Ask Shelby: Summer Camp Advice

As we mentioned, we are proud to be featuring our brand new monthly column "Ask Shelby" featuring expert advice from Chester County based Marriage and Family Therapist, Shelby Riley. Here is our installment for April!


We are getting so many flyers and brochures for summer camps lately. We have three kids and we can't afford to send them to every camp they want to attend. We want to provide them every opportunity to grow and learn, and our friends are all doing two or three camps for each of their kids, but we don't know how we'll swing it. Are we depriving our kids by only letting them pick one week-long camp each for the summer?

Signed, Wishing Money Would Fall From the Sky

Dear Wishing Money Would Fall From the Sky,

Summer camps and art classes and sports teams and karate classes and music lessons and anything else your kids might be interested in are great. But they really aren't necessary for growing up a healthy child. We live in a culture of abundant choices, and it can start to feel like if we don't provide our children EVERY opportunity that we're not good parents. (And if we don't have all the 1000 cable channels that we're missing out on something). But that's not true. Good parents know their kids and care for them well. Some good parents sign their kids up for three camps. Some don't.

Being involved in camps and classes is a great way for kids to find out what they're good at, what they're passionate about, and what they like to do for fun. Each has it's benefits: art is great for self-expression, karate is good for confidence and learning to respect authority, team sports are good for building athletic coordination and social skills. It can seem like kids need to be involved in lots of structured activities in order to gain the full advantage of each one. Again, that's just not true. Being involved in too many activities makes for tired and cranky kids, and tired and cranky parents/drivers.

Kids do benefit from some structured activities. They also benefit from lots of free play time. They benefit from time playing with their parents, their siblings, and their friends. They benefit from down time and boredom; learning how to entertain yourself is quickly becoming a lost art, but it's a skill that everyone needs to master. They benefit from the spontaneous science experiments that happen in the kitchen when creating potions in old water bottles. They benefit from cooking lessons when mom or dad asks them to help with meal prep. They benefit from the exercise they get from a game of tag or hide and go seek in the back yard.

Know that as you ask your kids to pick one camp for the summer, you are providing them many wonderful things. You are showing them your love by offering the camp experience. You are building deductive reasoning skills by asking them to prioritize and choose their favorite. You are providing them the opportunity to develop self-soothing skills as they suffer through the disappointment of not going to every camp they want. And you are teaching your values and building their character by living within your means and finding other ways to enrich their lives--instead of trying to keep up with your friends or the culture of abundant choice. Good for you!

Yours, Shelby

**Remember to check out Shelby's website, Family Help Today, for a variety of useful information for couples, individuals, families, and kids. You can also find out more about Shelby's AWESOME e-books on her site.