Call me slow, but last summer was the first summer that I grasped that we have to find something for our daughter to do all day for several of the 11 weeks of her summer vacation if we expect to go to work. In my own childhood, both my parents were on academic schedules, so my parents had more summer vacation than we did; we went to camp sometimes, day or sleepover, but it was an extra, not a necessity. Mookie was in a twelve-months-per-year preschool and daycare, so it wasn’t until the summer after kindergarten that the full horror of summer’s length hit us. We get more vacation than many workers, but not 11 weeks.
So we went off to a “camp fair,” went around the tables of all the camps that accept six-year-olds, gathered up brochures about jewelry-making programs and gymnastics programs and chess programs and academic programs and the like, and mapped out our summer. Five weeks were accounted for by our vacation and study leave, when we would be together. The rest were filled with cooking camp, gymnastics, jewelry-making, and chess/math. This summer will be similar, also with two weeks of Shakespeare drama camp for our dramatic child.
One thing that was not on Mookie’s summer schedule was a week at a UU church camp, nor will there be one this year, because as far as I know, there isn’t one at any of the four churches between our home and my work. There is one in Oakland, bless Laila and Sheri, but after initial excitement about that I realized that I cannot take my child from San Francisco to the East Bay in rush hour traffic, go to my job in Palo Alto, and then do the reverse a few hours later, at evening rush hour. Ninety miles, three to four hours in the car.
But I would take her to camp in San Francisco, San Mateo, Redwood City, orPalo Alto in a heartbeat. This is a sadly missed opportunity for our congregations. To repeat: wherever you are, there are probably thousands of children in your area who need some kind of program for as many as 12 weeks a year, and whose parents will pay for it.
When we sign up for camp, many of the camps only offer a couple of sessions per summer. That’s all it would take; a congregation could offer a single week, any week, and still serve a need and draw people in.
And it needs to measure up to the camp standard, so points that need consideration along with the things you’d consider for any Sunday Religious Eduction program are:
- Have a good mix of outdoor time and whatever other programming you do.
- Food. Providing food is a major bonus, though packed lunches are okay. Even if kids pack their lunches, you have to provide snack. Kids eat often and it’s a long day.
- If you don’t go from 8 to 5:30 or so, you need an after-care partner. (A lot of camps where we live wrap up at 3. This is not very useful unless there is an aftercare program that is either onsite or will pick the kids up. Don’t bother offering camp from 9 to 3 unless you have this in place.)
- How do parents in your area learn about camps? Publicize the same way the other camps do.
- Doing this on volunteer power is asking an awful lot. Pay staff.
- Offer scholarships, please. Even inexpensive camps run up a summer bill of a couple thousand dollars. Families can’t all afford that.
I know there are already fun programs, such as the week at Hogwarts (the Athens, GA congregation’s was written up in a nice article). I’m betting if you made a day camp available, lots of Unitarian Universalists, non-Unitarian-Universalists and not-yet-Unitarian-Universalists would sign up. I know my family would.
Is there a UU day camp near you? Does your child go to it? What’s it like? Or if there isn’t one and you wish there were, what would you like to see?