With the summer reaching its final stage as August looms around the corner, I wonder how many Moms are ready for “back to school” already. Even though school brings homework and class projects and parent volunteers and sports schedules, there is something to be said for that structured routine that (let’s be honest) gets the kids up and out of the house without our having to re-invent the wheel to keep them entertained and free from too much TV or computer time! Meanwhile, a large number of our friends in France are not necessarily in the same rush as we American moms might be. In France, a concept called “Colonie de vacances” allows the kids time in a summer camp setting, often with their choice of themed activities, for a time period up to 3 weeks or more…. away from home! The Colonie de vacances allows families with two working parents to give their kids a real sense of summer vacation without the typical daycare setting. This is the traditional notion of summer camp in all its glory, starting with kids as young as 4 years old. In fact, French kids are much more accustomed to this kind of self-dependence when it comes to nights away from home. Most schools in France plan weekend, or even week-long, field trips for grades as young as our Kindergarten. With teacher and parent chaperones, children are expected to maintain a certain level of maturity and self-awareness as they participate in activities without the constant supervision or structure they would otherwise have at home. I wonder to what extent their children learn more responsibility and self-confidence by leaving the comforts of home at a much younger age than the majority of our American children do?
As for us, our 11 year old had her first “sleep away” camp experience this summer. Happily, she was rooming with her French friend, who had no trouble adjusting whatsoever given her previous European experiences. But for Lydia, there was at least one tearful night (out of only 4!) where we had to console her and remind her of all that she is capable of handling on her own. I think next year will be better, and I know she grew a lot from taking care of her basic daily needs on her own: what to choose at the dining hall, whether to make her bed or not, what time she would actually turn her lights out, how often to shower or brush her teeth without my nagging… and on, and on, and on.
For now, three weeks away at summer camp would be too much for us, even though I feel ready for a break from “summer” with all the kids. Still – there is something to learn from our European counterparts and I hope to provide some balance in our own children as we select summer camps for each of them in the future.
How do you feel about summer camps away from home? Do you have a child who has done this already, or would you consider something like what exists in France?
For those of you curious enough to check it out, click the French link below to see more about the Colonie de vacances. (For those of you wanting to practice some French, click on the video link from the news broadcast about this type of summer camp in the right column of the site.)
Guide des colonies de vacances