Jen Stroud kicked off the new year by creating a spreadsheet to plan her children’s summer. With school ending in just less than six months, she wants to stay on top of the various camps she finds for her children, a sports-loving six-year-old son and her arts-obsessed eight-year-old daughter. Her spreadsheet inputs cover location, dates, costs and drop off times.
Organization and preparation have become necessary in the competitive and costly world of summer camps, with some of the most popular programs filling up within hours of opening registration. This year comes with an added challenge of an extra week of summer holidays for many school boards.
“It’s just a lot of shuffling,” says Ms. Stroud, a manager of planning at a pension fund who lives in Toronto. “There’s some guilt about being a working parent, so I want them to have something awesome that they love.”
Beyond the logistical challenges – What camps are available? Is every week of summer vacation booked? Will parents that have more than one child in camp be able race from one to another in time to pick them up? – many parents said they feel pressure to give their kids a memorable and fulfilling summer.
The stress parents put themselves under to find the ideal summer camps for their children, the ones that cater to their passions and interests, is a reflection of parenthood today, says Christine Pilkington, founder and chief executive of Vancouvermom.ca, an online guide for things that mothers can do with their children in the city.
“Parents want to provide their kids with a perfect life, generally,” she says.
But there’s a flip side to that: If parents finding themselves scrambling to sign their children up for a camp they may not want to attend, it could turn out to benefit them, says Toronto-based parenting expert Jennifer Kolari.
“Kids learn a lot about having a difficult cabin mate and having some activities that are boring, and trying to stick to something that you don’t really like. Parents are trying to shield their kids from healthy adversity, but that’s really critical to becoming a resilient, organized human,” she says. “There’s nothing greater for a child than to think, I don’t want to go here, this is going to be terrible – and learn that it’s wonderful. Could there be a better life lesson?”
Even for parents aiming for less than perfect, the process can be overwhelming.
“I’ve already sat down and planned for the summer, [which means asking] what do the kids want to do, what weeks are those camps offered, and when are the registration dates,” says Andrea Hardie, a Calgary mother of two daughters, ages 10 and 7.
There will be horse camp for both kids, a perennial favourite, and whatever reasonably priced camps she can find that the girls will be interested in.
“I try and put them in the same camps because the logistics of trying to drive and do drop offs at different camps are challenging,” says Ms. Hardie, a director of health and safety with the Petroleum Services Association of Canada.
There is also the financial stress of actually booking camps. The cheapest camp she’s been able to find runs nearly $400 per week. The horse camp her children will be going to costs $700 per child for a week.
Across the country, some municipally funded summer camps do not charge camper fees, while some overnight camps can cost upward of $1,000 for a week.
Every time Ms. Hardie finds a new camp, she puts a note in her phone reminder to wake up at 5 a.m. on registration day to make sure she can get a spot.
“It’s definitely a co-ordination challenge,” she says.
Tyler Ingram, a software engineer who lives in Vancouver and has three children, two of whom are of camp age, says he and his wife often get stressed out booking summer camps that allow for a relatively smooth pick up and drop off schedule without having to race from one to another.
“We have to find camps that are staggered and it can be difficult,” he says.
The stress doesn’t end for many parents once camps are finally booked.
“At least once or twice in the spring I go back in a panic and have to look at my confirmation e-mails to make sure I’ve got the right dates,” Ms. Hardie says.