Most issues that arise at camp can be solved so that your child enjoys the experience, and perhaps learns that problems can be overcome. (photo from flickr.com)
The moment most working parents dread is when they discover, halfway through, that the summer camp they chose is not a good fit for their kid. The money is often already spent. How can this best be resolved for the child, the parent and the camp itself?
The first step is easy. If you’re relying on your child to relay all the issues, it’s possible you aren’t getting the whole story. The moment something seems to be going wrong, speak to your child’s counselor or the supervisor in charge of their daily activities. This could be something simple. Is your kid too hungry, too tired or getting too much sun? Is there a personality conflict between kids in the bunk? Sometimes it is possible to catch things before they get out of hand, such as separating the kids who are having difficulties, or to find solutions to the problems causing discomfort.
Next, keep communication lines open and keep abreast of the problems. How are the solutions working? Keep evaluating how things are going on a day-to-day basis. If it doesn’t change at all, don’t dally. Camp sessions don’t last long. It can be hard to find out exactly what’s happening to your kid if communication isn’t good.
If things don’t improve, it’s time to talk to the camp director. This can be a quick conversation in a hallway or a formal meeting. It’s important to air your concerns and see how they can be addressed. This is an opportune moment to figure out exactly what’s going on. Does the director seem concerned? Hopefully, the director will want to seek solutions, instead of explaining defensively that things should stay as they are.
In some cases, your kid might need extra help or to spend less time at camp. In these cases, a smart director can evaluate on the spot what might help. One year, I figured out which camp activity days sounded too hard for one of my kids to manage. On those days, he went to work with me while his twin was at camp. He didn’t drop out entirely, and I had a back-up plan that worked out.
A quick example here of when you know it’s time to bail. When my twins were in preschool, I signed them up for a Jewish community centre summer camp. I was surprised to find that there was little Jewish content. Further, they spent a part of every Friday watching movies at the day camp for 3- to 5-year-olds. When I asked about it, I was told that no one else saw the movies as a problem, but that they would switch the movies to the afternoons, since my children attended the morning half-day session.
What followed was a big show each week about how careful they were to adjust the movie activities – solely on my behalf. I was also told that the camp consisted of 50% non-Jews. They wouldn’t provide more Jewish flavour (blessings before meals, songs or activities) at the Jewish community centre where we were living at the time, for fear of alienating non-Jews.
The director then told me that, if I really wanted to iron this out, I would need to wait until after the summer camp season so he could have time to explain how his camp functioned. (This wasn’t the right place for us – I didn’t set up the mansplaining follow-up meeting.)
There are times when it’s immediately necessary to withdraw your kid from a camp, perhaps due to safety issues. This is a case of triage. You must find alternate childcare or summer activities and bounce back from a trying situation.
In these cases, it is unlikely that you’ll get your money back. The camp has already committed to paying its staff, buying equipment, paying rental fees and more. Further, unless they have done something illegal or egregiously wrong, it’s hard to prove that your difficulties require reimbursement.
Yes, it’s a bad feeling, but often we need to model moving on from bad experiences for our kids. It’s important to meet your child’s needs and get that kid back to enjoying the summer. If it’s possible to offer fair feedback about the camp to the director, sponsoring organization or agency, that is a worthwhile step. If another parent asks, you can explain what went wrong. But, on no account is it helpful to smear the camp through social media – avoid the lawsuit! Instead, focus on making things right with your children.
Our summers are short. Sometimes a bad camp experience is a good example of how to make the best of things. Learning to seek solutions and closure when problems arise are great life lessons to learn.
Joanne Seiff has written regularly for CBC Manitoba and various Jewish publications. She is the author of three books, including From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016, a collection of essays available for digital download or as a paperback from Amazon. Check her out on Instagram @yrnspinner or at joanneseiff.blogspot.com.