What I Learned from My First Summer Camp with my Multicultural Family

Have you ever been to summer camp as a family?  I am talking about the kind where you stay in rustic cabins, do organized activities, and share communal meals.  I took my multicultural family, we had a great time and learned a few things for next time.  And there will so be a next time.  If you haven’t thought about it, consider it.  It was a beautiful experience.  Read on for my musings about it, or just skip to the 10 Tips to Make Your Summer Camp Amazing.

Have you taken your multicultural family to an organized camp? Here are some things I learned that might help you.
I took my multicultural family to summer camp and had a blast!

We took a three day trek into the mountains for Peace Camp by the Modesto Peace Life Center. It was the first time I had participated in an organized camp since sixth grade. I grew up camping, but had gotten away from it with the demands of being a grown up and a husband who thinks roughing it is a nice hotel. Suffice it to say, it had been way too long since I had taken the time to recharge in the mountains. So when the opportunity came up, I jumped at the chance. I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest. I convinced my mom and son to come with me, so we packed our bags and off we went.

It was my son’s first time “camping” since he was three and he doesn’t remember it. Time passes so quickly with one thing and another and I just realized I am raising a city boy. Oh the horror!  I was backpacking before I learned to walk.

Luckily he was enthusiastic, and had a great time.  He gets a little freaked out about bugs in the house, so I hoped it would not be a problem.  My little scientist decided that we were “in nature” which is their home and we were just visiting.  He wasn’t bothered by any of the critters, to the point where he didn’t want me to sweep the spiders out of our cabin, although he was just fine when Grandma got rid of the dead mouse that we found there when we arrived.

It was really nice to not have to plan and organize everything, especially the food. I have also gotten citified enough that I really appreciated being able to shower. The people were incredibly warm and welcoming, and the activities were well organized.  Many people really put effort into making us newbies feel comfortable and at home.

My friend, who was also there for the first time, said “It feels like we have found our tribe,” and she was right.  I have lived in California’s Central Valley for nearly thirty years, (Gah, time flies!) and I am comfortably at home here, but have had a difficult time finding a community of people who truly share my views on the world.  I have missed that, more than anything from my time living in a larger city.  At this camp I encountered people of every age and many cultures and walks of life, all focused on true inclusion on an individual and a global level.  It was a space where multiculturalism was embraced and lived.

Every person I met there had an interesting story and really thought about the world and the way they occupy it.  I haven’t had that many stimulating conversations in ages, let alone concentrated over three days.  The experience buoyed me in mind and spirit.  I am excited to go back, in fact, I’ve already got next year blocked off on my calendar.

So, what did I learn from Peace camp?

I learned that I over-pack. OK, I knew that already, but I really did bring too much stuff.  Next year I will not be so bogged down with stuff, now that I know more of what to expect.  Being able to stay in a cabin and having all the food prepared takes such a huge burden off of camping.  We brought enough snacks that we could have eaten fairly well all weekend, and never touched them.  However, I was very happy that I brought sheets for the camp cots (protection from mouse droppings).  I should have brought more warm clothes, it was just so hot down in the valley I couldn’t really believe it would be cold at night.  I knew better, it’s not like I have never been to the mountains before!  Luckily my mom also over-packs and brought an extra jacket.

My son spent hours upon hours playing with rocks and a creek and a few other kids.  I renewed my resolve to get him outside more and to take more days in nature.  Our family situation doesn’t make it easy, but we’ll work on making sure he has more unstructured time outdoors.  I may have to schedule it.  Anyone else see the irony in scheduling unstructured time?

I learned how much I had been longing for my tribe without even realizing it.  This blog has been my way of connecting with others who live a multicultural life, but now I’ve found a space where I can go to meet such folks in real life.  And that is a wonderful feeling.

10 Tips for an awesome Summer Camp
  1. Do bring warm clothing for the evening.  It gets cold in the mountains!
  2. Sheets to cover camp cots make sleeping much nicer, even if you are using a sleeping bag.
  3. Make sure to have a separate bag for shower stuff since it will be a trek from wherever you are sleeping.  Keep the toiletries to a minimum: shampoo/conditioner, soap, toothpaste/brush, sunscreen, bug spray.
  4. Bring several pairs of shoes that are easily cleaned.  Dirt and mud happen.  Closed toe will protect you from splinters and stubbed toes.  Flip flops really don’t work!
  5. Leave your electronics behind.  If you have them with you, you will be tempted to use them.
  6. Bring a camera that’s easy to carry with you if you want pictures of the experience.  Moments that just happen make the best memories.
    • Don’t hide behind your camera so much that you don’t really join in on the fun.
  7. Bring refillable water bottles that can hook on your belt and drink often.
  8. Participate.  Its the best way to get the most value out of summer camp.  Look at the schedule on the first day and decide which activities you are going to join.  Do something you have never done before, it’s a safe space to try new things since many others are new as well.
  9. On the other hand, don’t pack your schedule so much that there is no time to just play.  Let the kids play and let yourself play too.
  10. Help.  You will likely sign up for chores at the beginning.  Show up on time and work enthusiastically.  If you see something that needs doing, just do it.  Make sure your kids help too.  Depending on age they can help you with your chores or do their own.  My son held the dustpan while I swept and helped clear the tables after meals.  By next year he might be old enough to have his own chores.

Have you gone to summer camp as a family?  Please share your story in the comments.  If you haven’t I highly recommend it and will do my best to answer any questions you have.

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Getting ready for Summer Camp as a family? Here are my tips to help you make it a great experience.
Tips from my Summer Camp experience.
Have you ever been to a group camp as a grownup? The kind with organized activities and communal meals? I had not done anything like it since 6th grade and learned a few things from the experience that you may find useful if you go.
Helpful tips from our first experience at an organized camp as a family.

Organized Activities, The Goldilocks Dilemma in Parenting

In Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Goldilocks finds the Bear’s porridge too hot, too cold, or just right.  Just as in the iconic children’s story, many parenting questions come down to finding the “just right” balance for your child.  Today I am thinking about formal, organized activities.  Childhood for my son is not as fluid as I remember mine being.  I remember that I often had an activity such as gymnastics or dance, but I don’t think I ever did more than one at a time.  I spent a lot of hours in independent play, either alone or with friends.

I really struggle with deciding how much is too much, how much is too little, and what is just right for my son.  He is currently in soccer, karate and music lessons every week.  There are other things he does occasionally and more structured activities and clubs he could join through school.  Each week he has just one school day and one weekend day without an appointment .  Plus he must practice the music and deal with any school obligations daily.  Each activity was chosen for very good reasons and there are always more things that we could do, other activities that seem really cool.  We often have to decline invitations because he has something already in that time slot.

So I worry that I am over-scheduling him, that his childhood will be too busy to really be childhood.  I worry that he does not have enough time to just play.  We spent most of last Sunday building a truly massive Lego structure as a base so that Lego Batman could defend himself against the Power Rangers Zords.  It was intricate and he had a fully developed story for the lead up to the battle.  He had a plan and we made it happen.  I haven’t taken the time to just play for hours with him in way too long.  I am often with him, shuttling him here and there and everywhere, and we do have great car conversations as we are rushing from place to place.  We are so busy at various activities that home life is suffering as well.  We are out and about so much that when we are home we are just as busy, taking care of food or laundry or any of the other myriad things that always need to be done, so that he very rarely gets my undivided attention.  He asked again for Lego-mania several times during a hectic weekend, so finally last night we got in an hour before bedtime.  It showed me how much he craves doing something with just Mama and no distractions.

On the other hand, none of the grown-ups in his life are particularly active.  We are all older than most of the parents of kids his age and much less bouncy than we used to be.  In addition, we live in a little bit of a rough neighborhood.  There is just enough going on that I cannot in good conscience tell him to go outside and play unsupervised as I used to do as a child.  He could go into the backyard I suppose, but we never got him into the habit of it since there were hazards there as well and it is not an inspiring place to play.  I have started to try to encourage that, but he has no desire to be out there by himself, so unless I am out there with him he doesn’t get outside time.  The upshot is that without formalized activities, he wold not get enough physical activity.  Most of those formal activities are scheduled in the evening so that parents can be off work, but they are thirty to forty-five minutes from home so that we get home only in time to eat and sleep in a rush.  For me, I put him to bed, often fall asleep doing so  because I am so tired, then get up to finish chores and end up going to bed too late because I got just enough of a nap to make it difficult to go to bed when I should.  He isn’t getting enough sleep either, which is very worrisome, although we are improving on that front.

When I was growing up, we would spend hours wandering the neighborhood with friends, at various houses or parks.  There were kids I could play with on our street or  I could just hang out with my sister.  I got as much social interaction as I wanted in a very natural way.  On the other hand, my son is an only child and all of his friends live a town away so that social interactions must happen through either formal activities or play dates which are their own scheduling hassle.  There are few children on our street and they are not let out to play either.

That old way of life has closed down at least in this area, the whole society is afraid and a parent who lets her child wander is considered dangerously negligent.  I could buck that trend, with difficulty, except that I am also infected with that fear to let him out on his own.  My husband is even more protective than I am.  I want him to grow into a strong, independent person and I know that he has to be able to make his own mistakes in order to do so, but I don’t know how much independence to give him or when to do so.  What is too much, what is too little, and what is just right at this stage in his development?  Will the benefits he gets from the music or sports or anything else outweigh the cost in time?  Time is so precious and childhood time more so.  What is the best use of his time to help him become a well rounded, creative, independent, good person?  For us, when soccer season ends, I am going to try to resist the temptation to fill that time slot with more activities and to instead prioritize those few hours at home, so that evenings can be a time that we can enjoy as a family.

How about your family?  How do you balance formal activities with free play?  How about social interactions, is school enough, or does your child have neighborhood friends to play with?  Does your child roam free?  What is “just right” for your family?

 

 

 

The Goldilocks Dilemma in Parenting - How much is too much?
The Goldilocks Dilemma in Parenting – How much is too much?