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Camps, School or Break? What’s the Best Summer Experience for a Child?

Blog Camps, School or Break? What’s the Best Summer Experience for a Child?

Dr. Lara Darling, a pediatrician with IU Health, discusses different summer opportunities to consider for your children.


Summer is many things for children: a break from school, a time to play, and freedom to explore interests. When planning your child’s summer activities, there are often a lot of factors to consider, such as their personality and interests, your childcare needs and finances. For children who enjoy learning, should you put them in learning camps to further their interests or encourage them to be active? For those who may struggle in school, should they get a break? Do teens need time to simply relax or should they obtain a summer job? How do you decide what is best for your child and your family?

“It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of any summer opportunity,” explains Dr. Lara Darling, a pediatrician with Indiana University Health. “You should let your child have the camp experience they want and will enjoy, but also encourage them to be well-rounded. In general, educational experiences are good for any child. Studies show that summer is an educational minefield, and elementary school children lose two to three months of math and reading. If you aren’t actively trying to combat that, it accumulates. Children should work to keep up their skills and even advance so when school comes they are not behind.”

Summer camps with a hands-on educational component can be a great way to keep children learning and active. From building robots or rockets to learning from staff at a museum or zoo, camps can provide an alternative way for children to maintain their skills and have fun. Writing camps or any other enrichment programs that explore a child’s passion are also great options. These sort of camps are often more conducive to the way children learn, and offer enrichment in a style which schools aren’t always able to provide.

General day camps or sports camps are great for exercise, healthy eating, and peer interaction. However, if you choose to send your child to a camp like this, Dr. Darling advises that your child spend approximately two to three hours a week on reading and math so they don’t fall behind.

“The first step to selecting a camp is to get buy-in from your child,” Dr. Darling advises. “If you can give them options, that is fantastic, as they should go to a camp that they will enjoy. Whatever they choose, let them know what the expectations are and the consequences if they don’t meet your expectations. It’s important to keep consistency so that they participate.”

For older children, who are in middle and high school, summer activities should focus on their desire for increased independence and responsibility.  Whether a camper, counselor or employee, like with younger children, their summer experiences should occupy their time and be something they enjoy.

“There is a decrease in violence and delinquency in kids who have a summer job or go to camp during the day rather than hang out at home,” Dr. Darling cautions. “With a summer job, they learn the importance of consistency and responsibility, gain a sense of self worth, and bring home a paycheck. Just make sure they are in a good environment that makes them happy.”

Whether it’s summer camp or a job, the few months off from school is a time to relax, have fun and obtain a well-rounded experience. Just make sure to put routines and schedules back into place and gear them up for the start of school before it resumes.

-- By Gia Miller

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