When my son was 18 months old and I quit my full time job, I wasted no time jumping right into the current trend of structured activities and mommy-and-me classes for toddlers. I eagerly took advantage of the library summer programs, and by fall we were actively involved in two different story hours, as well as playtime at the community center and a local indoor playground.
By the following summer, when my son was two and a half, we had added Kindermusik to our repertoire. This summer, after just completing my son’s first year of preschool, we are about to embark on our first experience of summer camp, courtesy of his preschool teacher who does four morning sessions out of her home one week in July.
I’m a little nervous about summer camp. Preschool was only two mornings/week (it will be three mornings starting in September), so it is a big jump for me to drop him off somewhere four mornings in a row.
He’ll be with his beloved preschool teacher and many of his friends from preschool, so I know he’ll be happy, but I will miss him. Having him all to myself since preschool ended has been a treat that will be hard to give up.
As I’m bracing myself to cope with four days of summer camp, I’m surrounded by stay-at-home moms who are sending their preschoolers to summer camp Monday-Friday all summer long, some for full days and some for half days. It’s really hard for me to wrap my head around this. Every family is different, and I’m sure people who go this route have valid reasons for it. But for me it would never work!
When I was growing up, summers were mostly unstructured, even beyond preschool. Of course, back then, there were neighborhood friends with mothers at home, so entertainment didn’t need to be structured. We had our moments of boredom, but mostly we played hard and found creative ways to amuse ourselves. This is the kind of summer I’ve always envisioned for my son.
As I said, I am no stranger to structured activities for toddlers and preschoolers. This summer won’t be any different. In addition to the four mornings of summer camp, we will be doing library activities, an occasional art class, and possibly swimming lessons. But in between these classes will be lots of time playing in the backyard, going berry picking, meeting up with friends at the playground, going on picnics, and spending relaxed, unstructured time together.
I love that my son can play for hours in the backyard, by himself or with me, without getting bored. I love the enthusiasm he has for simple pleasures, and I love the renewed appreciation I experience when seeing these things through his eyes.
If I worked full time outside the home and had a need for childcare, summer camp would be a great option. But since childcare is not an issue for me (not to mention that I don’t have much of a budget for it), my plan is to keep camp a very small component of our summers for years to come! Next summer’s challenge will be five mornings of Vacation Bible School; let’s hope this year will give me enough time to prepare for that challenge!
I’d love to hear how other moms are balancing structure with relaxation this summer!
Claire is a regular writer at Catholic Mothers Online.