Photo Credit: Shannon Williams
Campers at last year's Creatures with Wings camp at the Lyndon House Arts Center work on a beehive, a hanging sculpture complete with pipe-cleaner bees and a handmade tree branch.
The idea of setting up summer camps for my child gives me hives. Seriously, I find it to be one of the most excruciating tasks to do as a parent, second to discussing the status of my daughter's college savings account.
But, as parents, if we expect to be at least somewhat productive this summer, it's a task that needs to be done. And trust me, every year I think, "Oh, crap, it's too early to be thinking about that," yet now I have applications to no less than four summer camps already in my inbox. So, here we go.
For simplicity's sake, I'm just going to talk about camps offered by the Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services Department. There are a lot of options, all reasonably priced, but they do require some knowledge in advance—and a good alarm clock. Here's what you need to know:
• Know the lingo: There are day camps and mini-camps. As someone who grew up only knowing one kind of camp (sleepaway), this still confuses me. In general, day camps are for the bigger kids (or, at least, first grade and older) and last all day, while mini-camps cater to kids as young as preschool and are often just three to four hours long.
• Know the schedule: ACC residents get priority when signing up for Leisure Services camps, but it's important to know when to do it. Registration kicks off at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Mar. 23 for the gymnastics program, and then other camp registrations are staggered through April. See www.athensclarkecounty.com for details.
• Get in line: While there is a range of options and the prices are great, camps are also in high demand, especially, in my experience, gymnastics camp and the art camps at the Lyndon House. (Keep in mind, I haven't stood in line for soccer or theater camps... yet.) Know that if your child wants to take gymnastics, you'd better set that alarm early on Mar. 23. If you show up when registration starts, like I did, you'll be standing in the parking lot at Bishop Park—at the end of the line.
And let me take just a moment here to discuss the art camps at the Lyndon House Arts Center. First of all, last year I thought some parents were completely bonkers to get in line at 2:30 a.m.—2:30 IN THE MORNING!—to sign up for the art camps there. We're talking sleeping bags on the sidewalk. But after wiggling into two weeks of classes and seeing the amazing art pieces my daughter brought home, I completely get it.
Claire Benson, the director at the Lyndon House, tells me the camps do a lot with a tiny, little bit of funding. They find new uses for materials that would usually just get tossed, and the part-time staff maximizes their time to come up with new ideas every year.
One thing that's changed in the last four or five years is the length of the camps that are available. For working parents, three- or four-hour camps aren't that useful. With the Lyndon House's budget for camps getting the ax every year, the result is no day-long camps. Instead, Benson says, the staff ends up serving the same number of kids through the mini-camps.
"Before budget cuts, we were doing seven camps, but we were doing full-day camps," she says. "So, now we're doing 12 camps, and it sounds like we're doing more, but we made them shorter camps."
Before the recession, the resources that the Lyndon House staff had were adequate, Benson says, and mostly funded by the public through user fees. But today, the staff is smaller, so it's become a juggling act of paying for the camps while staying within the time constraints of the staff.
"We were able to offer a higher-quality of teaching; we've gone from 18 teachers to six teachers," she says.
To keep the programs through the budget cuts, "[w]e cut parts of the program that enhance the program—instead of bringing in guest artists, we are no longer able to do that," she says. "Now, we have to rely on staff that would normally be doing something else, like mounting an exhibition, to teach summer camp."
That said, the artwork my daughter brought home from her two weeks of classes is still hanging in the house. Every piece is worthy of giving to an extended family member—not just Grandma—because the projects are just that good. (A beehive with buzzing bees! An Eric Carle-inspired butterfly!)
The ACC camps are already a great deal; imagine what an even better deal they would be with just a small investment back into the program. We'd have a budding generation of artists, actors and athletes—and parents who knew they were investing in a quality program that lasted for more than three hours a day.