Summer Fun for Kids

Families Features - April 6th, 2007
Kids in summer camps

Making the Most of your Child’s Summer Vacation

by Danielle Tate-Stratton

With the long summer holidays fast approaching, it’s likely that as your child grows increasing­ly excited about the seemingly endless days of break coming up, you are growing increasingly apprehensive about the very same thing. Especially if you and your partner both work, or have other commitments during the day, it can be a daunting task to try and replace the time your child normally spends at school with fun and meaningful activities.

Luckily, and as you’ll see on the following pages, the international schools of Tokyo have been busy planning a huge variety of camps for your children to participate in. As one might expect, the choices your family has this summer are great—both in quality and quantity! For instance, you can send your child to a local day-camp where they can learn as they play, with subjects rang­ing from the typical reading, writing, and arithmetic, to such pursuits as violin, yoga, and cooking. For slightly older and more adventurous children (or Moms and Dads who fancy a mini-break themselves and want to send their little darlings away in the meantime), there are several options for sleep away camp both just outside of Tokyo and as far away as Minnesota in the US!

For many families, day camps provide a great in­troduction to summer camps. For younger children, one needn’t worry about homesickness, and as chil­dren thrive under routine, staying at the same school they attend year round, with the same teachers, and at least some of the same class mates, can make staying local a great choice. Also, if budget is a concern, local camps are a substantially cheaper way to see if your child is an avid camper! You can also try lots of differ­ent camps throughout the summer, and even, if you are new in town, use it as a chance to “test drive” the atmosphere and staff of the international schools your child may be attending in the coming academic year.

Of course, while not for everyone, attending a sleep-away camp can also be a fantastic experience for many children. Richard Hollingsworth, now an adult living in Tokyo, remembers his summer away at camp when he was 12 as a great way to learn another language, and would send his child to a similar camp, “especially if it was a language-based one; kids pick up languages just like that, especially if they are having fun while doing so, or if all the other kids are speaking it while they are play­ing sports or whatever, they’ll just learn it so quickly”. For Richard, that language was French, but for children learning Japanese or English, a camp conducted specifi­cally in either language is a sure-fire way to improve their skills before a return to class in September. It’s also a great way to get out of the city and enjoy nature, especially for kids growing up in Tokyo. Again, Richard remembers his days spent fishing and playing sports at summer camp fondly—as he too grew up in a large city, he appreciated the chance to head outdoors and experience something unique from his day-to-day life.

Once you and your child settle on sleep away camp, there can be lingering questions in everyone’s mind, and naturally so, especially if this is your child’s first time away from home. With that in mind, we’ve done a little bit of research for you and come up with some suggestions on how to make a summer away one your child talks (happily!) about for years to come.

One of the biggest concerns most parents and kids may have is homesickness, a common complaint among campers. According to a study done by Phillips Exeter Academy psychologist Dr. Christopher Thurber of 323 boys ages 8 to 16, 83 percent felt homesick at least one of the days they were away. Before you write off sending your kid off to camp, however, take heart—the American Camp Association (АСА) (www.campparents.org) offers several suggestions about preparing for, and cop­ing with, homesickness. Before your child even leaves, prepare for the separation with some shorter trials— sleepovers with friends here in Tokyo are a good place to start, as they simulate the separation in a comfortable environment. Other “pre-camp” suggestions include in­volving your child in selecting the camp, and discussing what life at camp is likely to be like. The association even suggests role-playing anticipated situations, such as using a flashlight to find the bathroom.

While packing, make sure to include a personal item, such a stuffed animal, from home, and consider sending a care package or note ahead to the camp with a message along the lines of “I am going to miss you, but I know that you will have a good time at camp.” Finally, if, while at camp, your child experiences home­sickness, remember that this is perfectly normal and resist the urge to pick your child up early. Instead, offer calm reassurance and put the camp’s time frame into perspective for your child. Of course, the АСА cautions that parents should always trust their instincts. In about eight percent of cases, homesickness is severe enough to merit picking your child up early. The АСА says that if your child stops eating or sleeping due to homesickness, you should probably pick them up.

Despite the possible challenges of sending your child away to camp, be sure to remember that for most, it is an overwhelmingly positive experience. Surveys conducted by the Philliber Research Associates of over 5000 camp­ing families say that 96 percent of children say that camp helped them make new friends, and 76 percent say that they did things they were afraid to try at first while at camp. Parents too, see camping as a positive experience with an overwhelming 70 percent stating that their child gained self-confidence while away at camp.

Planning your child’s summer can sometimes seem overwhelming, but with so much choice in Tokyo, Japan, and even abroad, families should have no trouble finding a camp perfectly suited to their needs, and then ensuring it is a positive, happy experience for their children! Read on to find a specific camp for your child, and if you need more tips on selecting a camp, packing, homesickness, and more, head over to the ACA’s comprehensive guide to summer camps at www.campparents.org. Have fun!

Tips for Maximizing Your Child’s Camp Experience

Once you’ve decided to send your child to camp, it can be hard to know what type of camp is best suited to your child’s age group. Here are some age-appropriate tips for selecting and pre­paring for camp with your child.

4-7 year-olds
– Consider sending your child to one-day or mini-camps for best exposure to new situations.
– Provide structured, summer fun while sharing experiences with family through day camps here in Tokyo.
– Overnight camps may be appropriate for children who have had varied and positive experiences being away from home, who are toilet trained, and who have good self-care skills.

8-10 year-olds
– Share some aspects of the camp selection process with your child such as what kind of camp, how long to stay, and whether to go with a friend or not.
– Work together to find a camp that matches your child’s inter­ests and abilities.
– Allow your child to assume responsibility for camp preparation such as helping to shop for necessities, packing, and completing registration forms.

11-13 year olds
– Include your pre-teen in making all of the important decisions about camp.
– Consider a camp that concentrates on your child’s age group.
– Arrange some practice time away from home in the months before camp starts.

14-16 year-olds
– As your child gets older, consider longer camp stays as they become more used to staying away from home.
– For experienced campers looking for more responsibility, con­sider junior counselor or leadership training options.
– Look for camps that enhance self-esteem by providing oppor­tunities for success in one or more activities that are important to your child.

Kid

For more tips and information about summer camps, visit www.campparents.org.