Maybe it’s a result of spending most of each day of the six weeks of summer baseball camp hiding in a dank restroom. Or it could be the fallout from music camp, where I sang, off-key, melodies from “Hair” and the theme song from a tuna-fish commercial.
It could be the incontinence experienced while in a bunk bed (the upper one) during my first overnight summer camping adventure. Or it could be the residue from being on the receiving end of a milk-tossing incident while sitting in a treehouse at Indian Guides camp.
Whatever the reason, summer camp does not conjure up the fondest of memories.
Ultimately, camp did offer a collection of valuable experiences--educational, social and psychological, particularly the last--but the mere thought of summer camp, day or overnight, gives me chills and peptic concerns. Fortunately, the vast majority of children and parents feel otherwise.
For them, summer camp means great adventures, opportunities to devote their full attention to things they love, chances to spend time with friends without worrying about the next report card.
For working parents, the camps provide a pleasant alternative to daylong child care.
In Ventura County, both children and parents can choose from a host of summer camp options. There are horse camps, sports camps, camping camps, computer camps, outdoor camps, indoor camps, Girl Scout camps and Boy Scout camps among the list available.
Unlike myself some 30 years ago, children like Ventura’s Scott Heirshberg find the experiences thoroughly enjoyable. Scott, 8, has attended summer camps for about four years, regularly participating in several different ones between May and September. Scott said his favorite summer camp over the years has been the Painted Pony Farm in upper Ojai because it offers him the opportunity to observe nature and animals, particularly the young and adult horses.
“When I go to camp this year, there’s going to be a horse there that’s maybe a teenager. He was born a week right before I got there my third year,” said Scott, who next year will attend the fourth grade at Carden School of Camarillo.
Scott said he was unsure how many camps he would be attending this summer but guessed it would be more than one.
“It’ll probably be a couple,” he said. “But I don’t know; we haven’t gotten the paperwork done.”
Scott’s mom, Diane Heirshberg, had a better idea of the summer itinerary.
After the Painted Pony camp, Scott is scheduled to attend a hockey camp in Thousand Oaks, a baseball camp at Cal Lutheran University and a general day camp sponsored by the city of Ventura. And perhaps, if space is available, a second round at Painted Pony.
Heirshberg said this is the first summer since her son became old enough to attend day camp that Scott won’t be booked solidly through to the next school year.
“He’ll probably go to camp for about half the summer, spend a little time on a vacation and spend a little time at home, reading and enjoying himself,” she said. “At the end of the summer last year, he told me he wished he’d stayed home a couple of weeks.”
Heirshberg said she and her husband, Stan, send Scott to summer camps for a variety of reasons.
“I look at camps as giving him both a learning experience and a growth experience,” she said. “With Painted Pony, they learn about playing with other children and animals. I think camps are very educational--the kids just don’t realize it.”
With only a short period of time to adjust to a summer camp, the experience can prove difficult for less outgoing children. Part of a positive camp experience is to make it comfortable.
Each time Scott attends a camp for the first time, Heirshberg said, she sends him along with a friend. Local camp directors said this is a technique that many parents use to help children adapt to their new surroundings.
“Sometimes we have a child come alone, but most of the time children come with a friend, or a brother, or sister, or cousin,” said Pam Colvard, director of the Painted Pony Farm summer camp.
“We play a game the first day, ‘Tell us who your are,’ fun things like that, so it’s an icebreaker,” Colvard said. “We have junior high and high school kids as camp counselors who very much take the children under their wing, and that helps too.”
Obviously, not all children are camp veterans like Scott. And each child has his or her own speed at which they assimilate with a new group of kids, counselors and activities. Ventura’s Tom Prinz, a family counselor, said parents might want to consider several factors when registering their children for summer camps.
“Some kids have a temperament where they can simply adjust a lot quicker--you can put three kids in a room at the same time, one may jump up and play right away and it may take awhile for the others,” Prinz said. “Self-esteem is another factor. If the kid has pretty good self-esteem, they’re not going to mind trying a camp.”
Prinz said summer camps provide opportunities for children to try their hand at new activities. But, he said, parents ought to consider having their children participate in camp activities with which they already feel at ease.
“Obviously you don’t want to send a kid away to camp for two weeks if they’ve never been overnight someplace,” he said. “Let the kids pick the activity they are going to spend time doing. If a kid is going to soccer camp and is not a very good soccer player, they are not going to have a very good time.”
Greg Coulson, owner of the Peppercorn Riding School, which runs a horseback riding summer camp, said children sometimes surprise even themselves with their camp choices. “We have some kids who will think they’re horse crazy and will try a few lessons and not like it,” Coulson said. “And then there are some kids who are shy about horses and all of a sudden them bloom and love it.”
As long as they don’t spend the entire time hiding in the restroom, everything should be fine.