I grew up in a much less technology-powered time, as virtually any adult did today. We had no iPods or internet, and other than game shows and the occasional horror movie there was nothing on TV for kids in the afternoons—and even those weren’t primarily directed at kids. It simply wasn’t possible to live in an electronic cocoon. If we said we were bored, my mother’s swift response was, “No, you’re not,” and she threw us out of the house to find neighborhood kids to play with, told us to read books or merely, “figure it out.”
Still, we also lived a fairly sheltered life where the kids we knew went to the same school and church, so it wasn’t likely that we would meet new kids from different backgrounds. That is until a couple of years when my parents sent us to YMCA Day Camp. My brothers and I went together, but we were in different groups because of the difference in our ages. I understand today that as teachers their incomes weren’t huge, so the Y offered a program that was safe, supervised and affordable.
Yet even as relatively small as Wilmington, Delaware is, this was my first opportunity to meet kids from different parts of the city, different backgrounds, different schools and even different religions. As a kid who was often bullied, it also gave me a chance to be seen in a new light by new kids who didn’t have the same history with me. Suddenly I was surround by a whole new gang of kids who didn’t think it was stupid to like singing or performing, who were equally enthusiastic about—and equally befuddled by—swimming. Finding myself in a new environment, I found more kids who were like me outside my familiar circle and adults who were supportive and engaged. There were definitely challenges of learning to get along with new groups of kids and cliques and groups formed, but we were also in a group where we had to make it on our own without parents or adults telling us how to be (though they certainly kept us in check when we got rambunctious) and we had to figure out how to be in a new community. With hindsight, I can say that this was very formative for me, and as I grew up, I found myself regularly entering in new groups, and the lessons I learned when I was 7, 8 and 9 served me well. It was all about broadening my horizons and learning that the world went way beyond what I knew, and it was also about building self esteem and confidence through experience—from the inside out.
This comes up today because as parents and caregivers are beginning to plan for the summer, there’s a new YMCA program called The YMCA Strong Kids Campaign. Designed to build community, strengthen kids and support programs that help kids grow and discover themselves. Click through, enter your zip code and you’ll see the kind of programs being offered in your community. I looked up my old Y in Delaware, and was delighted to find summer programs that have certainly expanded in scope and opportunities over the years yet still offer the same fundamental benefits of new experiences, chances to grow on a personal level and broaden kids’ horizons in much the same ways mine were at an early age. Check out the opportunities in your community, and you just might enhance your kids’ lives this spring and summer. Especially for parents who may be concerned about kids spending too much time with technology and who are looking for affordable activities and positive experiences for the summer, the Y just may be your destination.