Sweet summer, that fabled season of adventure where the lush and tranquil beauty of spring gives way to the screaming-hot realization that you are suddenly in charge of your child’s weekday enrichment. You can pack every long weekend with imbroglio-laced road trips, sprinkle in a couple weeks remembering why you moved away from your hometown, endure a regional theme park, and what are you left with? A whole lot of ghastly white space still on the calendar.
Fortunately, the summer-camp industrial complex is here to help with a dizzying array of ways to spend money on keeping your kid alive and entertained until you’re saved by the bell again in the fall. The only catch? You have to navigate the logistical labyrinth of dates, times, registration windows, and youthful whims that will deliver perfect childhood #memories. Let’s get planning!
1. Is money an object?
- No, we are super-rich: Your summer camp is Two Months in the Maldives, because that’s where you will be headed while your kid is enrolled in the summer-long sleepaway camp of their choosing. Lake camp? Space camp? Military camp? Who cares! Just don’t forget to send them a postcard and care package of some cool seashells you found during your submarine excursion to Kuramathi.
- Yes. Go to 2.
2. Are you a teacher?
- Yes, I originally started teaching so I could have summers off for self-care: Your child will attend Camp Sacrifice. Let’s be honest—you already spend most of your year overworked and underappreciated, so what’s two more months at the service of your own reluctant apprentice? They may not love this crash course in adulting as they tag along on your Walgreens excursions and midweek DMV business, but the lessons they learn about the relentless grind of middle age will stay with them always.
- No. Go to 3
3. How old is your kid?
- Fifteen or older: They’re ready to enroll in The Dishwasher Empathy Experience. Back when you were a kid, this camp was just called a summer job, but kids these days are pretty into branding. The good news is this one isn’t going to cost you anything, but you are going to need to call every restaurant in town to find one looking for staff with the sullen demeanor of a well-fed house cat. When they show up for their first day and realize what’s actually happening, just point out that their snaps of shitty customer-service experiences are gonna be LIT.
- Under 15. Go to 4.
4. Do you have parents who are retired and love watching your kid?
- Yes: Your summer camp is Big Coddle Ranch. Ship them over to Grammy and Pop Pop’s age-restricted condo for a summer of unparalleled and indulgent confidence building. Activities on offer this year include daily cookie-dough eating workshops, unlimited Netflix catch-up sessions, and a world-class cheek-pinching symposium at the community pool.
- No. Go to 5.
5. Is your kid into nature?
- Yes, a bit too much: Your summer camp is Take It Outside. You’ll be delighted with the skills your budding Wild Kratt will bring home from this practical foray into the world of filth management. Hands-on learning opportunities will translate into actionable strategies for keeping the lid on creepy bug collections, proper bird-carcass avoidance, not picking the neighbor’s flowers to add to a disgusting “soup,” and so many more things that belong outside.
- Not unless it’s in a book or viewed through a car window. Go to 6.
6. Are they into the arts?
- Oui: Consider sending them to this year’s Lil’ Makers Monetization Festival. Your emerging artisan will get a head start on being marginally more employable in their 20s with this summer seminar designed to turn eccentricity into earnings. The cyber-seasoned professionals in charge will start the spirit-crushing process of molding your silly-heart’s raw artistic talent into one of four career tracks: YouTube Influencing, Hashtag Comedy, Memes Memes Memes and, the most popular, Advertising.
- Nope, still eating crayons. Go to 7.
7. How about sports?
- Yes, we are basically Dick’s shareholders: Your summer camp is Armchair Academy. Round out your child’s natural athletic abilities and acknowledge their likely limited potential by equipping them with the wit and arrogance necessary to become a world-class TV sports spectator. The quips and banter they acquire won’t just kill in sports bars and basement rumpus rooms, they’ll also be ace at composing scathing tweets directed at underperforming athletes.
- No. Go to 8.
8. Are they obsessed with “technology”?
- Sigh, yes: Your camp is APPcamplify. Perfect for the overstimulated screenaholic, this frenetic 48-hour camp is actually an intense brainstorm of unrealistic app ideas. Each attendee will be supplied with a laptop, whiteboard, large bucket of Skittles, and just enough time to create and present a minimum viable product pitch to the camp’s board of directors—a fun group of summer-loving venture capitalists! Please note that all campers will be required to sign some very routine nondisclosure and intellectual-property-rights agreements.
- Not yet. Go to 9.
9. Is your kid just what you’d charitably describe as a “free spirit”?
- Yes, how did you know?: Your summer camp is Camp Good Enough. A great open secret among seasoned parents, this catch-all camp is cheap, close to your house, starts early, ends late, and may even be legally licensed in some way. The energetic young adults in charge are not only well-trained in first aid, they’re also very experienced in board-game-dispute resolution and kicking kids’ asses in four square. Any concerns about the apparent lack of structure in this camp will disappear as soon as you hear your child’s glowing reviews of their weekly field trip to Chuck E. Cheese’s.
Illustration by Andrew Lakata