An Important Piece of the Summer PuzzleFor most parents, planning summer is like putting together a puzzle…a 3,000 piece Van Gogh’s Irises puzzle. Let’s start with a puzzle piece for your budget. Add another for what you like to do as a family. Then there’s another one for visiting relatives. Don’t forget the handful of pieces for what all your friends are doing. Of course, there’s also that super tricky piece of what to do with those summer weeks when you are at work…or at home, but the kids are working your patience. We can’t help you assemble the whole puzzle, but we can help you with that last tricky piece.

 Before you can put in that last piece of the puzzle, there are several important factors to consider. Imagine holding a four-sided jigsaw puzzle piece in your hand. One bumpy side of that piece represents your child’s hobbies and interests. Another side represents academic areas that are challenging for your child or areas where s/he excels and need to be challenged more. The third protruding side represents physical activity. Then lastly, there’s the social or character development side. All four sides of this puzzle piece are equally important, and need to be addressed to fully realize the powerful potential of summer.

Summer is a time to foster your child’s innate curiosity about the world. All children, regardless of socio-economic class, suffer from Summer Learning Loss. If you don’t keep their minds active, children will slide back 2-3 months’ worth of academic achievement over the summer. It is also critical for kids to stay physically healthy in summer as kids gain more weight during these 3 months than the other 9 months of the year combined—a result of less regular daily exercise, poorer eating habits and more TV time. During this time, it is equally important to develop character skills like curiosity, confidence and kindness. Recent studies cited in books such as How Children Succeed by Paul Tough show that a child’s character skills are more accurate predictors of future success than IQ.

Trying to address every side of this tricky puzzle piece all at once may seem daunting at first. Where can you fit that piece, along with the all the others, so that your child’s personal, academic, physical and social goals are all being met at the same time? The answer, it turns out, can be surprisingly simple—summer camp. A quick Google search will turn up dozens of summer camps in your area for practically every hobby or interest: science, art, computers, languages, sailing, horseback riding, and more. The health and physical benefits of camps that revolve around physical exercise are obvious. Some of these camps, especially the more specialized ones, have some kind of learning skills built into them. They require kids to observe, listen, read or experiment in some form or fashion. Some quality enrichment camps will weave science, art, technology or math disciplines together into fun, kid-friendly themes and projects. All of these camps will help kids retain what they’ve learned at school and get a head start on the next school year.

Beyond the academic and physical skills however, the true magic of summer camp is personal growth. Imagine being a child who goes to camp for the first time. Your physical environment is new and unfamiliar faces from different schools and neighborhoods are around you. You are suddenly navigating more complex social interactions that involve learning what makes others feel happy, sad or angry. Likewise, these new peers and instructors have no preconceived label for you. No one knows you as the kid who is good at math, or bad at kickball or how popular or unpopular you are at school. You are a clean slate. You are free to explore new hobbies or passions. You are free to become who you want to be. Camp is the ideal setting to develop those coveted character skills that prepare you for going to a new school or job, working on a team project or just making friends. Learning to overcome challenges, developing healthy communication skills, being kind to others and building emotional intelligence are the pieces that help your child figure out life’s biggest puzzles.

Here’s a checklist of some things to consider when choosing the right camp for your child and your summer goals for him or her.

1.      Interest – Do the activities peak your child’s curiosity?

2.      Curriculum – Are the activities organized, age appropriate and address diverse learning styles?

3.      Life skills – Is personal growth emphasized through activities?

4.      Location – Is it convenient?

5.      Daily schedule – Do the times work? Is extended care offered?

6.      Staff – Are they qualified, well trained and good role models?

7.      Safety – Is there at least 8:1 ratio of campers to staff?

8.      Food – Are lunch and snacks provided?

9.      Return Rate – Do a high percentage of campers return?

10.  Value – Are there discounts offered such as referral, multiple week, early bird, sibling, other?

Ed Caballero is the Executive Director of Edventure More which operates Camp Edmo (Arts & Science, Animation, Recreation & Life Skills Camp for Pre-K-entering 4th grade) and Camp EdTech (Digital Media, Recreation & Life Skills Camp for entering 5th – 8th grade) at 15 convenient Bay Area locations. Edventure More is a year-round 501(c)(3) non-profit enrichment organization dedicated to inspiring curiosity, confidence and kindness in children. Through a partnership with top Bay Area museums and talented professionals, Edventure More creates high-quality summer camp and school year programs where children build a joyful approach towards learning and develop invaluable life skills. Edventure More is a local force in the national movement to prevent Summer Learning Loss and save hands-on learning in schools. 5% of all summer camp proceeds and 100% of donations support camper scholarships and subsidize the cost of their classroom science programs for schools. Edventure More–Celebrating 10 years of supporting Bay Area families, schools & communities! edventuremore.org