Why I’m Still Sending My Kids to Summer Camp When Other Parents Aren’t

Kids need camp now more than ever before.

I vividly remember the day back in April when I saw a friend’s Facebook post speculating that summer camps wouldn’t be opening this June because of the coronavirus pandemic. The very thought that they wouldn’t sent a shiver down my spine.

I immediately shot off an email to the coordinator at the camp where we had sent our kids the summer before to see if she had any inside info. She replied that no decision had been made yet, but they were hopeful the camp would open. So was I…

At that point, I was five weeks into “distance learning” with my five-year-old daughter and my then-six-year-old son, and daily life was, in a word, challenging. My children—whether they realized it or not—were missing their routine, including getting out of the house every morning and going to a place that was dedicated to their well-being without the distraction of a TV, mom or dad, or the allure of endless Goldfish crackers in the kitchen. They needed a place that was their own, where they interacted with other children their age and adults they weren’t related to, so they could develop their autonomy and independence and learn social skills. They needed more attention than their father and I could give them while we were both working from home; and I was struggling, too.

Over the next few weeks, I saw continued debate on the Facebook pages of my friends and various mom groups I belong to about the safety and merits of sending kids to camp. It was never really a question for my husband and me if we would send our kids to camp. If ours did indeed open, they would go. Here’s why.

We know and trust the camp

We sent our kids to Camp Tepee at the Lakewood-Trumbull YMCA in Connecticut last year and trust them with our children (those are my kids, above, on the last day of camp 2019). As a YMCA, it’s part of a large, established organization, and we have confidence they will follow proper health protocols to keep counselors and campers as safe as possible. Plus, with activities including archery, mini-golf, swimming, fishing, and more, our kids love it. (That’s my son, below trying to catch a fish.)

FishingCourtesy Anne L. Fritz

The kids are outdoors all day, every day

From everything I’ve read, it seems that coronavirus doesn’t spread outside at nearly the same rates it does inside. “Outside, things like sunlight, wind, rain, ambient temperature, and humidity can affect virus infectivity and transmissibility, so while we can’t say there’s zero risk, it’s likely low unless you are engaging in activities as part of a large crowd (such as a protest),” Angela Rasmussen, PhD, a virologist at Columbia University, told Vox.

We’re healthy (knock wood)

We are lucky that we are healthy overall and that no one in our immediate family is in a category that would put us at higher risk for serious illness. In fact, at my son’s seven-year-old checkup, when I mentioned to his pediatrician that we were thinking about sending the kids to camp, he said he thought it was safe to do so—and that it would be good for him.
Also, my hubby and I made the decision that we wouldn’t see the grandparents (who live in other states) while the kids are attending camp. We also don’t regularly interact with anyone 60-plus, an age group that makes up more than 90 percent of COVID-19-related deaths in Connecticut.

We’ll continue to social distance

Fortunately, my husband and I both can continue to work from home throughout the summer, so there’s less risk that if we somehow were to contract the virus that we could unknowingly pass it onto others. When we do go out (pretty much only to the grocery store), we’re still committed to social distancing and wearing face masks and are careful to avoid these common coronavirus mistakes.

There’s virtually nothing else for the kids to do this summer

Two years ago, when we had just moved to our town, we hired a babysitter for our two kids instead of sending them to camp. I acted as cruise director and planned a fun daily itinerary (a job in and of itself). Activities included days at the pool (closed); playgrounds (closed); libraries (closed); beaches (open with restrictions); and museums (open with restrictions). As working parents, we don’t have the time or wherewithal to give our kids the direction and attention they need for the nine-plus weeks of summer. That’s my daughter below at the camp luau last year.

Lei-wearing kid at campCourtesy Anne L. Fritz

My kids need it

All the above aside, the main reason I’m sending my kids to camp is that after three months of isolation, when they were at various times bored, unhappy, scared, angry, or some combo of all four, they need camp for their mental health. They need to be around children their own age to play and be kids again. They need a routine and something familiar. They need to feel normal again.

The experts agree. “Play is essential,” Dr. Jeffrey Hutchinson, fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told CNN. “Unstructured time is vital for development, stress reduction, and physical and mental health [for children].”

So for this summer, I’m putting my kids’ mental health first, even in the face of coronavirus—which I have deemed to be a low risk for my family—because who knows what the fall is going to look like if and when schools reopen?

Off to camp

When I got word in late May that our camp was opening, I didn’t hesitate to sign my kids up and pay in full. The safety measures that the camp is taking include keeping kids in groups of ten or less, requiring counselors to wear face masks, and taking the kids’ temperatures daily via a contactless thermometer before they step foot out of the car at drop-off.
My kids started camp this past week, and each afternoon when I pick them up, they are sweaty and dirty, smelling of sunscreen and citronella, exhausted, tripping over themselves to fill me in on all the fun things they did, and most of all…happy.

For more on this developing situation, including how people are staying sane and healthy, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.

Editor’s note: The opinions here belong to the author. To submit your own idea for an essay, email [email protected].

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Anne L. Fritz
Anne L. Fritz is a freelance writer, editor and mom of two based in Stamford, CT. Prior to launching her freelance career, Anne worked for Woman's Day, Life & Style, Seventeen, EverydayHealth.com and more. You can find more of her musings on motherhood and more at Forever35.net.

Fritz is on a lifelong hunt for the fountain of youth. She's convinced her two young kids, who won't let her sit down for longer than five mintues at a time, are it. Or maybe it's karma paying her back.