It's a scenario the startup BLOBfish Activity Hub, a.k.a. the 'Trip Advisor for kids' activities,' knows all too well.
For parents nationwide, the countdown has already begun. It is similar to a countdown going on in classrooms all over the country as the school year is running down. The schoolroom version is fairly joyous and involves daydreams of being free of pencils, books and structure of all kinds. The parent version involves panic attacks about lost learning, unsupervised minors and their children being free for three months from structure of all kinds.
And though they are excited about it now, even school children find that even a few weeks into summer vacation, all that lack of structure can get a little boring. This, in fact, is why parents nationwide spend the first few weeks of June in a near panicked state of worry — the knowledge that bored children make their own fun, and that sometimes the fire department has to be called as a result.
It is perhaps worth noting that some experts believe this worry is misplaced — and that the best thing we can do for our offspring is allow them to grow bored during the summer so as to build character later in life.
“Your role as a parent is to prepare children to take their place in society. Being an adult means occupying yourself and filling up your leisure time in a way that will make you happy,” says Lyn Fry, a child psychologist in London with a focus on education. “If parents spend all their time filling up their child’s spare time, then the child’s never going to learn to do this for themselves.”
And while that is perhaps a useful observation for parents of older children, parents with children under the age of 10 might like to help their children develop a fuller sense of autonomy during the summer holiday months but unfortunately have to work, because food nudges out richly developed self-efficacy in the parenting hierarchy of needs.
And for those parents, there is summer camps for kids.
Why Camp Is Harder Than You Think
As of the last official count, there are around 12,000 different camps opening for business this summer in the United States — about 7,000 overnight camps and about 5,000 day camps. And these camps come in all shapes and sizes — riding camp, sports camp, drama camp, writing camp, regular campfires and sing-along camp, religious camps, camps for people with special needs, Lego-themed camps, art camps. Odds are if it is a thing a child in the United States does recreationally, there are a lot of camps catering that need at various levels of seriousness.
Picking the wrong summer camp can occasionally have consequences worse than getting bad poison ivy or eating a few weeks worth of truly terrible food. In 2015 in Florida, the city of St. Augustine accidentally hired not one, but two, convicted murderers to run its community summer camps for kids. And even when things don’t go quite so baroquely awry, parents can spend an awful lot of time combing through a myriad of options trying to place one — or even more challenging — multiple offspring in a summer program that is hopefully rewarding and minimally not being supervised by convicts.
“My son likes soccer and outdoor stuff. My daughter likes theater. It took hours and hours for me to figure out what I wanted to do,” said parent Barbara Martin. “BLOBfish it made it so much easier.”
What Is Blobfish
Other than being one of the ugliest creatures to inhabit the sea, BLOBfish Activity Hub is also the name of a small North Carolina-based startup that aims to be the 'TripAdvisor of summer camp'. It is, quite simply, meant to be the one-stop shopping hub for the parent in need of a summer activity.
Parents going into the summer essentially have one not so great option when it comes to finding camps — lots of individual websites and magazine articles about places parents were going to have to choose site-unseen. The activity, co-creators Ann McDowell (CEO) and Max Shyshnyak noted, has the duel demerits of being very time-consuming without any sort of measurable benefit for time in research.
The BLOBfish Activity Hub cuts the time down by allowing parents to custom tailor their search by location, activities, dates, gender, age, pick-up/drop-off times and costs. Parents can even narrow their search to camps that offer scholarship opportunities if they wish.
More than a view of what camps are available, the founders noted, parents can also read reviews by other parents to get an idea of how well the offer lives up to the description.
“You can see if the camp is trusted by other parents or if it isn’t — why it isn’t,” McDowell explained.
The service is small today. It mostly serves families in its immediate area in the Research Triangle but has started expanding into neighboring states South Carolina and Virginia as it improves its offering.
“I think what ties parents together everywhere, here in North Carolina and everywhere, is that this is a really tough 12 weeks for families who can literally be running in all directions at once. We can put everything in one place and make it easy to access, easy to research and maybe easier for everyone to enjoy the summer.”
So is BLOBfish Activity Hub looking to expand? The team had no official answer, but they wouldn’t rule it out.
But not this summer, they noted, as they had summer camp carpools to organize.