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How is summer camp starting off?

Four years ago, we sent our oldest child to her first summer camp.  It was a program for kids kinder-age through sixth grade.  The program included many excursions throughout the city and also off to the coast, Gorge, and many other day-trip adventures.  The thought of our daughter romping around the city park, loosely monitored at the playground border by the sun-loving camp counselors frightened us.  Kids were sent to the potty on their own, allowed to lunch wherever they wanted in the expansive picnic area of the park.  I don't know.  We were just a bit scared of it all, the great big world at large and our little five year old roaming free.  I know that's not the way it was, but that's the way we felt.  We were nervous.  It was her first foray into bigger-kid activity, her first step out of the protected preschool zone.

Every day for two weeks, the campers took the bus to Sellwood Pool from NW Portland (a looooong trek!) for swim class.  Afterward, they would frolic in the play area for a couple of hours, then head back to the pool for open swim.  On the second day of camp, my husband and I arranged to take a "run".  We actually put on our running gear, drove to Sellwood Park, got out of the car and jogged around the park, trying to steal glimpses of our big girl in her new expanded environment.  We had just set out for our jaunt when we were caught, seen by the lead camp counselor.  Knowing we'd been seen, we jogged over to the counselor, and said "Oh!  We were just out for a run and thought we'd see how things were going."  But, of course, things were just fine.  Our girl was having the time of her life, and so were the other campers.  Camp counselors were having fun and had a good grip on the whereabouts of each child.  It was just a new level of independence for us and for our girl.

Last year, we experienced a whole new level of independence.  Then eight, our girl went to a camp at the University of Portland, an all-girls camp for kids aged 8 to 13.  Again, she was at the bottom of the age-bracket, and so we felt so new to the increased level of freedom.  Lunch was a whole hour and it was open campus.  Campers were allowed to picnic outside, head to the dining hall to buy food, or go to the snack bar for more treats.  The expectation was that the girls could manage themselves, and no one could go anywhere unless they were in pairs and unless they told a camp counselor.

I couldn't very easily get out to the University that week, to spy a glimpse on my girl, so I sent a friend, a professor at the University.  And, soon enough, I got a quick report via email letting me know that our girl was happy, safe, and comfortable.  It was about 45 minutes into the free hour of lunch, and all was well.

Summer camps, for many of us, is a time to try something new, to stretch boundaries, to collect new experiences.  It can be an emotional time in high transition, going from week to week in different places to learn about different topics.  I'd love to hear your stories about how these first couple of weeks of summer camp is going.  I'd especially love to hear stories of sneaking and spying on your littles, perhaps faking a "run in the park" or even hiding in the bushes just to catch a peak!


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Wow, this really surprises me. I'm more of a free-range mom, I guess, and I love the opportunities for my kids to have some independence. I'm not sure it would even occur to me to go spy on my little one!

Are a lot of parents doing stuff like this?

I never did anything like that with my son, except that sometimes I'm at school and peek in the gym to watch him at PE, just for fun. But he's a confident kid with good judgment. I definitely "spy" on my daughter. She's extremely shy in some circumstances and seeing that she's actually happy and playing and doing fine is so reassuring for me as well as important information for how I respond to her the next time she's unsure and upset.

I think if you know a situation is pushing boundaries--yours as a parent or your child's because it's a new experience--there's nothing wrong with seeking feedback to see if you've made the right decision.

This is my 6 year old's first summer of camp, and we're starting small. She did a basic play-outside-and-make-crafts camp last week, and it went really well. I was proud of her because the friend she signed up with had to leave mid-week unexpectedly so my relatively shy daughter had to rely on friends she'd just made to get her through. I know what the original poster means, though--not that we need to "spy" on our kids, but that it is neat and heartening to watch them adapting to new situations. EVery little bit is a growing up experience. At the camp my daughter attended we parents were invited to join kids for lunch and one day I did, but she seemed to be doing so well I didn't go back!

This surprised me, too.

My kids have been spending a week with the Portland Park and Rec's Summer Nature Day Camp on Mt. Tabor since they were each 5. Basically they roam Mt.T all day, discovering hidden trails and forts I had no idea existed, painting themselves with blackberry juice and having a wonderful time. I've always felt confident about the supervision and like the fact that they spend the whole day "exploring."

In recent years they've gone farther afield with Trackers NW, and I've felt no qualms about that, either. For our kids, summer camp is definitely about collecting new experiences, but not at all an emotional transition.

To be honest, if I felt the need to "spy" on my kids at camp, I would be re-evaluating whether I was truly comfortable with that particular camp.

Dang, you know, we relocated here from the midwest with hopes for open minds. All I'm finding from other mom's is judgement, judgement, judgement. That's why we left KS. Now I'm thinking I might as well be back there. Are there any relaxed and open minded parents here??? Seriously. Lay off her. She thought it would be fun to check in on her kid. So what? The kid didn't see. No harm, no foul.

We are doing three camps this summer, along with our daycare. All are sort of "contained" - Tryon Creek, soccer at a school, and SWCC. I think I have gotten comfortable with not seeing my son since he is in day care and goes on field trips and has experiences without me all the time. On the other hand - it would be fun to see him interacting more in person - rather than just the reports he gives me the end of the day.

Dorthy - I think the amount of judgement that goes on on this site is why activity here has dwindled a lot.

I applaud the original poster for caring to check up on the quality of the places where she is having her child spend lots of time.

Good point Dorthy. I came from the midwest as well with the same intentions and have been lucky to meet others like you who are enjoyable and non-judgmental. Sadly though, they are usually the voices of reason heard second (if at all) after the louder voices of disapproval and judgment here in PDX.

I feel this way most times I leave my child (age 3) with a caregiver-- it's not a lack of trust or safety in the caregivers, it's just that it feels scary to let your own child out into the world. I don't let those feelings keep me from letting my child out into the world-- knowing that they are just fears and that I am not as in control of my little world as I'd like to imagine. I appreciate knowing that other moms feel that way sometimes, too. I find it helpful to be able to bounce those feelings off others sometimes-- if only to be reminded that everyone's sense of what is "safe" is different. I am more cautious by nature, but can't justify judgment on the more minor parenting choices of others. I think it's a process of letting go that (I hope) we get used to over time-- recognizing our children as people with their own needs, thoughts, and dreams who will grow up and truly go out into the world. It was clear to me that when that mama checked on her kid at her first summer camp it wasn't about the safety or trust of the camp, it was about checking in her heart and learning how to let go a little bit. Who among us hasn't peeked in the doorway of our child's room or classroom, for a moment unnoticed, and watched in awe at the beauty of our child? I know I have.

It's my job to make sure my kids are safe. I think I would find out everything I could - including "taking a jog around the camp". And I think the camp counselors would appreciate a parent who cares. The parents weren't interfering and how else do you really know? Even if you have done due diligence, it's good to see it in person. My oldest, at 4 years old, is going to her first day camp this summer and while I don't think I'll be able to peek in, I will certainly try my best to do everything I can to make sure it's a good place. It would be irresponsible not to. If I can peek in at her and the camp, I will!

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