Create Your Own Camp For Your Anti-Camper Kid

The writer who has two grown kids recalls how when her son was a camper he loved sleep away camp but the activities at camp did not appeal to her younger daughter. So she improvised on the home front, and created fun summer memories for both kids.

| 17 Jan 2024 | 12:47

Some kids suffer through the 10-month school year just to spend 8 glorious weeks at either sleepaway or day camp. Ah, the afternoon snack of juice and cookies. Color-war games. Play practice. And more activities than they can shake that stick they found in the woods at.

But there are the others who, if they never sang a camp song, got to serve a volleyball or heard the words “free swim,” well, that would make their July and August shine a little brighter.

Some kids get enough hour-to-hour structure during the school year. They’re the ones who truly need a summer break from schedules and being out of the house for a good chunk of the day.

Conversely, they don’t want to sit around and do nothing. (Something you’d probably agree with since you know what they say about idle hands.)

Thank goodness Manhattan is replete with classes that focus on a core interest your child has or an emerging skill they wish to improve, like cooking, karate, computers, swimming, sailing, gymnastics, and so much more including the granddaddy of summer fun: arts & crafts. This lets you D-I-Y a kinder, gentler, non-overwhelming version of camp that never has to involve a yellow bus or coming in on cue for a round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

I know of what I speak as I have two now-grown children who wanted two very different summer experiences.

My son was born to camp, living for group athletic activities and diving off the giant raft in the middle of the lake with a campfire chaser. He never met a tent or sleeping bag he didn’t like.

I assumed that as usual my daughter would want to follow in her brother’s footsteps and she seemed willing to give it a go. I believe what ended up being her brief experience at a traditional day camp could be summed up nicely by the word “fiasco.”

She, it turned out, was more of an “indoor kid” and one of her favorite activities was and still is reading. She liked gymnastics and acting, and even though there are specialty camps that cater to both of those activities, she was not up for the full monty. A little of each went a long way.

So, three out of five days she did one thing in the morning and another in the afternoon with a homemade lunch and downtime in between. The other two days were up for grabs; maybe swimming at the public pool in John Jay Park, walking over to a museum, or if she requested, staying home so she could curl up with her book and then afterward simply taking a walk to get a little exercise, fresh air, and ice cream.

For sure, going to camp can turn up the dial on helping a child learn to socialize and forge new friendships, become more independent, and be self-aware about likes and dislikes. If you’ve got a willing participant that is.

If you don’t, the experience can backfire with you having wasted your money and having an anxious child who might feel like a failure. Besides, there are other ways to foster the aforementioned qualities: your child can make new (perhaps less intense) friendships at a summer class, feel independent if let in on the process of choosing what classes to do or how to spend their downtime, which can lead to more self-awareness about what they do and don’t enjoy.

This is NYC where the possibilities to create a “camp” day have many permutations. And when the day you’ve created is done, you can even make S’mores.