I stopped sending my kids to day camp a few years ago. When they were younger I bought into the idea that they had to. As we all got older I am happy for them to hang out at home, go to the pool occasionally, play games with each other, go on trips, do some crafts, and wait for my husband’s vacation. Once they adjust to not having their days planned for them they usually come up with something constructive on their own.
For the last two years, I have done something a little different. We organized a cooperative camp with two other families (and a few hangers-on). This year we meet 4 days a week. Each day a different family hosts and on the fourth day we take a trip. We have 10-12 children ranging from 2-1/2 to 12 years old. So far we’ve gone to the local zoo, the fire department, and Ganei Yehoshua in Tel Aviv (all on the bus). We have a theme–each family does a different country when they are hosting. For Australia we made ANZAC cookies and learned about kangaroos and platypuses, and for Italy we made pizza and gelato. This week we are doing Mexico. It’s a commitment, because I have to prepare in advance and be on the ball the day of camp, but the kids have a great time. The older ones like thinking of ideas and helping out with the younger ones. The parents are having a good time too. Since my two youngest have been home with me all year, it is the first time that I have had them out of the house one or two days a week. They are with their older siblings so they don’t mind. I usually bring the youngest one home toward the end of the morning; we meet from 9-1.
Here in Israel day care centers are usually open except for a week or two in August. But if your children are in a private or public “gan” (preschool/kindergarten), they have to pay an extra month’s tuition for the first three weeks of July. And just about everybody sends through elementary school, even the teachers who are on vacation anyway, and the mothers who don’t work. “They’ll have enough free time the 6 weeks that are left, I don’t need to entertain them for the whole summer” is the general consensus. Some teenagers run private camps, which vary in quality, and there is a thriving business in camps for the second part of the summer. Very few people send their children to sleepaway camp, and if they do it is only for a week.
Teens are a bigger problem. My oldest son is in a week-long “machane torani” sponsored by a hesder yeshiva. They go to shiurim, tour a little bit (but the trip to the north was cancelled), and get a feel for the yeshiva. This is highly subsidized; it costs me NIS300 for the week or about $70 (don’t even know the exchange rate these days). The kids who are in youth groups (one of mine is) have a big camping trip and various activities throughout the summer, but there is really not enough for younger teenagers to do.