Summer Camp Suggestions

Parent Q&A

Summer Camps for 6 & 8 YO without the filler Dec 5, 2019 (4 responses below)
Camp for rising 1st & 3rd graders together Jan 7, 2019 (6 responses below)
Camp woes Jul 11, 2016 (2 responses below)
  • I know I'm way too early to really ask about summer camps for 2020 but we had a pretty uneven to poor experience this year so I thought I'd try to put some better thought into this. Based on the feedback I got from my two boys, ages 6 and 8, I think they really were turned off by the camps that had a lot of transition and waiting time. So for example, one camp I thought they would love, had lots of different sports to try, typically switching every 45 minutes or so. But they said that a large portion of the day was spent transitioning from activity to activity. Even worse was that many (all?) of the activities, the kids had to wait in line to actually do anything. I happened to see their basketball segment and it consisted of two lines of kids, waiting to take a free throw. Super lame. My guess is that they actually spent 10% of their time participating in the actual activity. But I do see the value of the camp because it runs all day and was pretty affordable, so it's like childcare with structured activities. But this is probably the opposite of what I'm looking for, except the affordable part. Now on the other hand, the camp they loved wasn't a camp at all. It was a carpentry class that was a couple of hours each day. Each kid got to work on their own project at their own pace the entire time. Almost zero wasted time. After a snack I'd take them to a park and they could play on their own. So I think I'm looking for:

    - Not crazy expensive

    - Staffed by a topic expert able to deal with kids

    - One to two hours of high quality experience or instruction, no filler (don't need it to be childcare)

    - Minimal transitions, minimal waiting

    - Preference for sports and outdoors

    - In or near Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda

    Your boys might enjoy the Berkeley Marina camps. They vary from Marin biology to boating or kayaking. They are affordable and very well run. You need to monitor the city’s website under the Berkeley Marina tab to find out when the sign up is going to be. Usually the “sporty” camps fill the same day. When my kids were that age they also liked the UC village half day camps like LEGO building, chess or gymnastics. Good luck!

    There are loads of "enrichment" summer camps, but if you want 'affordable,'  you're left with what a city's Parks & Recs can offer since tax-payers subsidize that. so check out what the various East Bay cities' offer via their Parks & Recs. 

    We just signed our very sports-minded 10 year old on to this brand new camp in El Cerrito called Camp Olympia. It's a joy-based sports camp! We've meet up with the founder, Jason and he was great.  He used to be a school principal, and he seems very sincere and enthusiastic about making sure that every child has a great camp experience.  Here's the website:  I can PM you Jason's phone number if you would like.

  • Camp for rising 1st & 3rd graders together

    (6 replies)

    Hi BPN! This summer, my daughters will be 6 and 8 years old (rising 1st and 3rd graders) and would like to attend camp together. My older daughter in particular is really slow to warm up to new situations, so having her younger sister in the camp with her would be great. (Many appear to accommodate multiple ages but tend to split K-2 / 3-5 for the activities.) They like sports (especially swimming), art, dance/music, but mostly a warm, caring environment. We're Oakland-based but open to Berkeley as well. Any recommendations to share? The Aurora Creators & Explorers camp looks great -- open to others as well. Thanks in advance!

    My kids are the same distance apart and I do think you'll find, for the most part, they will be in different groups even within the same camp. There are a few more freeflow camps where the kids are all in one mixed age group, but I'd also consider some of the camps where they'd be in separate groups but in close proximity like Fairyland (though registration opens on January 11th so it may be full before you see this comment!) or Galileo (where you might be able to request the same group since they group rising 1st and 2nd graders). You could also try Cal Blue Camp.  Head-Royce's camp is also well liked and is a four-week session this year so there would be some consistency, though it's very pricey. I'm curious to hear other suggestions too!

    The Aurora Creators and Explorer's Camp is great as is the theater camp. I highly recommend them both!

    My girls always liked Touch the Earth--in the Oakland hills. Outdoors, crafts, hikes...that was a long time ago.

  • Camp woes

    (2 replies)

    I need some help with my anxiety around summer camps for my kids.  I have a 6yr old and a 10yr old who are booked with camps most of the summer because both parents work.  My older kid is easygoing about this - he's mostly happy to go (occasional grumbling about a particular activity), but he is pretty social, meets other kids easily and has a good time.  

    My younger son has a really hard time. He's anxious about new situations in general - and camp is hard.  He worries about it before and is usually upset/crying when I leave.. At the end of the day, it's clear he pulled it together and had fun.  We prepare him as best we can - we chose longer camps (2-4wks) to reduce the number of transitions, we go to the orientations, meet the counselors, talk and talk about what's going to happen, the schedule, etc.. but it's still so hard for him.  

    And for me!  I'm feeling tremendous guilt and anxiety.  I HATE leaving him when he's crying.  I try to tell myself this is the kind of challenge that is character-building for him, but then I worry that we're pushing him too hard.  He keeps crying, saying he want to go back to Kindergarten where he was comfortable.  It's tearing me up!

    Can I hear from some of you with similar kids how it went for you?  Does it get better?  Should I take him out and wait another year?

    RE: Camp woes ()

    I hear ya. I deeply regret sending my 5 year old (between K & 1st) to summer camps; he just wasn't ready for the variety of new environments. It was too overstimulating, no matter how engaging the subject matter and nice the counselors (and they aren't always that nice...), and he ended up very grumpy and anxious. Some kids need more summer downtime to grow into an appreciation of the camp thing, which I didn't realize at the time. Now he's 7, slightly more mature, and it's much better although I have tried to minimize the number of new camps as well as always sign him up with a friend. This may be the unpopular answer, but if you can - and I understand maybe logistically you can't - pull him out and keep him at home with a parent or sitter. Try again next year.

    RE: Camp woes ()

    My son was a wreck when he first started summer camp at 6. It was AGONY. By the next year he was totally fine. Yours will be too! It's all a natural part of your kid's development. As for whether to take him out vs. keep him in, if there's a way to spy on him after he thinks you've left, that might be a good gauge of how distraught he is. I know my kid was fine after 1/2 hour and actually seemed to enjoy his day (though he wouldn't admit it). If it's the kind of camp where you can call the staff mid-day to check in might also be useful. Maybe even ask if they can pair him with a CIT or counselor so he has some consistency day to day.

    Good luck! I know it sucks! But it will get better!

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Depressed about sending kids to summer camp

Feb 2012

I need a bit of perspective here. Every time around this year, I get so depressed about my work situation - because it's camp signup time! I feel so bad that my kids spend 8 weeks in summer camp, instead of going away for months to a lovely cabin or traveling overseas, hanging out with friends, and having a mellow summer. So many of their friends have this experience, because their moms are SAHMs, but I have to work. The school year is fine - they are in school every day anyway, and I have my own business so I can be there in the afternoons etc. But during the summer, it's a different story, they are the ''camps kids''. If I closed down my business, we would likely have to leave the Bay Area and/or they would have to take out hundreds of thousands in loans for college (My income is what we're using to save the $500k we'll need for two UC undergrad educations, that's one of the main reasons I work.) How do I get over my guilt and sadness about not giving them the summers I wish they had? bummed

Wow, it never would have even occurred to me to feel bad about sending my kids to summer camp! There are so many great camps in the Bay area, I am a bit jealous of my kids for having the opportunity to go to camps that *I* would have loved as a kid. They have much more fun at camp than they would have hanging out with boring old Mom! They enjoy our vacations (which are generally short), but they're always happy to come home again--a summer of travel would not be their thing. You should not feel at all guilty about giving your kids such a great opportunity to make new friends and learn new skills (sports, crafts, etc.). If they're not happy at the camps they've gone to, then you should look for different camps (lots of good recommendations here on BPN). Mother of happy campers

I'm sorry you get so depressed over your kids having to go to summer camp instead of living those lazy days of summer. I work full time, am the only parent to my two kids, and my kids go to summer camp full time, too. I think they are lucky to be able to have all those amazing summer adventures and are exposed to many activities I never was. Yes, sometimes I get a little jealous when I hear of a friend tell me that they will spend 3 weeks this summer at their parent's summer lake house, but that's not my life. I know it's hard, but try to keep a brave face for your kids and show real enthusiasm for all the wonderful summer camp experiences they will have! Be grateful that you have the financial resources to pay for summer camp. Be thankful for all the wonderful camp choices we have here. Your kids will have opportunities and experiences that will enrich their lives, not take away from it. For us, we take our family vacation the end of August, right before school starts. That helps me feel like it's a real summer vacation and then we are ready to start it all again when school starts. Good Luck to you! anon

No, you're looking at it all wrong! You might be sad because your kids ''have'' to go to summer camp but I bet they're glad they *get* to go.

Last summer my son's best friend went to the pool every afternoon with his stay-at-home mom. I thought about quitting my job so we could go with them and they could have playdates all the time. How fun! But the other mom told me her son was SO bored and wished he could go to camp. They couldn't afford to send him because she didn't work.

If you really want your kids to have a lazy summer, I bet you could find some college student home for the summer who can take them to the pool and out for playdates, but they may well be bored.

This summer we are trying a combination of camps and babysitter. Some weeks camps, some weeks babysitter, some weeks half day camps or classes and half day babysitter. So maybe something other than full day camps would work for you too?

Also, remember to take advantage of what the summer does offer. Take them to the beach in Alameda. Have barbecues at night and picnics in the park. Have friends over late. Go on weekend trips. Have popsicles and ice cream. Do something to make this season stand out from school and maybe you'll start to love summer. Anon

I used to work I felt this was one of the big sacrifices my kids had to make -- giving up a mellow summer -- because I was working. Well, now I'm home. I've found with multiple kids in a house without TV watching, summers need structure or the kids get on each others nerves. Also, it's funny you feel like so many friends are traveling and letting their kids roam the nabe, because from my perspective, it seems like all the kids are in camp camp camp so that there aren't a lot of playmates running around. Finally, now that I'm not working, we have less money so I think we actually travel less, which was sort of a surprise. It's the old problem of time and money you never have both at the same time. Anyway, I don't regret being home, and I'm glad they are not going to camp all summer, but don't beat yourself up about it, because even if you were home, your kids would need to be occupied doing something. gotta keep em busy

You don't say anything about whether your kids like the summer set-up, but if they do, then you shouldn't feel guilty about them being in camp. If they don't like being in camp 8 hours a day for 8 weeks, then maybe you can get creative. Could you hire a teenager to come to your house to hang out with your kids so they can have a relaxed summer, at least for some of the weeks? You say you have your own business and are free in the afternoons -- so could you sign your kids up for some half-day camps? Could you make arrangements with another family or two to do trades of a week or two where you watch their kids and they watch yours?

Can you close your business for more hours, days or weeks, or get someone to work in your business to free up your time to spend with your kids?

Last of all, while it's nice of you to make all of the sacrifices you are making to save for the future, primarily as you said, for their college education, I'm willing to bet you and your kids would prefer more together time now and a more loans later. work from home mom

I guess it's all in how you look at things. I work full time unlike most of the moms at my daughter's school so my daughter is in camp all summer long too. I never feel sorry for her though; in fact, I always feel like she's lucky to have the opportunity to engage in so many interesting activities instead of doing nothing or spending endless days at the pool for swim team. She's interested in so many different things that I sign her up for practically a different camp every week: sewing, music, science, creative writing, art. And save for a few duds that didn't work out, she nearly always loves them all and is bursting to tell me about her day and show me what she's made when I return home. Do your kids like camp? If not, maybe you could explore all the different options out there and find some better matches for them. If they're sad about not having enough down time or spending enough time with you, maybe you could take a couple of weeks off during the summer or hire a babysitter so they could spend some of the summer at home. I usually have my parents come for a couple of weeks during the summer, but even then, my daughter goes to half day camp so she won't be bored. It seems like there has to be a better option than moving or giving up your job (and their college money). Good luck! Camp Mania

Are your kids actually dissatisfied with their summer activities? My mom was a SAH parent, but I always spent summers in camp programs. When I got old enough, I attended some great residential programs, too, related to my interests (like writing, art). I never wished I was spending my summers doing nothing by the water. I was excited to be busy doing interesting things and making new friends, and I loved my camp counselors. If your kids are happy, don't worry about it. Camp programs can be pretty great. You can always do a couple long weekends away somewhere scenic but relatively close. happy camper

Comparing yourself to those who have more than you is a surefire way to make yourself feel inadequate and miserable, no matter how much you have or don't have. Instead, compare yourself to those who have less to help you feel grateful for what you've got. Traveling overseas or spending months at a cabin -- who has the money for that? Clearly some of your friends do, but if you set that as the standard 99% of us will fall woefully short. Some working parents have to put their kids in extended care from 8am to 6pm year round. Some work crappy jobs on the swing shift and barely make enough to pay rent on a crummy apartment in a bad neighborhood. As a pediatrician I see these kids for their checkups in the summer and they'd love to be ''camp kids'' -- they're bored stiff at grandma or auntie or neighbor's house watching TV all day and gaining 10lbs every summer. And hey, those families have it better than my patient's mother who told me that she wanted to get everything done at clinic in one day, because every time she came it cost $4 bus fare and she didn't have that kind of money. This may not describe the reality of your social circle, but it's true of flesh and blood people who love their children just as much as you do. And there are more of them than there are of those who have idyllic summers in the Hamptons or traveling overseas. Everybody gets this intellectually, but if you're not really interacting with people who have it worse than you then sometimes it's hard to get it emotionally. If you need help with that, Google ''practicing gratitude''. I say all of this without judgement -- it's human nature to compare ourselves to those around us. It takes active effort *not* to look at those who have it better and then feel pissy about ''why don't I have that?'', but rather to look at those who have it worse and feel grateful for the abundance we have. trying to be grateful for what I've got

Since you own your own business is there a way to either work less in the summer or get more help so you can have additional time off? It sounds like your kids would enjoy more time with you during the summer. Would it be the end of the world for your business if you shut down for six weeks during the summer? Regarding the college savings - my only suggestion is to think about how you are going to feel when they are in college. Are you going to feel like you missed spending time with them? Are you going to regret working so hard to save money for college at the expense of enjoying life with them? You don't mention their ages but there is a short window of time when your children actually want to spend time with their parents. Soon friends and activities take over and of course this intensifies in high school and then quickly they are on their own in college. You don't mention what type of business you run but what if you were to scale back your hours now, especially during the summer and work more later, when they are a bit older? They could be recipients of college scholarships. They could go to community college for the first two years. They could work part-time in college and have some student loans - not necessarily bad things. It really sounds to me like you would like to focus on spending time with and enjoying your kids while they are kids, during the summer, when they are carefree and have free time. I encourage you to find a way to live in the now and make it happen. It sounds like you will regret if it you do not. Even if you take a month off in the summer rather than the full eight weeks your business will be fine and you will be a lot happier, so will your kids. Anon

Camps are fun! I bet your kids are having a great time. I would say you should try to take a little more time off during the summer (because it sounds like YOU want to spend more time with them) but then relax and let them pick camps they enjoy and look forward to (so many choices!) and I bet they will have wonderful memories of fun summers. anon

Preparing for next year's Summer Camp - how to?

Sept 2009

Hi - I'm planning ahead for Winter and Summer Camps and I'd like recommendations about how to schedule camps. My goal is to do a mix of academic and fun/creative experiences but it feels like we could be hopping all over the place given camp start and end dates. Is there a way to do this well? What would you avoid doing? Mistakes I should not make? What are your thoughts about the number of camps and transitioning kids to give them a breath of experience. Thanks for the advice

My camp strategy is as follows: I pick one academic-type camp (my specific one is 3 weeks long -- morning academics, afternoon sports), and one ''other-skills'' type of camp (this year that was sailing, also 3 weeks). Then, I figure that's enough, and use the Adventure Time Roberts Park Explorers (essentially, supervised outdoor play; includes hiking, swimming, and a few field trips) for filling in between camp and a summer family trip. If my son wants, I'll let him have one week that he specifically chooses (chess, or Legos, or another such), but I choose that one at the last minute. It does depend on your specific child though. Mine likes routine, so too many changes upset him a bit when he was younger, and make him cranky now that he's older. He also loves to just be outdoors, in a place like a regional park, doing nothing much of anything except running around. Other kids might not like this so well. Karen

I ended up feeling pretty crazed about the our first summer camp experience this last year, and, indeed, we ended up with quite a jumble of a schedule, squeezing different sessions of one-week camps in between sessions of multiweek camps, driving all over creation . . . . And, you know what? It worked out fine. She got a great variety of stuff and loved her summer camps, almost universally, and she really rolled with the changes. This is probably largely her personality, but, also, camps are used to it and prepared for it, and the enthusiasm and excitement of the staff and counselors at all -- really, all -- of the camps we've dealt with helped make it easy for our daughter.

Here's what I'm going to do differently next year: pick some non-negotiable ''anchor'' activities early, book early, and schedule around those. Like, if there's a music camp we really want to do, or a particular session of something with a friend or friends, or a particular price point that we want to hit for some week, schedule those around planned vacation time, and book them early. Pay the deposit, and set it in stone. Everything else can be scheduled around it, or them, even if it means that we have one week of Sarah's Science in June and another in August, or end up squeezing in a week of something that we wouldn't have considered otherwise just because it happened to fit and still had room (had a great experience doing that with MOCHA this year). The reality is that we're spoiled for choices, and I spent too much time this year saying ''ooh! But what about this one? Or this one? If I move this, then she can do that! And we're waiting to hear what her friends are doing!'' And with all that dilly-dallying, we lost out on some opportunities. Sometimes a little bit less flexibility can help, I think. So, for next year, I'm thinking ''anchor camps,'' and building from there. I'll be curious to hear what others recommend! Loved camp, but happy to be back in school

This past March I didn't register my kid for much because I figured all the camps would be short on campers, but normally March 1 is a good time to start planning summer day camps for the following summer. I pay strict attention to the cancellation policies - some charge as little as $5.00.

Since I'm in Castro Valley, we would probably choose different camps. I love summer as a time to get away from one-size-fits-all school. Hope this helps