For many families in Canada, summer camps are an important part of the season. Kids get exciting new opportunities to learn and grow as individuals, and parents find a good place for their out-of-school kids to go while they’re at work, or just an opportunity for some quality time to themselves.
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In tough economic times, planning activities for the kids can be a really daunting prospect. Our guest on this week’s installment of Surviving the Slump is Ellen Percival, the publisher and editor-in-chief of Calgary’s Child magazine. She stopped by with some expert advice on options for summer camp experiences your kids will love, that will also be merciful on your bank accounts.
All the camps
Calgary’s Child is an almost limitless source of valuable information for families, and a great place to start when looking for summer camps this year.
“We invite all of the camp providers that we can find in the city to participate in the list,” Percival said. “It’s their moment to shine, and we ask them to tell us what’s special about their camp, what makes it a unique experience, one that kids will of course look back on for many years.”
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Why are summer camps important?
Not limited to any specific age group, and not excluding mom and dad, summer camps can be an invaluable life experience for kids.
“It teaches social skills, interaction, problem solving, meeting new people, learning new skills, challenging themselves,” Percival explained. “So there is a lot to be said for summer camp – it really isn’t just always about babysitting, kids really can take away an amazing experience from it.”
She went on to explain that for many children, a trip to summer camp may be their first time at experiencing autonomy, being away from their parents.
“It’s different than at school,” she said. “It’s a little bit more responsibility being at camp on your own. Certainly overnight camp is a big milestone for children where they learn to count on their own instincts and problem-solving skills when mom and dad aren’t minutes away.”
Not just good for kids
There are several reasons summer camps are valuable options for parents: maybe it’s by necessity – for example you can’t get time off of work – and they provide a great alternative to all-day child care.
If you are at home, this can be a great chance for parents to have some time to themselves or to reconnect as couples. Percival encourages parents to go out and try something new: take a class (“learning doesn’t end at Grade 12”, she says), pursue a fitness program you perhaps didn’t previously have the time for, or tackle a project around the house.
You could also take the chance to go on a holiday yourselves. However, Percival says only do that if there are other responsible adults nearby, if the kids are in an overnight situation. Or, as she put it, “I wouldn’t recommend that unless you’ve got grandparents at the ready, just in case someone gets homesick and you need to go and get them.”
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Camps are important, but are they feasible on a recession budget? According to Percival and her 22 years of experience, there are numerous options available in and around the city.
Percival explained that when camps start to get expensive is when they are more specialized, for example a computer camp, or a film editing camp or a horse camp. These require extensive training for staff as well as pricey equipment–which is great because you get amazing instruction–but it drives the cost of the camp way up.
Larger camps can be a good alternative as their infrastructure and staff are already in place. The City of Calgary recreation department has a lot of great options.
Many camps, Percival told us, are well aware that some families are going through hard times and don’t want to deny their children these valuable experiences. Lots of them have bursaries in place, hold fundraisers, have subsidies or will even be free, but you need to be willing to find out.
“The camps are aware that they really want every child to have a great experience and have the experience of camp,” Percival said. “So there are special accommodations in many of the camps so I encourage (parents) to reach out and ask, and don’t be afraid to ask.”
“It can be hard to ask for help and to admit that you need it, but I really encourage families to do that.”
Additionally, it is important to remember that financial stress doesn’t just affect parents. A day at camp can be a chance for them to, “just be a kid and leave the worries at home for a little while.”
Parent’s Choice Awards
In addition to their already extensive wealth of information for families that can be found on their website, Calgary’s Child also holds an annual “Parent’s Choice Awards,” that has been running for 20 years. Parents get the opportunity to vote for their favourites in about 45 different categories and Percival informed us that this provides them with valuable insight on, among other things, what camps are doing well.
“We really hear what’s going on out there and which camps are doing extraordinarily good jobs,” Percival said. “The good, the bad and the ugly–we hear it all.”
According to Percival, the openness of their readers is very helpful for them as it allows the magazine to recognize the camps that are doing exceptional work.
While they rank the “top three” camps, Percival said, “the sky is the limit in Calgary–honestly we are spoiled for options.”