This article, written by Diane Foster and Carrie Kashawlic, was featured in Parenting New Hampshire’s March issue.
Every parent wants their child to succeed. Every child has unique talents, skills and challenges. As parents, how do you decide what is the best for your child?
When the “summer camp or summer school” question arises, it can be hard to choose. Academic success is a necessary foundation for future opportunities. However, the diverse, hands-on experiences at summer camp build resiliency and give children the opportunity to thrive.
Education is important. But self-confidence is also important. Without self-confidence, we don’t try and therefore lose the opportunity to learn from failure or celebrate success.
Risk-taking is a life skill, and for a child that is concerned about being wrong in the classroom, summer camp may be exactly the place where these skills can be honed. The self-confidence gained at camp transfers back into the classroom environment.
Diane Foster, parent and professional educator, sums up her choice between summer school and summer camp for her daughter who has a reading learning disability.
“I have welcomed the advice and feedback from my daughter’s talented teachers; I listened when they advised that she spend the summer in summer school. The first year, I pushed her through summer classes and it produced some progress.
The second year I decided that she needed an experience where she could build her confidence. Her lack of confidence and general sense of defeat about her skills impacted her ability to learn. After summer camp, at the fall parent conference, we were told that her skills had improved significantly. The confidence that she gained and continues to gain in an environment where her learning disability is a non-issue has given her many more advantages in school.
Her challenges and successes at camp are not related to her phonemic skills or in her comparison of herself academically to others. She makes connections at school to the challenges she has faced at camp such as passing into a higher swimming level, working through conflicts that arise among her cabinmates, and learning her lines for the camp play, to boost herself up when she is feeling stymied by tough school assignments.
Now, we listen to the recommendations for summer school. We say, yes we have plans in place. Then we pack her up and send her to camp. Every fall we have been informed of her further gains. We know how she is making those gains and more.”
Every child is different, but developmentally all children need to have a place to play, have fun, connect with a variety of adults and other children, at a location where they feel they can be their best selves. For many kids, that is at camp – a place to cut loose, take risks, try new things, fail, succeed, try again, and know there is no “grade” to be achieved. The experience itself is the reward.
At the end of the summer, a happy kid will return home. After weeks of physical exertion (swimming, hiking, shooting arrows), emotional growth (connecting with friends and counselors), and the peace and tranquility of the outdoors, your child’s spirit is refreshed and ready for another academic year.
Diane Foster is the lower school head at Belmont Day School in Belmont, Mass. Carrie Kashawlic is the camp director at Fleur de Lis Camp in Fitzwilliam, N.H.