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This is Simon’s sixth week of doing camp of some sort. To date, he’s attended one week of soccer camp, two weeks of tennis camp, one week of forest camp at Locust Grove (a historical estate in a pastoral setting where Louisville’s founder once lived), and one week of zoo camp. Today is the third day of the second week of zoo camp.

It’s not going well. Simon liked zoo camp last summer, with his only complaint being that “it wasn’t hard enough.” That’s Simon speak for something not being as interesting or challenging as he had hoped. Last summer he was in with children who were 4 and 5, whereas this summer he is grouped with rising first and second graders. When I made summer plans, I assumed that being bumped up an age group would bring more sophistication or academic rigor to the proceedings.

No dice. After the first week, which he attended with his old preschool friend Gabrielle, he told me that zoo camp was “still too easy.” Despite this disappointment, he had a great time with Gabrielle and was happy when I dropped him off and picked him up every day. This week his only friend is a shy girl from his kindergarten class who only wants to talk to the counselor. The remaining girls are naturally pairing off with each other, and the boys are mostly younger and wild.

That would be slapping, pushing, arm-yanking, and pinching wild. This is a subset of boys that seems to be present almost everywhere and that gives Simon—and me—fits. We most recently encountered this at baseball, where the boy next to Simon in batting order couldn’t keep his hands to himself. He was constantly yanking on Simon, taking Simon’s hat off and rubbing his head, or trying to lift him off the ground. Because I was semi-officially helping with the team, I did my best to advise Simon how to stand his ground and redirect the other boy. When the soft approach failed, and it failed spectacularly, I resorted to yelling. By the end of the season I had developed a flat-out dislike for the other child and was glad to be rid of him.

Back to zoo camp. Simon didn’t want to go to camp this morning. I gave him a pep talk in the car, the effects of which lasted about 10 minutes. When we arrived for morning sign-in, I saw three boys, all of whom appeared to be younger than Simon, slapping and grabbing each other. This is their idea of fun. This is why Simon tells me he has no friends in zoo camp. Scratch that. This is why Simon legitimately doesn’t have friends in zoo camp. In his place, neither would I.

Once I got home, I decided it was time for parental intervention and called the camp office. They offered to move Simon to another group, but he demurred when approached. I think the change was too sudden for him and he felt ambushed. We’ll talk again tonight and find out if he’s made his peace with the blue elephants or if he’d like to join green elephants tomorrow.

Regardless, this week at zoo camp will be his last. It’s just not a good fit for him. Simon’s love of nature, animals, and learning should have made zoo camp a slam dunk. But here the most interesting animals are for obvious reasons viewed at a distance, the nature has a paved path running through it, and a lot of the activity takes place in crowded and loud spaces.

The 20-kids to 55-acres ratio of Locust Grove felt just right. The physicality of soccer and tennis is the variety that he prefers. And he’s happier when the plants and animals being studied are in their natural environment with few additional amenities. Snack bar: good. Carousel and water park: bad.

The final issue is age. At Locust Grove Simon was with 7-9-year-olds and spent most of his time with the 8 and up crowd. Soccer was a another mixed-age affair; his best friend for the week was soccer phenom Lucille, who turned 8 the week after camp. At tennis camp there were no boys his age, and he was perfectly happy to play and chat with the older crew.

I’m not sure if the “handsy” boys just don’t go to these other camps or if they age out of the behavior, but Simon never seems to encounter the pushing/yanking problems when he’s with them. Which means that when I’m planning Simon’s 2014 summer, I’ll be focusing on sports-specific camps, smaller camps, and camps where Simon is on the young end of the age spectrum.

Having resolved that, the next issue to tackle is the next two days. The jury is out as to whether Simon stays in his group or makes a move. The third option, one I might haul out for Friday, is to ditch camp altogether and head out to Bernheim Forest or Jefferson Memorial Forest for the day. Because the only thing sillier than paying for camp and not going is forcing a six-year-old to go to a camp where he’s not happy and not learning anything.




One Response to “Mismatch”

  1. blg says:

    A bit late, but I am wondering what you and Simon decided to do on Thursday and Friday?

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