I approach summer with a mixture of relief and trepidation. Relief that school is over and we have a few months with no homework or organized sports. Trepidation that we have no school or organized sports to help us structure our days. We just have HUGE swaths of unstructured free time to fill. There is no shortage of camps I could send my kids to that would provide them with structure and me with quiet time, but a few years ago when our fourth child was still an infant and napping twice a day, I decided not to send the older kids to summer camps because it was too disruptive to our day. It turned out to be a great decision for us.
I initially sold them on the ‘Camp Budzichowski’ alternative to other camps idea as a ‘special dad time’ without younger siblings around. Back then we had ‘morning camp’ while child #4 slept and ‘afternoon camp’ while children #3 and #4 napped. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a hard sell. We did the usual time-killing activities of summer – played card/board games, read books, watch TV and learned to wrestle and roughhouse QUIETLY so as not to wake sleeping siblings, and they LOVED it.
Ok, I stay home full-time so ‘dad time’ is not in short supply, but it worked.
The key was that we built a special ‘camp tent’ every time, using a sheet, couch cushions and some chairs where all camp activities were held. Of course, building the tent with the kids was an exercise in patience for me on a daily basis. After the first few times, the kids insisted on doing it themselves and had many ‘creative differences’ about the best way to build it.
This is our third summer of ‘Camp Budzichowski’ and we’ve expanded. The kids really look forward to it and come up with their own activities and schedule the days by themselves without much input from me. My second daughter is the self-designated ‘master organizer’ and takes it upon herself to come up with the camp schedule every week that she posts at the beginning of the week. For the most part, her siblings appreciate her skill in this area, but sometimes they don’t. 🙂
1) Tent/fort building – sheets, cushions and chairs. (Just make it BIG!)
2) Game time – card/board games with siblings (great for teaching ‘dispute resolution’).
3) Arts and crafts – drawing, puzzles, legos and blocks (the actual ‘quiet time’ of the day).
4) Reading – independent for the older kids and ‘dad-child’ for the younger. (Okay, I admit I will often ‘delegate’ the dad portion of this activity to an older sibling).
5) Exercise – dad-led family calisthenics (we’re developing ‘world-class’ athletes).
6) Zip Line – dad picks kids up, runs around the room and ‘throws’ them on the couch. (Wears me out…either they are getting big or I am getting old.)
7) Nap/Quiet Time – everyone grabs their pillow and tries to ‘sleep’ in the tent (usually doesn’t work out very well).
8) Screen Time – iPods, iPads, Surface Tablets and Xbox 360 for everyone!! (Follows unsuccessful Nap/Quiet time.)
9) Snack – roasted marshmallows on the gas stove with graham crackers. (How I get them off the screens…)
10) Nature – go outside and play or go to the pool. (Never a tough sell.)
In case you are wondering, this year we are also back to doing some ‘real’ camps outside the house since I’m not managing as many naps these days, but just one or two weeks of camp per kid and the rest is free time.
Right now, we are going through the re-entry process from the school year and, as usual, it’s a bit rough. My three-year-old is EXTREMELY disappointed that her older siblings don’t want to devote ALL their time and attention to playing ‘FROZEN’ with her all day. While they look forward to ‘Camp Budzichowski’, the siblings would prefer more ‘alone time’ than ‘together time,’ but experience tells me that all of that will change as the stress of the school year fades.
And this raises another point. After spending the school year in their own classrooms, on their own sports teams and on playdates with friends their own age, I take the summer to help the kids reconnect with each other. I think it is good for them to have lots of ‘sibling time’ together, learn to get along and appreciate each other. I’m here full-time to help ‘facilitate’ the process, but ultimately what started as an act of desperation has turned into a good opportunity for my kids to strengthen the sibling bonds that will hopefully last as they go their different directions during the rest of the year and beyond.