Parents Grapple With Late August, When Options for Kids Dwindle

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The reappearance of brown bag lunches and yellow school buses may cause more than a few groans from students, but for parents, the start of school offers a respite from hectic kid-filled summers.

To achieve 9 a.m.-to-3 p.m. quietude, however, guardians must endure the few weeks between the end of camp and the beginning of school.

David Roth of Bala Cynwyd has four sons, the youngest of whom is 11 and attends URJ 6 Points Sports Academy, a Jewish overnight camp in North Carolina. This year, the overnight camp finished July 30, leaving Roth to contend with four weeks of unstructured free time.

“It’s a lot of time to fill,” he said. “[The last two weeks of August] were always a time when we could actually go somewhere together as a family,” but, “I can’t take off for a whole month.”

He noted the unfilled time, even when considering 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. options at day camps, “can be hard to deal with while working.” He added he appreciates the return of school because “it’s nice to have a regular schedule.”

Most camps, day and overnight, end around Aug. 18, entrusting parents with two weeks before the start of many schools on Sept. 5. The long days often leave kids with empty schedules and parents with a migraine trying to fill the time.  

Some parents want their kids to prepare for the fast-approaching academic year during those weeks, and the Kaiserman JCC in Wynnewood now offers an educational program that blends learning and summer fun.

The JCC’s KidVentures Post Camp will run from Aug. 21 to Sept. 1. The program succeeds the JCC’s popular day camp, which ends Aug. 18.

While the traditional day camp emphasizes fun summer experiences, the post-camp focuses on enrichment, with math-centric cooking and engineering challenges. The activities entertain campers, but they also provide a foundation for the upcoming school year.

KidVentures will focus on enrichment activities that provide a foundation for the upcoming school year. | Photo provided

On the educational focus, Kaiserman JCC CEO Amy Krulik said it’s “like putting applesauce in cookies.”

She added, “they might not recognize the science part,” because the activities involve “having fun with a group of friends. It makes it not feel like school.”

The post camp will have 50 to 60 attendees, from infants to 13-year-olds, compared to the 325 kids at regular JCC camp. A large factor for the drop in enrollment is families’ tendencies to vacation inAugust.

Jeff Hoffman of Merion vacations with his family then.

“Generally, there’s a two-week period at the end of August, and we go right to the beach for a week,” the dad of three said.

His younger children, ages 14 and 17, attend boy’s overnight Camp Shohola in Greeley, Pa. They return home Aug. 12 and 13, leaving three weeks until school begins.

While the first week off can be relaxing, “the next week can get a bit tiresome for them. When they were young, we had to focus more on keeping them busy.” He joked that today, “I just leave them to make dinner and paint the house.”

He mentioned his kids have summer math and reading assignments to occupy the time. While Hoffman approves of summer homework, he also noted kids “need time to decompress” in the summer before school.

Psychologists agree that time to decompress, even time to experience boredom, can be a good thing for kids.  

A 2013 study at Pennsylvania State University found bored subjects performed better on creativity tests than did relaxed, elated or distressed individuals. The reasoning, psychologist and study co-author Karen Gasper told Fast Company, lies in the fact that boredom “encourages people to explore because it signals that your current situation is lacking, so it’s kind of a push to seek out something new.”

Philadelphia counselor Amy Shaitelman, who works with children and incorporates Jewish culture into her practice, corroborated the study’s findings.

With the array of summer activities presented to children, “we have successfully managed to occupy each and every minute of their summer time, filling it up somewhat frantically,” she said, noting she does not recommend this approach.

“Myself and my colleagues argue for some boredom, otherwise known as down time. By not filling up [kids’] down time, by not overscheduling, you are giving them the ability to learn how to just be.”

If parents are able to gently monitor children for two weeks, an easy solution for the long end of the summer lies in embracing children’s boredom.

As Shaitelman noted, “as adults, we can each think of someone we know who is not comfortable with unstructured time. Let’s not allow our kids to become those adults!”