Language, Culture and the Search for Summer Camps

Summer Camp catalogs

I keep trying to ignore the pile of camp brochures


“What camps are your kids doing this summer?”

It’s the question that comes up during any mom conversation at this time of year. As soon as the Christmas decorations come down, the brochures start arriving in the mail:

Baseball, Vacation Bible School, soccer, science, cooking, cartooning… any subject that could possibly be turned into a day camp seems like it has. I’m really behind in registering for summer programs this year. For parents with full-time jobs that require them to be in the office from nine to five, camps are essential for childcare. I work part-time, from home, so it’s technically not necessary, but it’s not really fair for me to be shooing my kids away while I answer emails either.

Ideally, summer camps  are a way to supplement the public education system of the other nine months of the year.

I try to find opportunities for my boys to learn and experience things they don’t have a chance to do during the school year, and I let them help choose their activities:  rock climbing, Lego robotics, drums.

San Francisco Children's Art Center

Not your standard class, at the SF Children's Art Center

One of my favorite programs my boys have done is at the San Francisco Children’s Art Center in Fort Mason. The program is based out of a renovated pier at the shuttered military base, with views of the Golden Gate bridge and the Marin headlands. Even better, they took the kids on a hike around the grounds to do art in the garden. I can’t think of a better way to get a six-year old boy interested in art.

So why haven’t I been pushing my way to the front of the registration line? Because with two kids, that means twice as many camps to drive to and from — and to pay for. In reality, some of those choices end up being made based on convenience: location, location, location… and the price is right. The two weeks my kids went to camp in a dingy YMCA building were not my proudest parenting moments. But it didn’t harm them either; they had fun, and it helped me to be able to do some non-Mom work and get a little respite.

And in the back of my mind there is another factor. My children go to a school where there aren’t many Asian kids. There are a fair amount of Hapa children of various ethnic backgrounds, but overall, my kids don’t get much regular exposure to Asian culture, especialy since my oldest dropped out of Chinese school last year. Every year, I try to search out Mandarin language programs or some kind of cultural camp, but frankly the choices have not really impressed me. Like many Chinese language programs, the summer programs I’ve seen are either quite far from our house or seem to be run by old-school Tiger Mothers who might spend more time drilling characters than having fun.

I’d really like to find some programs in the Silicon Valley that my kids will enjoy, and that I will feel good about sending them to. Any suggestions?

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