Dreaming of a UU day camp

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?

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5 thoughts on “Dreaming of a UU day camp

  1. I loved teaching VBS when I was (much) younger, and would happily volunteer a week or two to do so again at our church! I would also be willing to be on staff in exchange for my kids being able to attend, at least for the next couple of years. Just a few thoughts on how to make it more economically feasible for any UU churches considering it. 🙂

    I can also make time this coming year to help in planning, etc. for next year. Just sayin’.

  2. We are depending on the Y all summer long for day camps. Drop off 7-9am and pickup 4-6pm. Ours is Central San José, but PA has a Y also. Have you done that before? We have Y camps in San Francisco but we’ve heard they’re pretty basic (ten hours of child care, albeit with some playground time and crafts). Maybe we are overly influenced by our own negative childhood experiences at Y camps. Ideally, summer will be a time when Mookie can try out things that she doesn’t get to do at school, but that’s expensive. –MM

  3. I’ve struggled with this for the last five years, and have tried to get my congregation interested in starting a day camp, but we’re not there yet. I get five weeks in the summer. For me, that’s basically from GA through the end of July, and then I’m back to work in August. Around here, all the summer camps (Girl Scouts, local nature center, the UCC’s camp, a local college’s science camp, etc.) are all in July when I’m free, and the there’s almost nothing available in August (an exception being the YMCA). And it’s all pretty expensive. The I just can’t believe that in this working-class town all the parents are vacationing or out of work for all of August and that nobody would be interested in a day camp. And I agree, it needs to be a full day if it’s to be of use to working parents.

  4. First Unitarian Church of Dallas has run sumfun! ,a week-long day camp, for 25+years. I would be happy to email you samples of brochures, schedules, resources.. Thanks! I edited our your e-mail address to save you from spambots, but I’ll write you. –AZM

  5. Pingback: UU day camp, revisited | Mookie's Mama

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