Economy Hits Summer Camp, More Free Time for Kids

Filed under: Work Life, Opinions, Activities: Big Kids, Activities: Tweens

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Summer camp attendance is down, due to the economy. Image: Pink Sherbet Photography/Flickr

As families everywhere tighten their belts and pinch their pennies, summer camp attendance is taking a hit. The American Camp Association reported at 10 to 15 percent decrease in enrollment this spring at sleepaway and day camps alike. But while our little ones aren't off learning about horseback riding, soccer and pottery, childhood experts are hoping something else is happening: Boredom.

A little boredom, after all, is an important part of growing up. And our heavily scheduled kids just don't seem to have as much free time as we did as kids. A camp-free summer, say experts, just might give our kids that free play time they so desperately need. "Parenting is a higher calling than being a cruise-ship activities director," Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, psychiatrist and author of "The Overscheduled Child," tells Newsweek. "Boredom is not necessarily our children's enemy. It can stimulate [children] to think, create, and hear the soft murmurings of their inner voice, the one that makes them write this unusual story, draw that unique picture, or invent some new game."

A friend of mine -- her son is 12 -- had to drop camp this summer. She's using her own mother's method of handling boredom. "When he comes to me and complains, 'I'm bored,' " she says, "I just tell him, 'That's okay, I can find something for you to do.' Suddenly, he'll make himself the busiest kid on the block."

Think back to when you were a kid: What were some of your favorite memories? Ed Miller, of the Alliance for Childhood, bets most of them happened when adults weren't even around -- playing with friends, digging in the dirt, sledding down hills. "These are deeply formative and important experiences that build children's sense of competence, initiative, and self-reliance," says Miller.

I've written before about my own first grader, who refused to be signed up for any organized activity at all this summer. I was happy to comply, but I'm also happy to not entertain her 24 hours a day, and she knows that.

Instead, she and her sister have built a backyard clubhouse behind our big lilac tree. (And have created a secret handshake, which they refuse to share with me.) She's climbed trees, played house, spent a few nights with her Grandma. Many mornings, she can be found quietly playing in her room with her dolls. And when a friend called up to invite her to bring-a-friend day at her own camp, she looked at me suspiciously. "Just this one time, right?" She guards her free time like a bulldog.

I think summer camp will always have it's place in the American child's summer, but letting kids get a little bored this summer just might be a silver lining.

What do you think? Has the economy affected your ability to send your kids to camp? Do your kids enjoy a summer "off," or do they seem to prefer organized activities?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.