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Campfire Or SAT Camp: What Is A Kid's Summer For?02:46
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Sandra Miller: "I don't know what I hate more: that SAT Camp exists, or that I still feel torn about enrolling my son." (Photo credits left to right: mnlamberson/flickr, biologycorner/flickr)
Sandra Miller: "I don't know what I hate more: that SAT Camp exists, or that I still feel torn about enrolling my son." (Photo credits left to right: mnlamberson/flickr, biologycorner/flickr)
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SAT Camp? How did those two incongruous words ever land next to each other? An SAT class is one thing. But camp? Isn't that approaching Orwellian doublespeak territory?

Even so, SAT Camp is a very real thing. I know, because one of our young neighbors, a rising ninth grader, was headed there on a brutal summer day this week as my daughter and I were on our way to swim at Walden Pond. We learned that he was attending "camp" four hours a day for four weeks so that, in three years, when he actually has to take the SAT, he will know his way around algebraic equations, if not roasting marshmallows.

Struck by a serious case of FOMO, or fear of missing out, I didn't even wait to get home to Google this phenomenon. I sat on the beach with the other slacker moms and wondered how far my own kids were falling behind. After all, I have an 11th grader who will sit for the SAT next the spring. Was it time to switch him out his beloved soccer camp and arm him with lists of vocabulary words? Was it imprudent, injudicious and temerarious to think summer should still be summer, mostly lazy and fun? Er, make that languorous and diverting.

It seems the helicopter parents who didn't hover enough during the school year have hijacked summer, too. And it's messing the rest of us up. Some of my daughter's friends who are entering high school are already doing professional internships, taking math immersion and college courses and getting tutored in preparation for the rigors of public high school. Then there's SAT Camp. The most extreme one I found was a four-week residential program in upstate New York. The photos showed kids hunkered over practice tests, as well as posed on yoga mats trying to de-stress. (Good luck with that.) While there was no mention of marshmallows or campfires, tutoring is available 24/7.

It seems the helicopter parents who didn't hover enough during the school year have hijacked summer, too.

I don't know what I hate more: that SAT Camp exists, or that I still feel torn about enrolling my son. There was a time before I had teenagers when I knew my own mind and could help my children find a healthy balance between academics and entertainment. But the competitive frontier of college admissions has become a tale of conquest and persistence, a Wild West of pushing and pressing forward until the family has staked a claim to those coveted admissions letters.

And let me tell you, those Wild West frontier people sure didn't take summers off to kick back in their covered wagons, drink bug juice and tell ghost stories around the fire. They were moving forward as far as the land would let them.

So where does this academic frontier finally stop for these young people? Does it?

If all goes well, my son will be entering college in two years, my daughter in four. I have watched the college admissions process go from competitive to downright crazy. If I had a kindergartner right now, I'd encourage her to learn a trade, because if we're now sending our kids to four-week residential SAT camps with 24/7 tutoring, what are we going to be doing in 12 years? I'll hazard one guess: Residential SAT Camp will offer a 10-week program, and there probably won't be time for yoga.

I talk about this with my friends. We are parents of high school kids who want the best for our children, but not at the cost of their well-being. Or so we say. As parents, we are terrified that our children won't succeed, and that's the only reason my mouse hovers over the Enroll Now button for a two-week SAT course in mid-August. It's not like they're calling it camp.

...the competitive frontier of college admissions has become a tale of conquest and persistence, a Wild West of pushing and pressing forward until the family has staked a claim to those coveted admissions letters.

What's stopping me?

Is it that I see how hard my son works in the school year and think his brain needs a vacation? Yes. That, and the memories of my own girlhood summers on the Indian River in Connecticut, reading, swimming and lolling around at my grandmother's two-room cottage that flooded at high tide. With the linoleum lifting off the floor, I learned the pungent smell of wetlands and, later, when the river went down, the patience needed to net a crab off the pier. I discovered swimming holes, the summer sky and the taste of cool, dribbled peach juice when licked from salty skin. In those days of doing almost nothing serious, I did what I loved. And years later, not because of good SAT scores and a successful college career, but because of languid August days imprinted on my memory, I realized I had some stories to tell and decided to become a writer.

I guess my real fear is that my son will miss out on summer.

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Sandra A. Miller Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Sandra A. Miller is the author of "Trove: A Woman's Search for Truth and Buried Treasure." Her articles and essays have appeared in more than 100 publications. 

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