more formal camp. My daughter and I will both be happier.

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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