Best of Both Worlds podcast: Life should be like summer camp

Best of Both World podcast with Laura Vanderkam

I am a big fan of summer camp. I had some great experiences during the summer as a kid, both at traditional outdoor camps and the educational variety I started going to as a teenager. I have long wondered why camp is so much more fun than much of life.

So Sarah and I were glad to welcome Audrey Monke to Best of Both Worlds today. Monke is the co-director/owner of a summer camp and a mom of five. She is also the author of the new book — out today! — Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults. This book is about strategies that parents can adopt to bring the summer camp vibe to the home front. Among the tips:

Be positive. Good camps look for ways to include, rather than ways to exclude. The focus is on fun, and personal growth, rather than whether you got a B vs. an A on your report card, or whether you ate your dinner, or whether you scored a goal in the soccer match. In life in general, a sense that this should be fun can go a long way.

Be a social skills coach. Many parents think of helping kids with homework, or sports, but not so much about social and emotional learning. Sometimes this is because our own social skills aren’t exactly top notch! But this can be an opportunity for everyone. How do you have a conversation with someone you don’t know well? (look for common ground! Ask questions!) How do you become a good listener? (Stop coming up with your own story to match everything the other person says! Seriously. Just let the person tell their story. “Tell me more” is a great follow up, not “wait until you hear about what I did.”).

Encourage independence. Part of the magic of camp is that kids are responsible for themselves, and camp is set up in a way that this is possible (your friends are right there! You don’t need an adult to drive you around!) You can bring some of the magic home by encouraging kids to, say, choose their own lunches and make them on their own. If you’re in a safe community, they can do some errands on their own, or walk/bike ride to/from school. You can encourage them to manage their own schedules and then tell you what support they need from you.

In the question section we talk about a physician in academic medicine whose call schedule — coupled with a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old — has her going crazy. She wonders if she should take another job that is part-time, with the assumption that she might not be able to get back on the academic career track. You can listen to our answers, but we just got an update that her institution said she could take a year to go do this other job and then come back with her same rank. So that’s what she plans to do. It’s great when things aren’t either/or, and in a year, the children will hopefully be in a different place in terms of sleep!

In other news: Are you looking for a graduation gift? Juliet’s School of Possibilities is a great option for a new grad trying to figure out how she or he will make an impact on the world while having a great personal life too. If you would like me to mail you a signed book plate made out to your graduate, please email me (lvanderkam at yahoo dot com.)

7 thoughts on “Best of Both Worlds podcast: Life should be like summer camp

  1. This was so interesting to me! I can’t imagine my kid voluntary going to sleep-away camp at this age (he’s 9). The points made about how camp can foster independence were compelling to me, I may look into a (short, 2-3 days) option for next summer. We are CONSTANTLY working on social skills training with our child on the spectrum, its really really hard, frustrating and discouraging, but the skills of conversation CAN be taught. I’m learning a bit along the way myself (talk less, listen more)

    1. @Ana – So many people think of conversation and social skills as automatic and they are not! Kids on the spectrum may have particular challenges, but I think anyone can benefit from thinking about this. 2-3 days could be a great introduction. We’re working on pushing some overnight experiences right now… with limited take-up. Stay tuned…

  2. Influenced by my own childhood experience like yours, I am a huge fan of summer camp and will try to provide the same for my children starting with overnight experiences next year at age 8. NC is lucky to have great mountain and sea camps that provide outdoor and leadership skills. Growing up in a small town, it was exotic to me to meet campers from Atlanta, New York or DC.

    1. @Griffin – I’m sure your kids will love summer camp! I’m kind of envious of them getting to go 🙂

  3. I enjoyed your guest on this episode. My son is going to sleepaway camp for the first time this summer, age 7. I did not have a good sleepaway camp experience and want him to have a great one! I am excited for him to gain independence, play, meet new friends, etc all without parents. Jealous too!

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