There is something luxurious, almost delightfully self-indulgent, about a long summer day with nothing to do.
It's also true that sooner or later boredom -- especially when kids are involved -- will lead to quarrels and other trouble. That's when a parent's thoughts turn to day camp.
Day camps are usually good for kids, and even better for the adults who must live with them.
My childhood day-camp experiences both occurred during the summer when I was 10 years old. They were limited to one week of theater camp, which revolved around the construction of papier-maché marionettes, and one week of nature camp, which I looked forward to with great anticipation.
Though the theater camp was at a Presbyterian church, my father allowed me to go with the stipulation that I not allow anyone to convert me. If they tried, I was to say I was Catholic, which was only marginally accurate since I'd been to church just twice.
My father's theory that the Presbyterians would not attempt recruitment if they believed I was Catholic was never put to the test.
The woman in charge, a motherly sort who provided us with unlimited quantities of jelly beans, seemed uninterested in my religious development. She even drove me home one day and never mentioned Jesus once the entire ride. I was somewhat disappointed.
What the Presbyterian lady understood was this: Camp is not meant to change children. It is meant for fun. I received from her nothing more than the diversion afforded by applying starch to newspaper, and left there exactly the same child I was when I arrived.
My nature camp counselor, however, operated on the assumption that we children should all leave day camp profoundly changed, and that my particular transformation should involve overcoming my aversion to snakes.
I would accomplish this on Day 2, when the program called for holding a snake -- a python. Our perspectives regarding snakes were at odds: While the counselor believed proximity bred fondness, I believed that respect acquired from a safe distance was good enough.
The day we were supposed to handle the python we sat in a circle and listened to a lecture about snakes as we awaited the arrival of the headliner, who was rumored to be the camp director's beloved pet, Sydney.
When Sydney finally made his entrance, I took one look -- I had seen anacondas on Wild Kingdom that were smaller -- and decided that I would be content to merely watch the other children pass the thing around.
I told William, the kid next to me, that he could hold Sydney longer, since I was going to skip my turn.
As William communed with the python, I looked for something sympathetic in the creature. It's reptilian eyes regarded William as if he were nothing more than a large gopher, and then the python proceeded to wrap itself around William's arm with a chilling possessiveness.
"Now it's your turn," said the counselor, smiling down at me.
"No thanks," I said.
"You have to," he said. "You must conquer your fear." He stood over me, the python writhing as he held it, and then placed it ever so gently in my lap.
I screamed and screamed and screamed some more. The counselor finally removed the snake. He offered it to the girl on my left, who shook her head.
"She didn't have to," she said, pointing at me.
My experience with the counselor-cum-herpetologist has remained forever imprinted in my memory of what summer camp should not be. It should not be an opportunity to coerce a child into experiencing something an adult thinks is good for her but which the child herself abhors.
One year, I tried to convince my sons to try theater camp, but their reaction reminded me of my own horror when Sydney was deposited on my thighs, and so I gave up the idea without regret.
In choosing a camp for your kids this summer, remember that the purpose of summer camp is nothing more or less than fun, and it is only your children who can determine what activities might fall into this category.
You will not be able to convert them.
The author teaches English at UC Merced and Merced College.