The real reason parents send kids to summer “camp”

Newsweek has a story online today explaining how the economic downturn means fewer parents can afford summer camps. The story takes the position that this is a good thing, as it allows children more “free play” during the summer months.

Clueless, clueless, clueless.

Except for within a certain highly rarified economic strata, “summer camp” is just a more attractive way of saying “program for working mothers scrambling to patch together some sort of summertime childcare for their elementary-school-aged kids.”

And if parents can’t afford summer camps, they will be looking for some other kind of cheaper childcare. The inability to pay for childcare doesn’t mean children will have some sort of more idyllic summertime experience; it means that kids will be more likely to sit on a couch watching movies all afternoon at the home of the stay-at-home neighbor that their working mom is paying (less than camp fees) to babysit while she’s at her job.

The gazillions of specialty themed summer camps that now exist in every locale in the country serve an important purpose in the messy, American childcare ecosystem, but they aren’t really “camps” in the sense that one thinks of the iconic month canoeing on a lake in Maine with preppy cabin-mates from all over the country.

The summer programs in which many of us enroll our children aren’t really “camp,” any more than the “schools” that exist for children three and under are really schools. In both cases, they are childcare, plain and simple. And we need more good, affordable childcare options in this country, no matter what we choose to call it.

Parents being unable to afford childcare is not a good thing, no matter how Newsweek tries to spin it.

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