By Vickie Oddino
Issue 119, July/August 2003
I have mixed feelings about summer. I work as a teacher, so summertime is vacation time, not only for my children but for me. That part I love. But there's so much pressure.
My children are six and three, and summer-camp programs bombard us with flyers and mailers. These programs include weekly bus trips to the beach, to water parks, to Disneyland, and to every conceivable fun place in the metropolitan Los Angeles area. But the price is always a shocker. Perhaps when my children are a little older, and I'm a little higher on the salary ladder, I'll provide them with the luxury of summer camp. But for now, they'll have to make do with just me and the Chevy Malibu on the freeways of Southern California.
Other kids sign up for a summer's worth of swimming lessons, basketball practice, art classes, piano, or any number of other enrichment activities. But these also carry hefty price tags, and attending the frequent practices and lessons usually precludes spontaneous getaways. So, again, my children have to make do with playing chopsticks on the out-of-tune upright or swimming in the blow-up pool in the backyard.
The problem with having no structured activities, however, is that the summer often escapes us. You know how that goes. I spend a couple of weeks letting the kids get reacquainted after a tough year of kindergarten and preschool. I encourage them to play together . . . nicely . . . and see my chance to get some things done that I've been meaning to do for a long time. The next thing I know, it's time to go to St. Louis to visit the grandparents. On our return home, I have shopping to do, painting to complete in the bedroom, a couple of books to finish, a bit of writing, and a lot of laundry. The children entertain themselves, for the most part. There's a little playing, a lot of negotiating, a bit of wrestling, a few time-outs. When they get really fussy, I make a play date. And the next thing I know, summer is over. I look back, wondering how the time slipped away.
So I devised a solution: Camp Oddino.
My camp is nearly as fun, and much cheaper, than all the splashy, formal camps. On deciding to run my own camp, I pulled out the calendar and counted how many weeks we would be out of school. Then I noted any events already scheduled: vacations, out-of-town visitors, etc. Next, I assigned each week a theme, beginning with the weeks when something was already planned. For example, the week of the Fourth of July was USA Week. The week when out-of-town relatives planned to visit became Family Week. After subtracting our vacation in New York, I was left with ten weeks unaccounted for.
This is when I started to think about what I would like to do over the summer. I searched the calendar section of our local newspaper for concerts and theater productions, read ads in local parenting magazines to find activities for children, checked the phone book for a list of local museums, searched the Internet for interesting events in our city, and checked the public library for special programs.
I soon had a list of things I really wanted to do. I wanted to go to the symphony at the Hollywood Bowl, an outdoor theater where people bring picnic dinners and wine to enjoy the music and the night sky. I found a date, bought tickets, and that week became Music Week. We have season passes to the zoo, so I knew we'd be going there. What might have been just another trip to the zoo became an introduction to Animals Week.
My children love their video of the Broadway production of Peter Pan, starring Cathy Rigby. When I saw that it would be performed locally, I knew I wanted to take them-but this proved more difficult to fit into the Camp Oddino roster. After much deliberation, I decided on Flying Week. After all, Peter Pan does fly, and I could think of plenty of other activities centered on flying. For example, our Natural History Museum has a Butterfly House, and we could make another trip to the zoo and spend time in the aviary. We could even fly kites.
I made sure that each week included at least one field trip. For example, during Water Week, we took a trip to the beach and to a local aquarium. We went to the library to find books relating to that week's theme-we checked out The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks and Rainbow Fish. We even tackled Trumpet of the Swan. Another day was devoted to a craft project. We colored fish, made clay frogs, and strung seashells onto a necklace. We even designated a wall in our service porch for displaying Camp Oddino projects.
In addition to the themes already mentioned, we had Sports Week, complete with a major-league baseball game; and Plant Week, which included a trip to a farm, where we picked our own strawberries and green beans. The possibilities are endless.
The kids love Camp Oddino. They continually have something to look forward to, so I'm not met-before they've even wiped the sleep out of their eyes-with whiny voices drenched with concern about how we're going to fill the day.
The best part of Camp Oddino is that mom has control over the themes. That means I can structure my summer around those things that interest me. And I can make each week as busy or as simple as I like. Some weeks, I was motivated to get us out of the house nearly every day. Other weeks, it was all I could do to get myself out to the backyard hammock.
But one thing's for sure: The summer didn't slip away without us doing anything!
For more information about summer activities, see the following past issues of Mothering: "Homegrown Summer Camp," no. 100; "Summer Fun," no. 24; and "101 Ways to Have Fun with Your Family," no. 20.
Vickie Oddino teaches English at Los Angeles Mission College and is mom to Emily (6) and James (3).