Sunday, April 26, 2009

Summer Camp Craze

Bangalore Express : Salem Train station.

I was on my way back from Coimbatore to Bangalore last weekend. The train stopped at Salem junction. A joyous group of smart, bright, and enthusiastic school kids jostled into our train wagon. Their T-shirts read something about confidence. It was good to see the smiles and hear the non-stop chatter and school level jargon. The noisy environment brought a lot of cheer to every passenger in the train train wagon. There were a group of young men, aged 28 - 30, managing the whole group.

As the train started, these young men were roaming with reservation list, and accommodating the kids in different compartments. One smart nine-year old got a seat next to mine. It was such a joy to see his face for all of us, in the compartment - A fresher who just got a job, an old lady easily 60+, two middle-aged gentle men, two smart young women.

Since there was no one in his age group, the child didn't seem very comfortable in our company. So I started a conversation with him and gave him my allotted window seat ( I don't remember giving away the window seat allotted to me, to anyone other than my sister...).

During the conversation, he told me that he was on his way back to Bangalore after a week-long summer camp in Yercaud, a hill-station near Salem, Tamil Nadu. The children were from different schools and they had signed up for a summer camp conducted by a famous kids camp specialist group. They seemed to have learnt new games and rock climbing and trekking and other adventure sports for which he didn't know the names. This boy had signed up for these activities and liked it a lot, though a little scared, as he says.

When asked about missing home, he says, he very much did and was waiting to reach Bangalore. He kept asking me every half an hour, "How long will it take for us to reach Bangalore?".

My thoughts:

How can one be so confident to send children less than 10 years of age to a hill station for a whole week programme?

Why should a child learn trekking and rock climbing and such extremely dangerous sports that early?

Why can't the child be allowed to spend time with friends in the neighbourhood?

Why should the child be out-of-ordinary all the time?

Why stay away from kids less than 10 years of age?

Why take the summer vacation so seriously?

School excursions are different while summer camps are different. There is more responsibility that the school teachers take and such adventure sports are never welcome in school trips.

When we reached Bangalore, you should have seen the kids running to their parents. It was a sight to see. :-) Also, there were parents who were really worried when it took a few minutes for them to spot the child getting down from the train. I had a chance to take a look at one such worried face and the immediate relieved smile when the child clung on to the mother. Makes me ask, " Any need to send a six year old for a week long summer camp in another town and then see your blood pressure levels shoot up like this??"

The next day, at lunch, a friend tells me that there are people who send their teenagers for a summer camp out of India for ten days.

What exactly are these parents expecting from these camps and in effect their kids???

I fail to understand, I don't think I want to, because, I cant even think of it. In my opinion, to develop exposure, confidence, and people skills in children, there is no need for summer camps... children just need the right amount of time with parents, teachers, friends and dear ones. Adventure sports can surely wait for a later date in life.

Growing up should be natural. As much as I hate the fact in an advertisement, where a mother is proud that her son is growing taller by a few centimeters than his fellow kids because of a health drink, I hate the idea that such extremely, unnecessarily-hyped summer camps are believed to be boosting confidence in children.

Will the parents realize that their children might be too young to understand the difference between confidence and over-confidence? I don't know.

I see that there could be the peer pressure factor involved here, but I must say, the parents teachers associations in every school should probably analyze this aspect and see what needs to be done. When no one sends their children on such long trips, the camping groups will change strategies for sure and for the better.

For the camping guys, your child's summer vacation makes money. That is all. For your child, it is fun with friends. For you, it is your precious little girl or boy away from your eye for days together. Remember your child will never get a summer vacation for two long months, the day she is out of school. Who is to tell some parents these??


SG said...

Disclaimers: I have no idea how these summer camps work. I have spoken to no children who have attended one

My thoughts: I strongly believe that for children to be independent they should be on their own for a while, now and then, starting from a reasonably young age (say, 8). Being on their own here obviously does not necessarily imply a total lack of adult supervision or interference but doing certain things on their own and preferably things they are interested in. Some examples:
-being alone at home for a few hrs (say, until the parents get back from an appointment) and preferably taking care of an even younger sibling
-school excursions (not necessarily day trips but even those involving overnight stay)
-traveling alone to nearby places (by public transport or a bike, as the case may be)

Having some experience with one or more of the above will give a chance for the kid to know what is happening out there and is a good learning experience (I have done all of the above and more when I was a kid). Also this might serve as a cure for parents who pamper their kids, especially applicable to stay-at-home mothers and parents with just one kid.

My perspective of parenting has considerably changed with my tenure abroad. It is true that there is no one way to raise a kid but I really like the way parents ‘let go‘ of their children here.
Example: I am standing in a railway platform when a 2 yr old trips and falls down on the concrete and starts screaming and I notice the parents calmly doing what they were already doing (talking !) and I am flabbergasted at this reaction ! I was disgusted at the parents' nonchalance and was thinking how an Indian counterpart (mom) would've reacted...she would have ran to the child, picked it up and would have not let it down until the child started smiling ! I continued observing the child and she got up on her own after a while, brushed her pants and started playing again...I have to say I was quite taken aback and at that moment I realised why these kids are good at skating, skateboarding or any such sport since neither they or the parents are afraid about them getting hurt, they understand that its a big part of growing up and this is something I totally miss in India (or rather in most desi parents).

If summer camps indeed pave a way for this change in attitude I would actually wave a green flag assuming of course its not forced on the child.

Dew Drop said...

Thanks, SG. I agree with some of the points... children should learn to handle situations, should learn the outside world, should be able to manage themseleves better and be independent.. but I think summer camps that ask for seven nights out of home is definitely not the best option for a six year old.:-) atleast in my Inidan mentality, I can sign for this.:-)

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