When it comes to raising children, controversy abounds. Should toddlers watch TV? Is it better to spank or use time-out? Public school or private? Day camp or residential?
All of these issues are personal. Personal decisions. Personal values. Perfectly understandable.
But camp things? I never thought doing camp-type activities with my family could stir up a cross-country debate challenging my personal parenting style. After all, don’t all parents think camp is a positive experience?
As a former camp director, our family thinks nothing of putting on skits, making s’mores in the fireplace, dripping paint on the kitchen table during craft projects or putting pillows under our T-shirts and bumping stomachs in Sumo-wrestling competitions. It’s who we are and we think we’re normal. I guess you could say it’s our reality.
Things changed when our family was asked to appear on the Fox reality show Trading Spouses. For this show, I spent a week living with a family in another state while their mom stayed with my husband Allan and daughter Sondra.
Even though I didn’t know the ages of the children, I packed an assortment of craft and activity supplies such as fabric crayons, wooden racecars to decorate, and even a parachute. Upon arriving at the new home, I discovered the three children (eight, twelve and seventeen) spent their entire summer days (14-16 hours) watching R-rated TV and videos. Breakfast was coffee. Around noon, the kids complained of headaches. Lunch was ice cream eaten directly from the carton.
Throughout the first two days, their dad kept telling me his eight-year-old daughter had ADHD, was hyperactive and a poor reader (in front of his daughter). It wasn’t a pleasant situation.
Turning The Tables
The rules of the show dictate that I fit into their lifestyle for the first two days and, on the third day, I declare, “Now we’ll do things MY way.”
The first change was turning off the TV. I bought fresh fruit and started serving breakfast. (Miraculously the headaches disappeared!) We went hiking and rode bikes. Friends came over and played with the parachute. The two younger kids made kaleidoscopes. Basically, they experienced a week of day camp with counselor Silvana. The very macho dad made constant negative comments about the things we were doing. He saw no reason to turn off the TV and join us. When I insisted he spend an hour alone with each of his kids, doing something fun, he refused. He called his twelve-year-old son a “sissy” for enjoying the craft project. Obviously his kids had never been to camp because he felt those games and skits were just for babies.
Throughout the next four days, the two younger kids kept asking if I had more things to do. We designated a shelf to display their crafty creations for their mom. The TV crew bought supplies because the family didn’t even have colored markers or construction paper. The so-called hyperactive eight-year old spent hours with me, simply reading the newspaper. (She had no age-appropriate books.)
Meanwhile Back At Home…
Back at my house, the new mom was shocked to find my husband and daughter actually enjoying each other. They joked, discussed politics and thankfully, didn’t Sumo wrestle on national TV. They took the new mom kayaking on Puget Sound. Each experience was new to her, since their family seldom even attended a community festival. My husband took her to a just-opened art museum that featured a chance to participate in hands-on art activities. She commented on the immaturity of adults trying to blend watercolors. “Crafts are only for pre-schoolers,” she stated. She also felt it was “unnatural” for Allan and Sondra to spend so much time together.
The Nation Decides
The program aired, showing Sondra scrap booking and the kids in my new family happily engaged in camp-type activities. (With their dad cussing in the background.) Almost every interview with the new mom focused on her saying how inappropriate it was for Sondra to do crafts or play games with her dad. “Sondra’s a 15 year old girl that should be reading Cosmo, not gluing stickers on paper!” she said.
Evidently a large portion of the television viewers agreed. My e-mail box was flooded with messages such as “You are a *#%@*^ mother!” “How can you be so &%$@(&% stupid to have your teenager wrestle with her dad?” (Get the idea?) We got prank calls at midnight. The Trading Spouses chat boards were overwhelmed with people calling me the crazy activity lady that forced kids to hike and be creative.
One e-mail read, “Why did you send that 12-year-old boy to a drama class? He’s smart. Only idiots do drama.” My husband got ridiculed for being a %#*%# dad and not encouraging Sondra to date.
The Untapped Camper Market
It never occurred to me that doing camp activities with my family could be so controversial. It also showed me the large, untapped market of potential campers. If parents think playing family games are stupid, they probably aren't the type to send their kids to camp. Those of us in the camping industry simply assume everyone sees camp as a positive experience.
Here are some ways you may want to consider gently exposing people to camp:
•Set up an informational booth at a sports tournament on your camp programs. Sometimes people who are totally sports focused might consider a general summer camp for their child.
•Many newspapers and magazines print articles on cooking together as a family. Write an article on a “No-Calorie Family Activity”. Describe the benefits of spending time as a family making a piñata or playing games. Tie in the idea that kids learn valuable skills by attending camp where creativity and fitness activities happen daily.
•Does your church or synagogue offer divorce or grief support groups? Ask if you can bring a short slide show about camp activities, especially if you have family camps.
•A creative soccer coach (and camp director) invited teams to decorate goal posts at a tournament for elementary students. Dads who normally wouldn’t do “crafts” got creative in their goalpost designs, and gained an appreciation for camp-type fun.
•Expose business-people to camp-type activities. As a speaker on team building, I’ve frequently had adults work on projects such as fish printing or creating an exercise machine from PVC pipes. At a teambuilding session for firefighters, I had each team create a diorama of a “fire station of the future.” It’s satisfying to have people tell me they enjoyed the “artsy craftsy” type activity as a change from dragging heavy fire hoses. Then I mentioned how kids gain positive experiences from similar activities at camp… and distributed flyers from a local camp!
I still get occasional negative e-mails about my involvement with family games and activities. I don’t let it bother me – this is my reality, not theirs. Of course, I also don’t let them know my next book is called Moms Who Use Glue Guns Bond With Their Children!
Silvana Clark has over 20 years experience helping thousands of children create arts and crafts projects. She presents keynotes and workshops on a variety of recreation related subjects. Silvana can be reached at (615) 662-7432 or via e-mail at email@example.com.