There’s insomnia. Frantic group texts. Obsessively reloading websites. It’s summer camp sign-up time, and we parents are stressed out right now.

The good news is there are a dizzying number of camps to sign up for in the Baltimore area. Your child can learn to sail, build a robot, perfect their lacrosse skills, act in a play or gallop across fields on horseback.

The bad news is most camps are expensive — sending our three kids to a premium camp for two weeks would be like taking out a second mortgage. And the logistics are overwhelming.

Sign-ups begin on different days and times. There’s a portal for each camp, so get ready to type in your emergency contacts, insurance information, doctor’s phone number and dentist’s phone number many, many times. (Does any camp actually call a kid’s dentist?)

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Hours, weeks and themes vary.

Your child will likely want to attend camp with a friend, so there’s a whole other family to coordinate with. And, much like schools, camps usually end before parents get out of work, so you’ll need to look into after-care, a carpool or some other complication. I hate to say the s-word, but you probably want to make a spreadsheet.

Lucia, Charlie and Alma Korman heading home from summer camp.
The author's three kids heading home from summer camps last year. (Courtesy photo)

Have you cried about camp yet? I did, a couple of weeks ago.

It was the day that sign-ups opened up for the camp at Cromwell Valley Park in Towson. I had had the date marked on my calendar for months. This has long been one of our favorite camps. The kids romp through meadows, catch bugs, hunt for tadpoles, bake pizza in a brick oven and dig clay out of a stream bed. My older two children unexpectedly discovered a love of fishing at the camp last year. And, best of all, the camp is much more affordable than most, at $200 per week. (Many others cost $500 a week or more.)

For all of these reasons, getting a spot in the camp is extremely competitive. One year, I tried to sign up my middle daughter for camp five minutes after registration, but it was already full. Five minutes! She still gives me regular guilt trips about it. I’ve learned from experience and now sit at my computer, limbering up my typing fingers, until the instant sign-ups open.

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But this year I got distracted. Registration began on the same day as the first proper snow in two years. It was hours later, after several rounds of sledding and shoveling, that I realized I had forgotten to sign up. I pulled up the website and saw that not only was the camp sign-up full but so was the waiting list. I started to sob.

The kids will be fine, my husband said. After all, neither he nor I attended camps when we were kids and we turned out OK. But neither of our mothers had full-time jobs. The calculus is different when both parents work outside the home. How will our children fill the long summer hours? The kids rushed over to comfort me. It’s OK, Mom, they said. We promise we won’t just watch TV all day and argue.

I know they will be fine. We’re incredibly fortunate to live in a safe neighborhood with sidewalks and lots of green space and friends to play with. There’s a pool a few blocks away. Still, I want their summers to be full of enriching activities. School, or our public elementary school at least, seems to be stripped down to the basics these days. Children learn to read and solve equations, but there is so little time in the school day devoted to wonder.

Summer camp is all about wonder, learning all about history, astronomy, drama. Exploring streams and lakes, fields and forests. Trying new skills, from shooting an arrow to programming in Scratch.

There are other camps I have my eye on. Hopefully, I won’t miss the other registration deadlines and can sign up each child for at least a week. And I hope that your children, whether at camp, summer school or home, can immerse themselves in wonder this summer, too.

Julie Scharper is a news enterprise reporter who writes about interesting people, places, trends and traditions in Baltimore and the surrounding counties. She seeks to answer the question: What does it mean to be alive in this time and place? 

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