Important Experiences for kid
March 14, 2017 11:43 AM   Subscribe

I’m a grand-uncle to 12 year old boy who is growing up in a relatively poor household that does not value education or hard work. What can I do to make his summer memorable?

Ms. Martys_Friend and I have done what we can to support this family, including providing educational opportunities and loaning money. This summer might be our last chance to do something meaningful with the boy before he turns into a teenager. I’d be happy to take him on a reasonably priced adventure, or provide the funding for a camp that he might enjoy. What sorts of things did you do at this age that made an impact on your future?
posted by Martys_Friend to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What can you give in terms of time and money? Are you near the child or far away? Could the child come visit with you for part of the summer?
posted by raccoon409 at 11:47 AM on March 14

What is the kid interested in? That matters tremendously in this sort of thing. Finding an activity/camp/experience that tunes into the kid's interest is what you want, otherwise it would runs the risk of being a waste of time, especially if your aim is some personal growth and educational experiences and whatnot.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:51 AM on March 14 [7 favorites]

Show him that he has opportunities. Find out what he really wants to do -- not "what he thinks he could do", but what he wants to do, and help him figure out how he can do it.
posted by Etrigan at 11:51 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]

I stayed with my grandparents during the summers, and they took me to swim lessons for a while, which was useful, but then we switched to horseback riding lessons, which were great. I still remember them and it was a mix of fun and work (I learned how to take care of the horses, to some extent). I'm sure it wasn't necessarily fun for them to take me, but I certainly appreciate it.

We also went to Six Flags once a summer as a family, and I really enjoyed that and those memories, although I'm not sure how much of an impact on my future it had, except that we now take our niece there.

Things that we have done during the summer that I hope have an impact on my niece's future - enrolled her in SCAD summer camp/classes for a week - one year in Atlanta, and one year in Savannah, to allow her to get a feel for the campuses and to learn new art techniques.

I agree, it really depends on his interests, though. Sometimes a fun class or camp could allow him to explore an interest or hobby that could make a difference in his life or bring him joy.
posted by needlegrrl at 11:54 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]

A project that he'll have to work hard on, that has a beginning and a distinct end. This could be: a backpacking trip that you plan and do together; something you build together; training together for a 5K and then doing a race; conceiving of and executing a plan to raise money for charity and then donate the money -- you figure out what fits best with what this kid is interested in. Show him something concrete that comes from hard work, so at the end of the summer he can say "I did this."

If his interests pull him in a direction you can't follow -- like, the backpacking trip is a good idea but you can't do it with him -- make it happen by signing him up with a group or camp that can make it happen, and then support him in it by paying for it, driving him there, or whatever.

When I was that age, my experience was going to a camp where I was in an all-girl group that trained for, planned for and then hiked to the top of the tallest mountain in my region, over the course of 14 days. It's been almost 40 years and I still remember it.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:04 PM on March 14 [7 favorites]

I think that the opportunity try experience cultural differences would be valuable. Trying new foods, seeing how others live..... is an easy way to open his mind to a bigger world. Knowing how to dine in restaurants with full service is a skill set that is of value, but often under appreciated. Learning how to act in a more formal setting would help him in the long run. I didn't really appreciate all of the "lessons" in manners at that age, I'm very thankful for them now.
posted by jennstra at 12:10 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]

Tell him that he is smart and capable of anything. We all need those little voices in our heads.
posted by My Dad at 12:37 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]

Can you send the kid to sleepaway camp? If so, do it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:46 PM on March 14 [4 favorites]

"a relatively poor household that does not value education or hard work" is somewhat vague. In addition to depending on what he's interested in, it depends on what hole you're trying to fill.

Does he spend his time playing outside with friends and ignoring academics? Maybe take him to museums or send him to science camp.

Or perhaps his family lives in a high crime-neighborhood and holes up in the house watching TV? In that scenario, a rural sleepaway camp would expose him to the outdoors and a new social environment.

Or if he's never traveled out of his town, perhaps take him on a trip to someplace different.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:56 PM on March 14

I get other people's adolescents every now and again, including a couple who, through no fault of their family, have not the best environment in some ways. We do a lot of different things, usually depending on their interests, but the biggest thing for them, really, is just being exposed to something different. Kids have pretty malleable ideas about what's normal and what isn't, and their early experiences can become set in stone, such that they don't even understand that the way they live isn't some great universal truth. So just exposing them to even the insignificant little ways that your lifestyle is different from theirs has real value.

As far as specific activities, when I have a kid for an extended period, we go shopping different places and experiment with different cooking projects, and everyone has really taken to that. At least a couple of them cook for their families now, showing off the recipes we invented together. It's not the sort of thing you'd expect to work that well, but I've had a lot of different kids take to it. (If it's relevant, for some reason, nobody I know has managed to produce a daughter, so these are all adolescent boys.)

Other fun things include whatever they're interested in that I can accommodate. Woodworking, hobby electronics, stuff like that, or really just anything that comes up that we can pull off. Plus just getting out of the house and exploring the world around them. Lots of kids don't get near enough of that sort of thing.

And he won't necessarily be lost to you once he becomes an official teenager. Maybe I know weird kids, but none of them have lost interest in hanging out with this old lady as long as I've got something interesting lined up.

(I currently have three--count 'em THREE--teenaged boys lined up to go to their first concerts with me, as soon as I find good ones that we can get to.)
posted by ernielundquist at 1:03 PM on March 14 [7 favorites]

At that age, I went to a sleepaway camp that focused on camping. We helped to plan a canoeing or hiking trip, then went out into the wilderness for a week. There are lots of them, but I went to Camp Widjiwagan, and loved it. I flew in alone from out of town, and they had a way to fetch me at the airport and bring me up to camp.

Not all kids are the type to embrace that, but if he is, that camp was way more impactful for me than the more traditional sleepaway camp I went to when I was 11. It gave me more opportunities for self-reliance and responsibility than I'd ever gotten in school or my extracurriculars. There's something about camping that makes it more real, giving my decisions and actions and work more weight. If you don't learn how to read the map, well, you'll be lost. Want to eat? Learn to start a fire and cook. Want to get to the next lake over? Time to schlep the canoe and all your packs. Any luxury item you brought along will make this worse, so think about the tradeoffs =)

These are all skills that are within reach for a 12 year old, if given the opportunity.
posted by Metasyntactic at 1:09 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]

I was that child and now I am that auntie.

When I was that child, I was taken to riding school, and it was great and it has been defining for me. But I think any engaging and committing sport would be the same. I was also given space, to have my own time, to read, to wander and to be listened to. At the end of the day, maybe that was at least as valuable if not more than the riding lessons. Growing up in a deprived family, everything is stressful, all the time.

Now, my sense is that the two kids I care for most of all need the space. We go places and they enjoy it immensely, museums with children's' programs, hikes, we have a subscription to an aquarium. But what they both tell me every week is that the best thing is just to have off-time and to have my ear when they feel like it.

I also agree with jennstra that experiencing cultural differences is valuable - from my own experience. But I can also see how this presents a lot of difficulties for the children in the here and now, and one has to be very alert and sensitive to guiding them through those differences.
posted by mumimor at 1:23 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]

I would highly recommend an outdoor course, like Outward Bound or the Montana Wilderness School. Extended time outdoors is an amazing self-discovery experience, and money is often one of the major barriers between folks and really amazing adventures.

I have lost count of how many folks I know who's lives have been absolutely changed for the better through courses like those.
posted by Grandysaur at 2:37 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]

I would be cautious of contemporary sleep away camp, or at least my concept of sleep away camp. When I went, summer camp was pretty accessible to middle class families. The camp I went to now costs $9,000 for the four week session and $13,500 for the standard seven week session. While this is what it is, the corollary is that it is filled with kids whose families can spend $13K on camp. Even though the kids are in uniforms and devices including iPhones etc are forbidden, it is hard to hide financial privilege, or the lack thereof.

I would think about doing something for him this summer that you can financially afford to repeat in following summers in case he makes lifelong friends and is desperate to go back next year. It sounds like he doesn't need any more disappointment in his life.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:02 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]

I'd like to gently suggest that part of the process by investigating your description of a "household that does not value education or hard work". To support this kid, I'd suggest trying to avoid positioning yourself as somehow better than their own family or home. Because your attitudes may accidentally leak out when you're interacting with this kid. And they might feel bad, undermining, critical, etc in ways you don't intend. I think most of us benefit developmentally from taking pride in our families and backgrounds, even when they (like everyone's) are flawed, so perhaps a way to connect with his own roots might be one direction that respects his own family's strengths?

Anyhow, I think giving any kid access to something they otherwise wouldn't can be very cool. As well as what his interests are, I'd like to know what part of the county he's in. Summer camps are cool because they create community. If the kid likes it, they can keep going back and make friends that last for life. Often there is a built in opportunity to become a leader as you get older as a counselor or kitchen staff or whatnot. I'd look for camps that have a financial aid program, so for when you can't help, there's some other way for the kid to keep going.
posted by latkes at 3:03 PM on March 14 [4 favorites]

Expose him to other cultures. Depending on where he lives he may only see and interact with people from his own cultural stock. Take him to ethnic neighbourhoods where people speak languages other than English, and where signs are in that language, eat at a restaurant where people of that ethnicity eat, browse stores where they sell things different from Wal-Mart.

Take him to the dentist and make sure he has his dental work up to date, and understands about brushing and flossing and the amount of excruciating pain he can save himself by brushing and flossing, and the amount of social capital he will have with gender of his choice when he is older, if he has presentable teeth compared to bad teeth.

Take him places he hasn't been and spend time there. Has he spent hours on a farm? Take him to a farm and let him roam around and climb on things and poke through things. Has he been in any manufacturing facility? Take him to a workshop and let him see how things are produced.

Does he have any experience with banking? It used to be that kids understood subtraction automatically because when they went to the store they had to come back with change. But now your seven year old does not get sent alone down to the corner store to pick up bread, and thy probably don't have an allowance either and the feel for budgeting how many dollars they need to get chips and a pop and chocolate and sour gummies. While you make sure he gets to practice doing this, also acquaint him with the concept of compound interest and what a mortgage for $120,000 really winds up costing over 25 years, and the type of interest on a credit card. You might also make him acquainted with the concept the quick loans are designed to force the borrows into bankruptcy, that the loans are deliberately set at a rate that the borrow cannot repay without borrowing more money.

Figure out what he has to play with. Has he ever played with boards, a saw, nails, a hammer, a can of paint and a brush? Has he ever played with a kitchen, flour, sugar, margarine, eggs, a cake tin and some oven mitts? How about a raw chicken, stale bread, and onions?

Has he ever been able to roam around in a forested area and explore? Take him to some forested area and let him roam around, with you accompanying him, but him deciding where to go, what to climb, if he wants to investigate things dumped into the brush, or if he doesn't. Show him how to make a grass whistle, and that certain plants have itchy fibres, and all that kind of stuff that involves peering closely at leaves, bark, scat, dents in the mud etc.

Get him to help with paying bills, unloading a truck, bringing in cord wood and splitting it, playing with a knife and a fence/log/the dirt, let him garden with you and grow a tomato plant.

Take him to a library if he isn't a regular at one. Take him with you volunteering. Take him with you to a church concert full of seniors listening to classical music, and to an art gallery, and to a teenaged manga-artists meet-up group. Take him to the ocean and let him wade in it, taste it, find dead things, climb on the rocks and watch the tide go out.

Take him to a cemetery. Take him out in a boat. A canoe on a creek is fine, always remembering to make sure you are all wearing life jackets. Can he swim? If he can't swim, take him swimming.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:26 PM on March 14 [6 favorites]

When I donated some backhoe time to an archeologist doing a local dig, I saw two adult/kid teams doing trowel and sifting work and thought that would have been so cool when I was a kid.
posted by ridgerunner at 4:45 PM on March 14

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