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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Sending My Homeschooled Kids to Camp

This summer I did something that shocked a lot of people, and led to people making assumptions about our family's lifestyles and plans for the future.
I signed up both my boys for the city-wide day camp this summer.

When people heard that, I got a mix of reactions:
Oh, so you're no longer homeschooling? You changed your mind and decided to send your kids to school next year? What made you change your mind?
Camp is expensive! Why spend money on that of all things? Why not keep them home in the summer, especially if you have good reasons to homeschool, and there are kids for them to play with during the summer? Isn't camp a waste of money?
If you have issues with school, why do you not have a problem sending to camp? It's got the same issues as school, and they don't even learn anything!

So many incorrect assumptions there!


I wanted to share with y'all why I decided to send my children to camp.

But firstly, I just want to make one thing very clear.

I have no plans on sending my children to school next year. I have no plans on sending my kids to school at all, actually- we're quite thrilled with how homeschooling is working out for us. While we may decide in the future to send to school if situations and circumstances change, at this point we have no intention of sending our kids to school.

And yes, camp is expensive, but well worth it, in our opinion.

Why did we decide to send to camp? What makes it worthwhile?

There were a few reasons.

We live in a country that is non English speaking. For privacy reasons, I would rather not say where, so I'll just pretend the local language is Swahili for the purpose of this discussion.

Though our kids were born in this country, Ike and Lee still do not speak Swahili. I mean, they know a few phrases here and there and can carry on a simple simple conversation like "My name is Lee, I'm 5, I want this, no, yes, hello, bye, who is this, what is this?" but really nowhere near fluent. We've been working on their grasp of Swahili for a while already, and slowly, slowly it's been improving, but not nearly at the rate we wish it would, not nearly well enough for them to have playdates with Swahili speaking kids.
We understand the importance of kids speaking the language of the country they live in fluently, and we know that the older a kid is, the harder it is to learn the language fluently. Because of this, we decided to send them to a Swahili speaking camp, hoping that "full immersion" for a month will help them acquire the language at a much faster rate than they are now, so they speak it well enough to have playdates with Swahili speakers even after camp, which, in turn, will help improve their grasp of the language even more.
Its day 3 of camp, and from speaking to the counselors, already my sons seem to be understanding more and more.
It's not actually "full immersion", as there are 2 other English speaking kids with each of the kids in camp.
So while camp is expensive, its worth it because it's cheaper than Swahili language tutoring. :-D

Secondly, I've been doing a lot of freelance work lately, and I've needed to pay for a babysitter more than once lately. At least with camp, I don't need to find babysitters for the boys when I need to go work without the kids. So it saves money there.

So that's from a money aspect.

Other considerations about sending to camp-

Lee has friends, so does Ike. But its usually both of them playing together, with the same small group of kids over and over. I felt they needed to expand their friend base, learn how to make new friends, and not just have a small core of the same friends that they always play with. Going to camp is introducing them to new kids, and needed to learn to deal with new social situations that they haven't been in before, which are important skills. Of course, being in large groups of kids and new social situations also means picking up some bad behavior, which I've had to deal with already... But oh well...

The other thing is- Ike is cute... but in some ways it seems like everything he is and does is copying his big brother. I rarely get him to express an opinion of his own- usually he waits until Lee expresses an opinion, and Ike repeats it. Or Ike will ask his big brother to do stuff for him, and Ike won't even attempt to do certain things because he thinks he won't be able to do it as well as his big brother. I wasn't so thrilled with this. I wanted Ike to have a distinctly separate part of his personality, something uniquely him. But because he's all the time with his big brother, they're close friends and play together most of the time, spending nearly all of their waking hours together (Ike and Lee usually go to playdates together), I felt that Lee overshadowed his brother's personality much of the time.
Sending the boys to camp means sending the boys to a place where they are separated by age, so they are not together. This was great for Lee, who often asks to do things without Ike, and it was a little challenging for Ike the first day to be without his big brother (he cried a little bit), but now I see he is adjusting and is blossoming on his own, out of the shadow of his older brother.

Now people have asked me why I am ok with sending to camp but not to school... A few reasons.
Number one is that I'm not opposed to socializing, and I'm not opposed to having a good time. I just have a problem with how things are taught in school, with the methodology of teaching in schools, which I don't think is necessarily the best way for kids to learn. So I'm happy to send them for a summer of fun, but not a year of learning. I think learning can  be better at home, but fun might be more easy to have at camp.

One of my concerns about school, admittedly, is the sometimes negative social influence by classmates. My husband and I would like to be the primary influence on our children's lives, but with so many hours a day spent in school for most of the year, I question how much children are influenced from their peers and classmates, and how much from their parents. I would like my children to spend the bulk of their time being influenced by our values by spending time with our family, and less time learning the values of their peers. By sending them to camp for one month out of the year, the bulk of their time is still going to be spent with their family.

And I do know many homeschooling families who I look up to that are opposed to sending their kids to school, but send them to day camp and even sleep away camp. So I know I am in good company.


Is going to camp the perfect situation for my kids?
No. It has its drawbacks, like the not so nice behavior I found out my son learned today... but the benefits outweigh the negatives in this situation.

Are you a homeschooler? If so, do you send your kids to camp? Why or why not?
If you are a schooling family, do you send your kids to camp? Why or why not?
What do you think the similarities and differences are between camp and school? Which do you think is better for kids?

17 comments:

  1. I think whatever you do you shouldn't let others judgments and opinions bother you. You know your kids and what is best for them.

    I sent my son to school during the year and have him home with me in the summer. I work in the education field so I admit it is more convenient for me that way- I am interested in looking into a local Waldorf school, but right now the private school tuition is high!

    I hope your kids have fun at camp. My son loves being home but school does give him an opportunity to socialize with people other than me and he is happy, which in my book if your kids are happy, than mom is happy (usually).

    Anyway, good luck. I enjoy your blog!

    Katie

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    1. Others judgments and opinions don't bother me by now. :-D I've had to toughen up my skin considerably because of the non conventional lifestyle that I lead and blog about. :-D This post was less "defending myself" but more informative, to open people's eyes about why a homeschooler might choose to send to camp.

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  2. My lawyer in Great Neck,Long Island homeschooled his three kids.I thought the idea was a bit far out when he told me about it.You should see how well the kids turned out! One played for the New York Yankee farm team (very well paying) but took a job after one season with the New York Metropolitan Opera! The other two are also very brilliant. He sent his kids out for religious instruction and camp. My wife and I are teachers but it just is not for us. Nevertheless,I have seen excellent results from this.

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    1. Its always nice to hear positive stories about homeschooled kids, especially since everyone is so quick to share how "homeschooling messes up kids".

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  3. I think it's great you want your kids to make new friends at camp! I say good for you :)

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    1. Thank you, Nicole! So far Ike has 2 new friends because of camp, so that's great. Lee's best friend is in camp with him, so he's not as encouraged to make new friends, but hopefully, with time.

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  4. You don't owe anyone an explanation. In my experience as a homeschooler, the responses we get from people are either angry, as they feel our decision is a reaction to their decisions, or simply the ignorance of people that like to feel their (unsolicited) opinion matters. The first group are easier to understand if they feel their way of life is being judged. "My parents sent us to school. My kids went to school. Do you think we're stupid? You think you're better than us.." and so on. Bear in mind, any time you do something out of the prevailing norm, it can be viewed as a hostile act. I don't get too terribly upset by that. The know-it-all busy-bodies on the other hand...

    I'm twice your age (late in life parent) and while there have always been the opinionated among us that didn't hesitate to share their unsolicited thoughts, I do think the new technology enables people to indulge their mean-spiritedness anonymously. In person, it is less common, though I suppose television talk shows have encouraged everyone thinking they have something worthwhile to share (I blame Oprah). My age does provide a bit of insulation from random confrontation in person (no one ever said a word about baby bottles, diapers, etc. to me)and I thank goodness I didn't have to put up with a parade of people telling me what they think I should have done because I appeared young and inexperienced. In a generous mood, you could give people the benefit of the doubt, and decide they mean well. Mostly.

    I wish I could offer you a clever response to those that see fit to interrogate you with respect to how you rear your children-but I don't. I find, "Good day" to be an effective conversation ender, though if you're in a more dismissive mood, "Whatever" accompanied by a quick shrug of the shoulders works as well.

    So here I am-the old woman offering her opinion! I'm terribly disappointed you haven't tethered your children to the kitchen table where you force them to work maths on a slate and read from their 1840's horn books! What sort of a homeschooling mother permits contact with the outside world?! At this very moment, my wee one is locked in a closet where he will remain until he's forty, or has memorized the OED, whichever comes first. I swear, this is what people think when they hear, "Homeschooling." I know we all employ a broad brush now and then, but come on.

    OK, another opinion-you're doing great. I've learned so many great tips from your blog, and while I may not follow every aspect of your frugal life, I'm not about to judge it. As for the homeschooling/camp issue, I don't see how one has anything at all to do with the other. I don't think that should be too complicated for a reasonably intelligent person to understand, but then, "reasonably intelligent people" seem to be in short supply of late. The only thing I ever learned at camp was how to avoid doing stupid things around campfires, and avoid tipping a canoe-both helpful life skills, I think. Education comes in many forms.

    My kiddo can't go to camp due to heath issues (at least not this year) but I wouldn't hesitate to send him if he wanted to go. I know I wouldn't defend or explain my decision to anyone unless I sincerely valued their thoughts on the matter.

    Best,
    Goody

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    1. What a wonderful response - I think your kids are truly fortunate to have you as their parent.

      Klara

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    2. Thank you so much for your response, Goody. Yes, many people have mistaken ideas about what homeschooling entails. I like to share my experience for that reason, to normalize homeschooling for other people. :-D

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  5. Hi Penny, I am a longtime reader and really like your blog. I just wanted to comment to ask about something that has been puzzling me. I know in some of your previous posts you have mentioned you are not that good at reading and writing the local language. I'm just wondering how you plan to homeschool the kids and deal with this. Do you homeschool in English only? Are you planning to move back to the US when they're older? If not, how will they manage when they are older if they can't read or write the local language?

    I'm not asking to be rude or judgmental, so please don't take it the wrong way. I'm just very curious since most homeschooling bloggers live in the US. Thanks in advance :)

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    1. No problem. Its a good question. We do homeschool in English, with Swahili taught as a foreign language. Lee already knows how to read in English, and is in the process of learning how to read in Swahili. We also read texts in Swahili together, etc...
      My husband grew up here and is more comfortable in Swahili than English, especially when it comes to reading and writing. So that helps a lot.

      And I can definitely read and write in Swahili, I just don't do it so much so I'm slower at it than in English, and because of that, I vastly prefer to read English and write in English if I have a choice. Like, for example, I cannot skim a page in Swahili, I have to read it all, word for word, instead of just skimming to see if the info I need is on that page.

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  6. I don't think school is about education in the early years, as much as it is about social situations and making new friends and just learning to get along (and get in trouble). I do plan on sending my kid to school precisely for these reasons, since homeschooling is rather difficult to do legally, and also because I plan on returning to work when the kidlet is old enough to go to school. I don't think there's anything horrible about subjecting kids to stuff that's not tailored to them--they learn how to deal with it, which will be useful later in life.

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  7. I don't homeschool, and don't consider it for my kids, so I send them to camp of their choosing for a few hours for most of the summer. We have a few weeks off, and they're both home at lunchtime. I think the downside of public school (in addition to the behavior and values issue, which is definitely there) is that they don't really get any downtime, and my oldest in particular really needs it. So I try to keep the summer flexible, so that they can spend afternoons at home playing for a change!
    I think what's best for kids depends on both the child AND the parent. I know that I would be a terrible homeschool teacher - but think it can be best for some children.

    And mostly I think it's none of anyone's business if you want to send your kids to camp ;)

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  8. You don't owe anyone an explanation of your choices, but thank you for sharing as it gives me some food for thought regarding my own choices.

    My son is a toddler and I was always 100% sure that I would homeschool but I've recently been offered an amazing job in a bilingual school that I can't turn down. So I'll be teaching there and he'll be enrolled.

    We all have different pathways to reaching our goals as parents and it sounds like you know exactly what your boys need at this point in time. Good on you for putting their needs first rather than stubbornly sticking to a certain idea of what a homeschooler is.

    Btw, I know where you live as I was born and raised there speaking, reading and writing in 'swahili'. I've since lost my swahili completely apart from a few words here and there. It's a difficult language and one that needs to be practiced every day to retain it. I wish my parents had helped me retain my swahili rather than focus only on english.

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  9. I think your decision makes a lot of sense!

    My son went to full-day, year-round preschool from age 2 to 5 1/2. Most of his classmates also were there at least 6 hours a day and most of the year because their parents worked at jobs that don't have a summer vacation. It wasn't "school" all day--there was lots of free play time interspersed with more structured activities--but it was the same basic daily routine in all seasons. Different kids went on vacations at different times. At that age, we felt the consistent structure was good for him.

    However, in his last spring there, he was getting uncomfortable with the school, feeling like he was outgrowing it in many ways. His dad happened to have a lull where he was working on a contract of only 20 hours/week. So we took Nicholas out of school in June, and he went to morning day camp at the museum near my office, then was home with Daddy in the afternoons while I was at work. This was great for their relationship, and the camp gave him interesting things to think about and new craft and experiment ideas that they worked on at home in the afternoons.

    When he started public school, although the school day was shorter, it was more intense and required getting up earlier, and he seemed mildly stressed and tired a lot of the time. This has faded as he gets older--he's been there 3 years--but it was bad enough the first year that we agreed to his plea to just stay home the summer he was 6. Last summer and this one, he's signed up for 6 or 7 weeks of full-day museum camp but also has a few weeks off to hang out at home.

    It seems that the camp, although it is "educational", is more relaxing because each week is focused on just one topic, instead of having to switch gears every hour or so, and every day has a "field trip" into the museum which is fun, and then the last 3 hours of the day is just a low-key time for playing and drawing.

    My son's personality is a lot like mine: He likes to get out in public every day and prefers to do most activities with, or at least near, other people. When I was a kid I took a bunch of summer classes (from a local nonprofit), went to overnight camp for a week, and had the longest visit I could arrange with Grandma, who lived in a city near the beach so there were all kinds of fun things to do there. Having a long stretch of time at home made me restless! I would like my son to go to overnight camp or a solo visit to a relative, but he's not ready to be away from us more than one night, so we are respecting that for now.

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  10. I am a retired homeschool mom. My favourite part of homeschooling was that everyone felt very free to wonder and comment on the decisions that I made for my kids.

    Why should anyone have any comment about you sending your kids to camp AND the finances involved? It is NO ONE'S business... but I'm very well aware that is how it is when you homeschool.

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  11. I don't know where you live but I live in the uk where I home school my kids and 1 has gone to private school.Unfortunately I do have experience of state school and its not nice.Home schoolers get a raw deal,they pay tax for an education they don't receive as well as the extra expense of educating their kids themselves.They take full responsibility for their kids full time and yet they still get idiots critising them.I have 4 highly intelligent hard working kids thanks to me

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