Camp Ride-a-Bus

Hi Reeders! Just read about a new camp in Austin, Texas. It’s for teens who want to get around the city by public bus.

That’s the whole camp. Teens. Getting around the city. By bus. They consult a map, pay their fare and go someplace. fedienastb
According to TV station KXAN,
a mom named Sheila Gordy came up with the idea for what she calls “Urban Explorer” camp when her 12-year-old wanted to start discovering the city on his own. KXAN quotes Gordy as saying, “When you have been catered to for 13 or 14 years and all of a sudden you yourself can get somewhere and you don’t have to ask, that’s really empowering.”

It sure is. It might be even MORE empowering if your parents weren’t paying $310 a week to have you do it with the help of this camp. But in truth, I’m probably just jealous that I didn’t come up with the idea first. After all, I am vaguely famous for letting my younger son, Izzy, take the New York City subway by himself at age 9. If only I’d come up with “Izzy Camp” (or “Camp Izzy Does It”? “Izzy for Real”? “It’s Izzy To Get Around NYC Adventures”?), he could have been raking in $310 a week, per kid, for a couple of years now. He’d take their money, hand out maps and have his little posse head anywhere they’d like. Coney Island. Central Park. The candy store.

Of course, once kids figured out they could do this on their own — most of us parents did, after all — they could save $310 a week to spend on Kit Kats, or college. And that’s why I’m of two minds about this new idea.

On the one hand, it’s crazy. Why pay money for your kids to do what any able-bodied Ameri-kid could and probably should do upon turning 10, which is to use public transportation? Even if they got lost, all they’d need are the same old instructions our parents gave us: Ask for help! You can always talk to a stranger, you just can’t go off with some stranger who approaches YOU.
No adult needs your help finding his puppy, no adult should ask you to get in his car. It’s that straightforward. And seeing as so many kids have cellphones, Mom and Dad are never really out of touch anyway. If kids need help (and even when they don’t), they call. My God, do they ever call. So who needs camp?

On the other hand, maybe this is exactly what they need. The parents, I mean. After all, we have spent about a generation convincing them that their children are in peril if they do ANYTHING on their own. That’s why only about 1 in 10 kids walk to school anymore. That’s why they don’t make their own play dates or meet up at the park unless it’s for a scheduled supervised game.

If this camp can convince parents that their kids are capable of taking care of themselves on an outing, well, it is worth a fortune, because it will be giving the kids — and the parents — an invaluable gift: the gift of a child’s self-reliance.

Once parents see that their kids are not mewling babies surrounded by miscreants, maybe they’ll let the raft down the Mississippi — or at least get themselves to the mall.

Best not to send them with $310.

All aboard?

91 Responses to Camp Ride-a-Bus

  1. Peter Brülls June 24, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    Sorry, but learning to ride the bus at 13 or 14? Is this for real? Some kind of joke? When I grew up, about every kid around the age of 10 has probably 2 years experience in using public transport, and this was in a city of 600.000 people, part of a city conglomerate of some million.

    14 is way too late – how are they supposed to make up the time? Actually, who has that kind of time, because, presumably, the kids didn’t spend all their time at home but needed to get to school, clubs, friends, the mall, cinema, the library, etc…

  2. Leanne June 24, 2011 at 8:32 pm #

    When I was around 5/6/7 and my uncle was 9/10/11, my grandmother would give us a pocketful of dimes out of a jar and we’d get on a bus and keep making connections till we were bored and came back. It was a great way to get us out for half a day and for us to feel adventurous. This was in the 70’s and we loved it.

  3. Leanne June 24, 2011 at 8:33 pm #

    BTW, 14 is definitely too late to learn how to ride a bus alone, agreed! Heck, most of us have our first jobs at 14!

  4. Tuppence June 24, 2011 at 8:54 pm #

    Heh. Yeah. This deserved its own entry. I looked at the tweet and was like – wha?? Then 310 bucks!! Then, re-read to see if I was missing salient info, like: city vendor hotdogs, all-you-can-eat, included in price. With that notification not forthcoming thought, rip-off, with the reaction – genius! – close at its heels.

    Yes. Let these lame-butt parents pay dearly for their folly, says I. I suppose an added bonus (major motivation?) is when the other helis cluck at them for letting their son/daughter get around alone, they can reply: It’s okay! S/he’s had a course!

    Great stuff.

  5. Dolly June 24, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    I think overall it is a positive thing. At least they are letting and teaching the kids so that they can go out on their own soon. Sure, they might be able to learn without a camp or on their own. But, the method of learning is not so important as the general outcome. If the outcome is them being self sufficient does it really matter how they got that way?

  6. Myriam June 24, 2011 at 8:56 pm #

    I agree, Lenore, the camp is kind of absurd, but the means justify the end.

    This just prompted me to see what the situation is for children using public transport where I live (London). I was pleasantly astonished to find that children aged between 5-10 are eligible for a special card to allow them to travel around London for free if they aren’t with an adult. I don’t think many people know about it though, or would necessarily use it if they did, as I seldom if ever see children below secondary school age without adults on public transport in London.

    I’m going to get my 9-year-old one of those cards. He’ll be thrilled.

  7. karanutt June 24, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

    When I was growing up in Iowa and South Dakota, 14 was when you got your first real job, not just babysitting (which I had been doing since the age of 12). Also, in those states kids could get a special permit that allowed them do DRIVE themselves, no other teens in the car, but drive back and forth to school and work. Mostly, it was farm kids who had to help on the farm and their chores wouldn’t be done in time to catch and ride the bus for over and hour each way.

    I know at 12, I was walking all over our small town and babysitting for a family with 5 kids ages 3-7, the 3 year olds being twins one of whom had physical disabilities.

    It truly saddens me how we are stunting our children.

  8. Myriam June 24, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

    Or the end justifies the means at least.

  9. Michelle Smith June 24, 2011 at 9:17 pm #

    I’m guessing the story is missing some content, about other things they do. This camp in Berkeley tries to instill something similar: with lots of adventures along the way.

    As for poster who commented about 10 year olds being mature enough to ride public transit alone, I believe Lenore got this whole thing started after she was vilified for letting her 9 year old take the subway home (on a well known route!) on his own.

    My 10 year old is now riding the bus in San Francisco on her own, and from people’s reactions, you’d think I was sending her off to war. The camp director of the camp she’s attending this week called and quizzed me at great length when we indicated she would be *signing herself out* of camp and taking the bus home daily. The principal of the middle school my daughter will attend in the fall discouraged parents from sending their children to school on public transit citing “safety concerns.”

    Does my daughter ride the bus alone at midnight? No. She also primarily rides 2 bus routes, with which she is familiar. It’s funny — I’ve gotten really strong reactions from neighbors, but then our next door neighbor asked our 10 year old to accompany her 10 year old on the bus to buy worms (composting, I think….) at the garden center, because she didn’t feel comfortable with her 10 year old going alone.

    Thanks, Lenore, for all your work around free-ranging!


  10. Nicole June 24, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

    I think this camp is a great idea not for everyone, but for those parents who are nervous letting their children ride on public transportation alone. I don’t know about Austin, but as an 18 year old I was not comfortable riding a public Baltimore bus on my own. It depends on the city, and anyway sometimes the kids themselves are nervous about going someplace by themselves so this can help. I personally would rather teach my kids how to ride a bus on their own rather than pay over three hundred bucks for a camp, but if they want to do that then that’s their prerogative.

    Also about people being able to get their first ‘real’ job at 14 – I’m pretty sure that in most states you have to be at least sixteen to get a job, I know I certainly tried to get one before then and was unable to.

  11. SKL June 24, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

    I could see this if they combined it with a lot of cool stops every day. Like all the teen-friendly tourist attractions and little-known treasures of the city. Maybe even a volunteer project in a less-treasured part of the city.

    It may be sad that there’s a need for it, but it seems there is indeed a need, so why not offer a solution? There should also be a (much cheaper) version that just goes over the basics.

    I learned how to ride a bus because my mom didn’t have a car. I have a car, and live in a suburb; hence at this time, my 4yo’s have only traveled on a city bus once or twice.

  12. Sara June 24, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

    310? Why not just pay for a taxi?

    I don’t know how the bus system is in Austin. In most of the sprawling metros that I’ve lived in riding a city bus isn’t really feasible for getting most places. Getting lost isn’t the issue, it’s having to take six busses and three hours to get to a certain location if you can even get there by bus.

    I can see the benefit in your kid being with other kids their age ect. . . but if you’re paying $310 a week you should be getting some supervision and organized activities that teach them something.

  13. Brian June 24, 2011 at 9:54 pm #

    I took the time to actually look at the camp website.

    The criticisms are a bit unfair. For a 16 year old its a bit silly. For a 10-13 year old it seems like a great program. Most of the kids shown in the photos are 10-13 not 16.

    Compared to “normal” summer camps this gives kids a ton more useful life skills. Its not a useless “educational” drilling or an isolated tree climbing summer camp. Kids are doing and seeing real stuff. Participating in ecological protests, etc.

    I am all for kids working in the summer but you cant legally work in most states until you are at least 13. This camp from 9-5 for 1 week certainly doesnt preclude you from mowing lawns or babysitting.

    Not to mention, a big part of the skills taught seems to be time management and planning a day trip. I know lots of adults who worked as lifeguards as kids who never learned those skills.

    All that having been said, the photos on the camp’s website show many more adults than the description of the camp would indicate. Its also unclear if kids are really taking the bus to get to the camp in the am.

  14. North of 49 June 24, 2011 at 10:12 pm #

    I was riding the bus, alone, to and from school, at 7, including a transfer in the middle of the route I had to take because there was no direct route. 13 or 14? that’s way too late. I started to teach my kids as soon as we got on the bus.

  15. socialjerk June 24, 2011 at 10:12 pm #

    I’m sorry, but this kind of makes me want to bang my head against the wall. I have been frantically trying to get the foster children and other at risk youth I serve into free or low cost summer programs. There are very few available in the Bronx, and there is also a very real danger in letting these kids run the streets all summer.

    I have been struggling to help one working mother come up with $250 for her two children for a Boys and Girls Club program, for the entire summer. The idea that people are paying $310 a WEEK so that their kids can take the bus…I guess people can do that they want with their money, but the disparity just drives me crazy. My kids know public transportation because without it, they wouldn’t get anywhere. It’s not an adventure.

  16. Momof2 June 24, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

    $310 is pretty outrageous for this exercise. Hope they’re providing them breakfast, lunch, and dinner with that.

    I love the fact you pointed out kids don’t make their own play dates. That term irks me!! “Do you want to get the kids together for a play date?” Okay, maybe when they were THREE. I’ve recently developed a flipbook where I have written down the boys’ (9 1/2 & 6) friends’ info. I said, if you want to play with your friends, here’s their number. Call them! I’ll be happy to pick them up/take them home, but I’m not the middleman anymore. Spontaneous friendships are much more fun!

  17. Nanci June 24, 2011 at 10:19 pm #

    Must say I feel like a complete idiot. I am 33 (almost 34) and last week I rode a city bus for the first time in my life, and hated it! I could not figure it out at all. Maybe it’s because we had no planning but I didn’t get it, and walked away saying how glad I am that I don’t live in a city! We visited Chicago and parked at Navy Pier. We planned to walk to the Sears tower but my moms ankle was bothering her and she couldn’t walk that far. Someone told us we could take a bus. The bus drivers are not interested in talking to you. We got on and realized that you have to have cash (which who carries nowdays) and you have to have exact change, which how can you even know when there is no sign saying how much it cost! The driver told us we owed 4.50 when we got on and luckily my mom had a 5.00, but no change was given. Then we told the driver we wanted to go to the Sears Tower. He really didn’t talk. He made stop after stop and we didn’t know the street names, we had never been to Chicago before this day. Finally we did ask some people on the bus but they were tourist also. Eventually we just got off and had to walk a few blocks. The trip back to Navy Pier was just as pleasant, only now it was standing room only. Where I have lived all my life there are no buses. You drive or walk everywhere. My kids are very free range but I’ve never dealt with public transportation before and hope I never do again!!!

  18. gap-runner June 24, 2011 at 10:19 pm #

    $310 a week sounds awfully pricey. The article didn’t say what’s included for that fee. You’d expect a bus pass, meals, and admission fees to be part of that $310. I found it amazing that parents are willing to pay that amount of money to educate their kids on riding a bus. Getting bus schedules, passes or tickets, maps, and the phone number for the bus company on your own is a lot less expensive. I learned to ride the bus on my own by getting schedules and calling the transit company if I was going someplace new and different. The information people at the transit company were very helpful.

    In Los Angeles, where I grew up, during the ’70s and ’80s a lot of kids took the city bus to school. During the various energy crises in those decades, when more people decided to try riding the bus, new riders were encouraged to ask either the oldest or youngest people at the bus stop for information. My brother took the city bus to junior high and at age 12 was an expert on the area bus system. Since he was too young to drive, he got around by bus. Now he lives in New York City and is a subway expert.

    Any secondary school student (5th grade and up) in my city gets a free bus pass if he lives more than 3 km/1.8 miles from his school. This is for both the city buses and the ones which go to other nearby towns. Unfortunately, my son didn’t qualify for a bus pass because we live about 2.5 km from school. But he has taken the bus by himself to visit his friends who live in nearby towns. He knows to either ask an adult if his stop is coming soon or to look at the info board at the front of the bus that shows the next stop.

  19. oncefallendotcom June 24, 2011 at 10:20 pm #

    Well as long as there is a need to be addressed, there will always be money to be made on it. That being said, I think teaching kids the value of public transportation is a very good idea. Maybe it’ll stick when they get older too. Of course, you can just teach them yourself, but then again, most people don’t use public transportation.

  20. gap-runner June 24, 2011 at 10:30 pm #

    @Momof2, my son read Lenore’s post and his comment about adults making playdates for supervised activities was, “That’s lame!” I live in an area where kids will knock on the door or call each other to play. The boys often go to the big playground on the base where I work, or to another local park with a soccer field, by themselves. They also make their own arrangements to go to the public pool and swim without a parent present. These boys are 12-13 and have been making their own play arrangements since they were 6 or 7.

  21. Quantum Mechanic June 24, 2011 at 10:40 pm #

    To be fair, from the camp’s website it sounds like a lot more than just riding the bus. Sure, they’re riding the bus, but they’re riding it to get to museums, art studios, swimming pools, parks, etc. Actually, it sounds like a lot of fun to me.

  22. Eryn McGuinness June 24, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

    To be fair to Austinites, this is a city of car owners. In Chicago, or NYC, or DC, everyone rides public transit. That’s how people get around. When I lived in Chicago, if I messed up and missed the bus that connected to my train, I would be paying $30 a day for parking near my financial district office. In 2007 it cost nearly $300 to register a car in the city of Chicago and gas was $4 a gallon. But if you had a $20 transit card you could ride all the buses and trains you needed to for ten days. Much more affordable. Business people and college kids and young moms with small children and medium-sized children on their own ride the trains in places like that.
    Here in Austin, it’s a bit different. The town wasn’t ever expected to get this big, and the roads are inadequate for the traffic flow. There is some closed-minded bias against people whose life doesn’t allow them to own a car, and the public transit system reflects that. The buses are inconsistent, the train system never took off (there is one commuter rail from the rural suburb Leander into downtown Austin) and a lot of small businesses spend a good amount of money every year when it comes up on the ballot making sure that Austin doesn’t have light rail. Most people assume only the poor and indigent are riding the bus. They are wrong, but there’s a stigma against it here. So I have to applaud those parents who are breaking with that stigma and saying to their kids, “I know it’s different, your friends don’t do it and you’ve never done it before, but you’re smart and capable, and this program will help you learn how to do it. Now get on the damn bus.”

  23. Theresa June 24, 2011 at 11:04 pm #

    I would gladly enroll my child. but not at $310/week. We live in a small town, but only about 25 minutes outside of a large city (which I imagine is where she will eventually attend college, work, and maybe even live). I actually work in the city myself and have said many times that one day I would bring my daughter to work with me on a day that I needed to get the car worked on and we would drop it off and catch a bus back to my office. That way she would know how to read a bus schedule, etc. It’s never happened, though.

    She has been taken out to the suburbs and allowed to ride the commuter train back into downtown. But, she was supervised at the time and it was during the middle of the day when it’s not so chaotic. It was more for the thrill of riding the train than of learning the method.

    Nanci, don’t feel bad. I’m in the same boat. At age 40, I’ll even admit that I’m intimidated by the thought of riding the city bus. It’s not the same as riding the Disney Express. The only buses I’ve ever been on have been private charter, school field trips, or that Disney bus.

  24. Mike B June 24, 2011 at 11:09 pm #

    A dozen sheltered years does more than keep a deficit in a child’s skills account, it can also make that child reticent to take risks. Sure, there are probably lots of kids who, despite having being sheltered and unskilled could go out and conquer the bus system with minimal instruction, take it upon themselves to research some fun destinations, and organize some friends to share the adventure. But I’ll bet there are a lot more who wouldn’t bother, because they’ve never had to bother, and they’ve been told for years (explicitly or otherwise) not to bother. So I think this camp is a good idea, both for the kids and their parents. I just hope that those extra adults that @Brian saw in the photos aren’t parents going along for the ride!

    $310 may seem like a lot, but it depends what is included, how many and what level of counselors are paid for the work, and whether it’s a public, non-profit or for-profit camp. Lunch, water and snacks: $15/day, $60/week. Plus a weekly bus pass $9/camper. Plus the cost of whatever destinations have admission fees. If it’s an 8-hour/day camp with a 1:5 adult:camper ratio and they’re paid $12/hour, that’s $60 in salary per camper per week, not including paid time in planning the camp. Add to this profit, web site, credit processing fees, city registration fee, advertising, insurance(!), etc. It adds up.

    @socialjerk, I agree–wholeheartedly–that there should be affordable camp (and preschool) options for low-income families. However, those are made affordable through public subsidy (which is why they’re so controversial and hard to grow and sustain).

  25. Christina June 24, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

    By 13 or 14 I was riding the bus cross-country to visit relatives with my younger brother in tow. By 16, I was driving to see those same relatives with my younger brother in tow and often without the parents along.

  26. tdr June 24, 2011 at 11:32 pm #

    I moved to Austin from Philadelphia in 1988. What a great town! For several years back then they made public busses free to get people to use them. I didn’t have a car and the bus wasn’t *real* convenient, but where I could use it I did. For FREE. I loved it.

    My creds – used public subway and trolly to and from downtown Philly from 7th grade on. My first solo run from Philly to NYC and uptown on the subway to visit grandma was in 1979 when I was 13 years old.

    My 11 yr old son keeps asking when I’m going to let him go downtown by himself on the light rail to see the Orioles. I’m still not sure — Baltimore is not the safest town…not as safe as NYC or Philly.

  27. Jynet June 24, 2011 at 11:34 pm #

    Off topic about kids working:

    I had a great laugh at our national radio broadcaster a couple of years ago. They were talking about child labour and complaining that we were importing products from places that allow “children as young as TWELVE(!) to work”… like where I live you mean? In our own country? 12-14 year olds can’t use knives, large equipment or work more than a certain number of hours a week, but they can work!

    On topic:
    I’m sure I have said before that my daughter also started taking Transit into another city to go to school at 9 (she took it to school in our city at 7, but there were no transfers).

    When she was 10 I was at work and my supervisor had to leave work to ferry her 16yo from school to her orthodontist. I was surprised, because long before that age I was taking the bus to my ortho appointments… and clearly my daughter could have handled it. I asked her why she didn’t have her daughter take the bus… and was told that it was to hard!

    This camp would have been perfect for her! (The mom I mean… the daughter could probably have done it on her own, but the mom clearly needed some help letting go!)

  28. Alex Dupuy June 24, 2011 at 11:40 pm #

    @Myriam: That free kids transit pass for London (Ontario, or England?) sounds amazing – especially if it is London, England, where any kind of transportation is quite expensive.

    Here in Troy/Albany/Schenectady New York, our bus system has a nice $30 pass for kids 17 and under for July and August: – unfortunately there are not so many buses, and they don’t go to as many places, as in my hometown of NYC. Still, $30 will beat $310 any day.

    To be fair, however, I expect much of that $310/week is liability insurance, registration with authorities, and other similar overhead (plus the labor cost for the adult riding the bus with the kids – this is camp, remember, the kids are not riding on their own). And I think that camps like this can be a great way to get kids doing things on their own the next summer. I did two summers of great bike touring trips with NYC AYH, and then the next summer (age 16) did a cross-country bike trip with someone who had put a Village Voice back page ad looking for people to ride with her. We only made it by bike as far as the Mississippi River before mechanical problems and running out of time forced us to throw the bikes into a Greyhound bus to get to San Francisco. But I would never have been able to do this myself (or convince my father to let me go – and fund it) without the preparation from the earlier trips.

    But these kinds of camps are still a bit more for older (middle-school) kids. What I would love even more for my 4-year old daughter would be a camp like this: – but there’s nothing like that in our city. Instead, we’ll do a couple of weeks at an outdoor camp (Oasis) that has all their activities in New York’s Central Park – interestingly, they have a “Teen travel” camp for 12-14 year old kids that sounds a bit like Camp Ride-a-Bus, except without the kids making the plans themselves.

  29. gramomster June 25, 2011 at 12:09 am #

    My SIL didn’t allow her kids to take a bus to high school. She also didn’t allow her son, when in college, to take the connector bus home on the weekend. It was one bus! It only went campus to campus! They would drive the 18 miles to pick. him. up. At age 20. Of course, when he graduated college, having never ridden a bus or gotten a driver’s license, he was deemed competent to go to Europe with a Eurail pass… ugh.
    My BFF taught her son how to ride the bus downtown (2 miles. 2MILES!!! not walk… ride the bus) … WHEN HE STARTED COMMUNITY COLLEGE!!! He didn’t ride a bike until he was 15, and has to this day taken only one bike ride unaccompanied. He’s almost 20.
    My kids were riding their bikes, walking and taking public transit (even though where we lived, public transit sucked eggs) from the time they were about 12 and 14. We moved there when they were 9 and 11, so… The older kid was traveling across the country by herself by train and greyhound by 15, the younger rode his bike the 30 miles to Lake Michigan with a friend from the age of 15 or so, and by his 15th birthday, he’d spent 2 weeks in Japan riding trains and Germany riding trains. He just got back from 3 weeks in Ireland. He’s 19.
    I cannot imagine not teaching a kid to read a bus schedule, no matter where one lives. It’s just a life skill one needs to have! No telling where your kid is going to choose to live. And with the internet, one can look up routes, fares, and get directions as with googlemaps in about a second.

  30. EricS June 25, 2011 at 12:16 am #

    Mixed feelings. I’m glad that people in Austin are starting to embrace “empowering” their kids. Better late than never I guess. But at the same time, do you REALLY need a camp to show your kids? Most of us here did it on our own, without our parents teaching us. I learned how to ride public transit when I was 6, just by using it with my parents (before we bought a car). By the time I was 9, I pretty much knew the major routes, stops, and fare. Back then, NO ONE was surprised to see a 9-10 year old kid boarding a train, a bus or a streetcar. And does one really need to dish out $310 dollars? That’s like me starting a $300 dollar course teaching people how to use common sense. Smart way of capitalizing on this issue with kids. But completely unnecessary for parents, when all they need to do is tell their kids themselves. Even make it a family “outing”. Unless of course they themselves do not know how to get around using public transit. lol

  31. SKL June 25, 2011 at 12:19 am #

    I used to have a secretary who insisted she had to rush out of work every afternoon to pick up her teenaged kid, who walked to the library after school. God forbid he have to sit and read a book or do his homework. She also had to take him everywhere he had to go, because she didn’t trust him to find his way on the bus. I thought things would get better when he learned to drive, but even then, she was frequently “needing” to leave early because he’d screwed something up. (And it was always someone else’s fault.) Sheesh. Let him walk if he can’t figure out the bus system. He could use the exercise – and the motivation. (Used to get under my skin, the way she’d leave me in the lurch at the last minute for that.) Oh, and when he didn’t have school, guess where he spent the day – that’s right – at the desk next to Mommy’s.

  32. SKL June 25, 2011 at 12:20 am #

    Eric S, you should charge a lot more than $300 if you’ve figured out how to impart common sense.

  33. EricS June 25, 2011 at 12:37 am #

    lol SKL. I would just do what my parents did…a little upside the head action every time I did something really stupid. It’s funny how quickly you learn NOT to do stupid things, and to start thinking before you act. But I would add some words of wisdom…”Really?! What possessed you to do that?” Make them think on their own at the same time. lol You can’t beat “old school” upbringing.

  34. erica June 25, 2011 at 12:48 am #

    If you can read a map, and a have a watch, you can learn to ride the bus! Bus-competent in our city of 400,000 by age 12. I just learned in which neighbourhoods to avoid getting off the bus, and then FREEEEEEEEEDOOOOOOMMMMMMMMM! No longer was I at the mercy of Mom or Dad’s driving availability!

  35. Lihtox June 25, 2011 at 12:49 am #

    @QuantumMechanic is right; this looks more like an urban exploration day camp, where the bus travel is only part of the point. As long as the $310 includes lunch, museums, etc then that’s not so bad. (On the other hand, wouldn’t it be more free-range to give the money to the kids to pay for lunch, instead of the camp?) And even the bus bit puts more emphasis on choosing a route and consulting timetables and so forth, which is a bit more difficult than simply riding on a route you’ve ridden many times before with a grownup.

  36. Anthony June 25, 2011 at 1:03 am #

    @Michelle Smith, my 9 year old boy rides the N streetcar on his own in the Sunset. Last school year, he walked/biked himself to school each day. His teacher called me a couple days in, aghast at what I was doing and I responded by going to the principal with a letter explaining the stats (that the kids being driven were in far greater danger) and absolving the school of liability and that was that. He also went ot the playground and plenty of local stores on his lonesome and was responsible for coming home at a reasonable time to do his homework and head off to marital arts. Last summer, he signed himself out of Y camp and pedaled off to grandparents where he played at the playground across the street and more often than not rode off to meet me for dinner partway home. The only incident we have had is some **** calling the cops… because he was doing his own laundry at a local laundry mat (the horror).

    I would love to introduce him to more free-range kids. My email is if you’re interested. Logan is a really good kid who makes friends easily.



  37. EricS June 25, 2011 at 1:06 am #

    The thing is, people can do all those activities easily for less than $310 a week. Lihtox is right though, giving money to your kids and assist them (if need be) in planning their day is more empowering. Not only do they learn the value of money, they learn how to spend wisely (if they don’t they will), and to think for themselves. ie. what they need to do to accomplish their goal within a certain period of time.

  38. EricS June 25, 2011 at 1:11 am #

    Wow Anthony. Apart from the making a case with my school, and cops being called (which never happened), that totally sounds like my youth. I think we had a later curfew though. lol Way to go.

  39. Bob Davis June 25, 2011 at 1:19 am #

    Allthough they grew up in car-centric Southern California, both of my daughters learned about buses and trains at an early age. I remember coming home from work one summer day and feeling quite proud when my younger daughter told me that she and one of her friends has take the bus from Duarte to Glendale (this involved going through several cities on the way) to visit the Galleria. They were junior-high age at the time.

  40. Kiesha June 25, 2011 at 1:25 am #

    @Nanci –
    Sounds like you should have planned that trip a little better. Most guidebooks will tell you in the opening pages about the public transportation system. I didn’t ride a city bus until I was about 25, but I did research beforehand and knew that it would accept only exact change.
    If you ever go to a big city again, invest in a smartphone that has GPS. Then when you get on a bus, you can follow along on the map and know where to get off.

  41. pentamom June 25, 2011 at 1:41 am #

    “If you ever go to a big city again, invest in a smartphone that has GPS.”

    Wait, if someone unused to big cities ever goes to one again, they should invest many hundreds of dollars in a fancy phone and an expensive service plan?

    I think familiarizing yourself with bus maps and remembering to take exact change is a little more practical for average people who visit big cities only occasionally.

  42. Jen Connelly June 25, 2011 at 2:02 am #

    I can see this as a good thing… more on the side of it gets kids out and together and doing things on their own. But $310 to do it? This should be a club where they gather a bunch of kids together, hand out the maps (where they could leave a preliminary itinerary with the adult in charge) and off they go (without the adult). I would sign my kids up; they’d have a blast. But, in no way would I pay $300 for someone to show them how to use the bus. But learning from an older teen that knew what they were doing–great idea.

    When I was 16 they opened an L station by Midway Airport in Chicago. It was a 1/2 mile from my house and my dad took me on it to show me how to get downtown and get around. After that I was on my own and I regularly took my brother and his friends with me to show them around (they were 13-14). Of course, most of us already knew how to take the bus to get around by then. I started riding the bus alone at 12. Before that I had no where I wanted to go and we lived in a pretty shifty neighborhood. At 12 we moved and some friends of ours showed us how to get to the mall by bus. At 14 I started taking it home from school every day (40 blocks=45-60 minutes by bus during after school rush hour).

    Now, my kids mostly grew up in Chicago, too (in the house we moved to when I was 12) but they never rode the CTA. It just never came up and the cost has gotten out of control. Last summer I didn’t have a car so had to take the bus to doctor appts (I was in my 3rd trimester). It’s over $2 to ride the bus now and $2.50 to get on the L. PACE (suburban buses) are slightly cheaper. I think they were $1.75. Luckily my doctor was in the suburbs so I had to take PACE. My youngest dd got to come with me a few times and enjoyed the bus. But I can’t see my almost 11yo riding the bus alone. For one thing she’s the size of an 8yo. People would FREAK out if they saw her alone (she’s all of 4’3″ tall and 50lbs). But I would sign her up for the “club” I described. If she did something like that I’d probably feel more comfortable.

    We’ve since moved away from Chicago, though, so it’s a moot point. We do have buses here in the Portland/Vancouver area but I don’t even know how to use them and you have to take like 3 of them to get to the mall and it’s like a 2 hour ride (based on bus schedules I’ve seen). It’s easier to just driver her, not that she’s ever wanted to go to the mall alone.

    Oh, I also wanted to add:
    During my wonderful bus trips last summer (I hadn’t had to regularly ride the bus since I graduated high school in 95) I was stuck on an extremely crowded CTA bus and this group of kids got on with just 1 adult. These kids looked like they were 11-14 or so and had bags and soccer balls. They were all excited and giggling. I guess they were going to some soccer game or something. There were like 10 kids and all but like a couple of them had NEVER ridden a bus. Not just never ridden by themselves but never stepped foot on public transport in their lives. The one girl was freaking out and her friends that had been on a bus were trying to calm her down. They had no clue how to act on a crowded bus. First there were no seats for them so they just stood there staring. They didn’t hold on so when the bus started they all fell over. They didn’t know to move to the back of the bus or to get out of the way when other people wanted off. They were loud (expected with a group of kids) and tossing stuff around and falling on people. Geesh. You could tell which kids had actually been on a bus before but I just couldn’t picture a 14yo in Chicago that didn’t know how to ride the CTA. Almost every kid I knew in high school had to take the bus to school

  43. Ellie @ The Mommyist June 25, 2011 at 2:05 am #

    I think that people criticizing this camp must have very little experience with Austin. If you live in New York or Portland, Oregon it’s easy to say that kids shouldn’t need someone other than their parents to teach them how to get around town but in Austin public transportation, walking and riding bikes are not part of most people’s daily life. It is a car city. If you go to the store you drive. If you need to go to a store across the street from the one where you currently are you get in the can and drive there. Of couse this has changed some recently but it is still very true for most of the long time residents.

    I think what this camp is really about is empowering youth to get around town independently, not an easy task in a city that is as geographically large as Austin and full of drivers who have zero patience for pedestrians and cyclists. I’ll venture to say most of the kids in these camps aren’t taking a bus a few stops to get somewhere. Instead they are learning how to ride a bus 45 minutes, cross busy streets with no crosswalks or stoplights, and make a couple transfers to get somewhere. How do you as a parent teach your kid to ride the bus safely around town when you’ve never done it and the thought scares you?

    I do agree that the price is kinda outrageous considering the fact that the kids who would benefit the most are lower income kids living away from the center of town. I’ve actually looked into stuff like this for my nephew (my husband’s family) who has far less freedom than I did at the same age. Mostly because of the location of his house and his family’s reliance on cars.

    Lenore was able to send her young son on the subway alone because it was familiar to him. Would she have done the same if neither he nor she had ever been on the subway? I certainly hope not. I’d say this is a case of it being easy to criticize something you don’t understand.

  44. Andy June 25, 2011 at 2:23 am #

    When I was 10, I knew every subway station in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx. EVERY ONE OF THEM! Me and my friends would sometimes ride the trains as a group and choose which stop anywhere on the line looked like a good place for adventure that day, and we went. Cost us fifteen cents per ride, and extra money came from redeeming soda bottles for change, which we could do anywhere in the city. So we kept going all day.

    $310 bucks per week? Wotta scam!

  45. Emily June 25, 2011 at 2:26 am #

    I could’ve used that camp! I grew up in a small town in Kentucky and didn’t ride a city bus until I moved over here to England as an adult. A few lessons beforehand (that you’re supposed to press the button when you want the bus to stop, for instance — and yes, I know it’s obvious) would’ve saved me from looking completely inept.

  46. pentamom June 25, 2011 at 2:39 am #

    Okay, it’s overpriced, but the comments that say “They shouldn’t do this because they should already have learned to do this” — well, what do you want them to do? Give parents one shot at doing it right the first time and then just sit back and criticize them both for leaving their kids incompetent and for trying to do something about it? I hope my actual friends don’t judge me like that if they ever perceive I’ve fallen short on something.

  47. mighthavejoy June 25, 2011 at 2:46 am #

    When they cut out a bunch of school days this spring due to budget cuts, I showed my two elementary school kids how to take the bus to the library downtown, where they met their dad during his lunch hour (unattended at the library rules) and hung out, checked out their books, and rode the bus back home. I rode with them once to demonstrate. We talked about landmarks, how the bus system worked, how to be courteous on the bus, and to show them how to manage their time in the library so they could catch the right bus at the right time. They were a little nervous their first time going solo, but did great and have done great ever since.

    My kids got a lot of positive feedback from teachers at school, and were really proud of themselves. I was glad that non-school days were Library days and not Vacation days. A few parents came up to me to ask if it was true that I let my kids take the bus downtown on their own. They seemed impressed, but quickly commented that their kids could never do that on their own. (More because they couldn’t trust them to behave or use the bus competently than because they were afraid of buses.)

  48. Matt June 25, 2011 at 2:59 am #

    I read the blog on the camp website, and it seems they’re traveling in a group with adult chaperonage for these bus trips. So I’m not sure whether to say “good start” or weep openly.

  49. Marie June 25, 2011 at 3:25 am #

    This got me thinking about how hard it would be to let my kids take the bus anywhere here. I can’t think of anyplace they could go in a reasonable time frame. I don’t think there’s a mall worth hanging out in anywhere near enough, and at bus speed it would probably be at least an hour to get to the nearest movie theater.

    Most the places my kids want to go around here are walking distance anyhow. Library’s only about a mile away, and I don’t know that there’s even a bus stop between us and the library anyhow.

    I do remember taking the bus a lot as a kid. Lived in a bigger city, so there were a few malls in easy bus distance. It’s certainly a nice form of freedom for kids, but not one I’d pay a camp so much to do. I’d rather go around town with my kids for a while to teach them and then let them try it on their own when they knew enough about it.

    That sad, I’m trying to convince my husband that our 9 year old is getting to where we need to let her do some of these things on her own. Library and dollar store in easy bike range and not too bad walking range, but no friends who are allowed to go yet, which makes starting things a little harder.

  50. Omri June 25, 2011 at 3:46 am #

    Do it! It’s about time your kid started earning his keep. $310 per week for the right to follow Izzy and do kid stuff in NYC? The only thing more profitable way to exploit your kid is to make him a child actor.

  51. walkamungus June 25, 2011 at 5:01 am #

    A couple of years ago, a friend and I (both 40-ish) were in NYC and wanted to take the subway out to Coney Island from Manhattan. We both grew up in small towns with no public transportation. You should have seen us faced with the ticket machine! Fortunately, a very nice lady took pity on us and showed us what to do. Success!

    I try to take public transportation whenever I travel on business, but yeah, never having done it as a kid or for a good part of my adult life, it’s confusing even if I do prepare. Reading a bus schedule is still very much a mystery…

  52. sticksandstones June 25, 2011 at 7:32 am #

    I could see kids going to this camp if they had just moved to Austin from a small town with little to no public transportation and had never had a chance to use it before. Otherwise, it seems stupid…

    It would make more sense if the camp was for 9-10ish year old, but we all saw how well that was recived…

  53. 13clocks June 25, 2011 at 8:05 am #

    @sticksandstones LOL
    I agree!

  54. gramomster June 25, 2011 at 8:19 am #

    @Jen Connelly
    We just moved to Portland. As in just last week. I haven’t lived in a city with decent public transportation since I left San Francisco in 1985, and it took me a bit of time online to kind of get the idea of how this system works, but I’ve really liked the frequency of the buses and the trains the couple times I’ve used them. If you’re in Vancouver, it’s a bit tougher, as apparently there aren’t buses or trains that go between the two, which does make sense, as they’re in different states 😉

    I was in sort of downtown Portland on Tuesday taking a certification class that I’ll need to work here. Right before the class started, I got a call on an apartment I wanted to look at. I was able to get online, find out that the bus that would take me within 2 blocks of the apartment stopped one block from where I was! Yay! Then I noticed that the MAX train lines were right near the apartment, so I just sort of went exploring on them, and found my way back to where my husband works. The trains have a free zone that encompasses the downtown, the convention center and a mall.

    There are also passes that make using the public transit quite reasonable. Something like $4 for the whole day, and I want to say it’s $23 for a week, which would allow one quite a good bit of exploring (and that’s adult rate), on all three systems.

    If you are in Vancouver, I hope you can take the opportunity to come across the river, and take your kids on the great public transportation here, so they get a chance to see how such things work… ticket machines, route and stop maps, negotiating train boarding etc.

  55. Cheryl W June 25, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    Well, this sounds much more interesting than the camp that has signs up all over town where I live. Spelling Camp. Boy howdy. Just can’t wait to go to Spelling Camp this summer. Camp should be fun. It should not be school in disguise.

    If there were more fun places to go via bus here, I would so have my kids doing this on their own.

  56. Donna June 25, 2011 at 10:37 am #

    This thing that bugs me about this is that it’s supposed to be about teens getting independence, getting places by themselves, etc. according to the founder. But there are ADULT CHAPERONES!! And these are PLANNED camp activities!!! How is a teenager gaining independence and getting places by themselves when they are accompanied by an adult who has planned out all the day’s activities? It sounds like a fun camp (albeit grossly overpriced) for 7-11 year olds but don’t sell it as some great teen independence activity when it is anything but. Independence is letting your teen and some friends plan an activity and get there by themselves without a chaperone. Independence is not attending a chaperoned, planned outing that happens to involve public transportation. Sure the former is better for the environment but it is no more getting around the city by yourself than taking an organized tour.

  57. FrancesfromCanada June 25, 2011 at 11:25 am #

    When I was a kid growing up in a smallish town, the only place the bus was useful to go was the grocery store (boring, and anyway my bike was faster) or the city.several miles away, where I was quite reasonably not allowed to go on my own. So I’d actually been on a plane by myself (age 14) before I’d been on a bus.

    A camp like this would have been great fun for me. Left to ourselves my friends and I wouldn’t have explored museums or galleries, we were too busy roaming our own territory, nor would my parents have thought to suggest it. Something like this would have given me exposure to new things AND taught me a useful life skill (which, yes, I figured out on my own as an adult). Is the camp itself an example of independent living? Probably not. But it could certainly be the jumping-off point for some new interests and the knowledge that one could explore said interests oneself. That’s not a bad thing.

  58. JTW June 25, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    “BTW, 14 is definitely too late to learn how to ride a bus alone, agreed! Heck, most of us have our first jobs at 14!”

    Depends on where you are. Over here child labour laws prohibit kids from having jobs <15, and the limits at that age mean they can't do much more than running a newspaper route until 16 when they're allowed to work in stores filling shelves for a few hours a week for example.
    And when I grew up, public transportation was pretty much useless (one bus every 30 minutes, taking an hour to get where by bike you could get in half an hour, by car in 15 minutes) so we rarely used it (we did indeed learn to use it, in case of emergencies, at around that age, but rarely did. Wasn't until I was about 19 and moved out from my parents to go to university halfway across the country that I took a bus or train more than once a month at most).

  59. Vanessa June 25, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    My 12-year-old had never taken the city bus until recently, when we took it together several times while my car was in the shop. She absolutely hated the experience (she described the bus as “a rolling metal hell” which nearly made me die laughing) but she does at least know the basics of paying the fare, pulling the cord to request a stop, and so forth. And she knows from painful experience that you’ve got to hold on if you haven’t got a seat – on one trip, the driver took off before she was ready and she faceplanted in the aisle. I don’t know when she’ll put these lessons into action, though; public transit in suburban Southern California is so inconvenient that people only use it if they have no other choice.

  60. Sky June 25, 2011 at 7:23 pm #

    You can work 10+ babysitting, raking leaves, unofficial capacity like that. Beginning at 14, you can work most places with a work permit. I don’t think they are that hard to get for part-time work. Beginning at 16, you can work just about anywhere. I had my first job for a business at 14 with a work permit, but I earned cash doing odds and ends before that.

    I am in my mid-30’s and have never once ridden a public bus. I don’t believe it’s a “life skill” that “everyone” needs to have. If you live in the city, yes, probably. But not everyone lives in the city. I’m sure I’d figure it out if I had to. I’ve ridden rail, just never buses.

  61. SuzyQ June 25, 2011 at 8:18 pm #

    Did you ever notice that letting your kids ride the bus alone or throwing your kids up in the air is only okay once someone creates an expensive program to teach you the proper way to do it?

    It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.

  62. Tuppence June 25, 2011 at 9:14 pm #

    How about, The Big Apple in Five Izzy Pieces: Explore N.Y.C. a borough a day with public transportation and your new pal Izzy.

    Only a few places left! Sign up now!

    “The ‘other’ camping experience your child should have”
    Professor Ima Weisenheimer.

    “I feel certain that the high grade my son received in numbskullogy this year was directly related to the banter he was exposed to while spending a week with other teenage boys at this camp. It was a once in a lifetime experience for him. Worth every penny.” Signed, a proud parent and satisfied customer.

    “It was as much fun as spelling camp!” Janey, 13 years old.

  63. Cynthia June 25, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    When I was a teenager (mid-90s), you could get a job (with parental permission) at 14. You could also get a driver’s license. The standard procedure was to get a permit at fourteen, drive a couple of years with an adult, and get your license at 16. But it was not too difficult to get a “hardship” license that would allow you to drive solo at 14 because you needed to get to a job or something. Thinking back, that seems a little funny. My biggest hardship was that I didn’t have a separate vehicle, so I don’t know that being able to drive alone would have been helpful to the family.

    As a side note, I’ve noticed kids being more hesitant to get driver’s licenses. When I was a kid, we were all dying to, but when my sister was a teenager nine years later, she drove all of her friends around because none of them could drive.

  64. Suz June 26, 2011 at 12:03 am #

    Capitalizing on over protected children, what a thought. Maybe when my daughter becomes a teen we can go into business together. I love it, thanks for the morning laugh.

  65. ADW June 26, 2011 at 1:24 am #

    This camp has been a wonderful experience for my son. Your cynicism makes me sad.

  66. Sheila Gordy June 26, 2011 at 3:21 am #

    Hi all,

    Yes, I run the Urban Explorer Camp. I just want to say how much I have enjoyed all your comments. Lots of LOLs out there.

    I want to thank all of you who looked further and checked out the website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

    To clarify, I don’t really chaperone the kids – I don’t even sit with them on the bus and I don’t plan all the trips for them. I do choose some of the field trips each week, but the kids choose the rest.

    I think it’s a reall good idea and I have gotten a lot of positive feedback and really happy parents. Those of you with kids know that camp is an unavoidable summer evil for many children. I think my camp is an exception to that.

    I have inspired other parents to get out on the bus with their kids. The homeschool communtiy in Austin did put together a group to do just that. I love that! I wouldn’t pay for this camp, but does that mean that no one should? No, I worked my butt off and invested money in this program. Not to make a killing, but to make a living. Also, I have been very open to everyone who approached me for a “scholarship.” I have not been able to afford to give “full scholarships” this year, but I plan on having 2 scholarship spots each week next year.

    I would also like to clarify: that that is not the “whole camp”, I’m not “chaperoning” the kids and I am not setting “play dates.” for them. And yes I think that 14 and 15 is kinda of late for kids to get a taste of this – but that is the reality for lots of kids. And if you haven’t spent an entire day without access to a car you really don’t understand how much the kids may not know – especially in Texas where most of the kids have never been on a city bus at all.

    Here’s what I do – I pick a few places each week for us to go and let the kids pick the rest. I give them the names of the places we are going and they figure out where they are and how to get there on the bus, I put a different kid in charge of each trip – I don’t help them and we have missed stops, times etc. I give them tips and tools for dealing with traffic, crossing streets – ever tried to cross a street with no crosswalk in the age of texting? Kids pay their own way for everything – I get kids every week who walk away from the counter without waiting for their change. Why? Because they have never done it before! Is this for everyone? No! Do we have to condemn the parents that do want it? I wish we didn’t – judgment and condemnation got us into this parenting pickle in the first place.

    The way I see it, this camp is really the best of both worlds – kids are active and supervised during the summer(some parents work and really need this), but they are free to hang out and chat for most of the time together.

    The kids think it is way cool – after we plan all our trips, I really try to stay out of the way and not interfere. This is really just a middle step. For parents and kids to know what it is like before they actually do it. Which is why I offer camp by the day also. Not everyone needs a week.

    But really, there has been so much misunderstanding and judgement, and no one has contacted me to ask questions that I can only assume no one is interested in understanding.

    Again, that is not the “whole camp” of course it isn’t, you didn’t get your info from THE TV did you?

    I guess I should have gotten a “Free Range” stamp of approval before doing my own thing – oh no, wait, real parenting doesn’t have to come with a “â„¢”.

    Sorry for that last bit of sarcasm, but I have been the object of so much derision on this siet I thought I would indulge myself, just the once.

    Thanks for your support!


  67. Uly June 26, 2011 at 4:41 am #

    Nah, Sheila, we can all be pretty brutal. So long as you’re not just randomly attacking we can handle the bit of snark at the end.

    I don’t think anybody is necessarily criticizing you, though… more like the parents who don’t want their children at 15 to really be independent, or who do but have put it off waaaaaaay too late. There are *those* folks in every city.

  68. sheilagordy June 26, 2011 at 5:01 am #

    Thanks Uly, much appreciated.

  69. Donna June 26, 2011 at 6:28 am #

    Sheila, you say you are not chaperoning the kids. Then what is your purpose? Chaperone and supervise mean the same thing. If you were not chaperoning, you would not be present.

    You say the kids pay for everything themselves. Is this in addition to the $310? I also find it interesting that you charge a price that you say you wouldn’t pay.

    I get that many kids have no idea what to do on a bus. Most of their parents have never been on a bus and don’t know either. A day class or camp for younger kids on how to get around the city is a great idea.

    I think the problem many of us have us the idea that kids of the upper ages that you cater to need camp or constant adult supervision. You mention parents who need camp because they work and talk about 14 and 15 year olds. 14 and 15 year olds don’t need camp. They can stay home by themselves. I would send my kid to a camp or two at that age if it was to to do something of interest to her ( ie soccer or gymnastics camp) but she shouldn’t NEED to be supervised constantly while I’m at work at that age.

    As Uly said my criticism are aimed more at the parents who think their kids need to be supervised constantly at that age than you.

  70. Eldo June 26, 2011 at 6:46 am #

    I don’t know. I think that it would have been fun when I was a “tween” or early teenager. It might be a neat idea for kids that live in the suburbs of a larger city to get around on the subway and bus and see and do things “downtown”.

  71. Bookwoman June 26, 2011 at 7:06 am #

    Empowering kids is always a good idea. Interesting to have it knocked down at a free-range kids website. Scoff all you want but I if it wasn’t needed, it wouldn’t exist.

    It’s not really Camp Ride-the-bus, btw; it’s Camp Explore-the-City. Why would you write that?

  72. gwallan June 26, 2011 at 8:01 am #


    That was the name of my woodwind quartet at high school.

  73. kwilt June 26, 2011 at 8:46 am #

    I was actually the one who posted the article about this awesome camp on Lenore’s wall on Facebook… I thought she would love it. I mean, maybe kids *should* be riding the bus by themselves by age 10, 11, 12, and I wish they all were, but there’s lots of people and kids who just drive their kids everywhere until they teach them to drive at age 16, and they never taste the wonders of public transportation (and are totally dependent on their parents until the ripe old age of 16). Austin is very much a car city. Sheila is providing an awesome service… one that probably provides a much more lasting impression on kids than most of the camps they’re shepherded off to during the summer. It’s well worth the money for those who have it (who might be the most sheltered and need it the most of all) and I’m sure she makes it accessible to folks who are not rolling in dough, too. I think she should be celebrated and not criticized. This is not a glossy camp, just a cool Austin mom who’s getting kids out in the hot hot weather (and believe me there are many who spend the whole of summer inside in the AC) trying new things and learning valuable skills that they can use their whole lifetime long.

  74. KyohakuKeisanki June 26, 2011 at 10:44 am #

    socialjerk: Good to put things in perspective.

    gap-runner: I was about to ask where you live, but then I clicked your website link… sure enough, it’s not an English-speaking country (it’s Germany… why do I see that country mentioned so much on this blog?).

    Eryn McGuinness: I know what you mean. Tulsa is about the same way.

    SuzyQ: That coffee had better not be hot!

    Sheila Gordy: So… you run the camp but you wouldn’t pay for it? Anyway, great thinking! “Supervised activity” seems to be the buzzword here in the States, so why not just take “unsupervised activity” and advertise it without a certain two letters… then pocket $300 from each parent… and end up getting positive reviews because of the disguise. One question though: Do you allow the same destination to be chosen twice? How is it chosen… democracy or monarchy?

  75. Laura June 26, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

    I just read about the camp and am LOLing. I started taking the bus in Austin when I was in college, and had to get from the NW part of town to Central. I had to change buses 1 time, which required a transfer. Somehow I got on the wrong bus and ended up riding for the full circle of its route, with some middle schoolers who were ditching school. I had no idea where I was…we ended up in some interesting (fairly rough) neighborhoods…and even drove past the school that I would teach at in the future. The middle schoolers new more than I did about how to navigate this city. (And really this place is not like trying to get around in Dallas, Houston, NY or other major metroplexes) I took a group of third graders…about 12 of them on the Capitol Metro to go on a field trip to the University and a museum. Figured since part of the curriculum was to read bus routes, schedules and maps, that we’d better do it first hand. My principal nearly flipped and my parent backed out. (something about the riots in L.A. happening the day before) The rest of us went. We were fine.

  76. Laura June 26, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    I just read about the camp and am LOLing. I started taking the bus in Austin when I was in college, and had to get from the NW part of town to Central. I had to change buses 1 time, which required a transfer. Somehow I got on the wrong bus and ended up riding for the full circle of its route, with some middle schoolers who were ditching school. I had no idea where I was…we ended up in some interesting (fairly rough) neighborhoods…and even drove past the school that I would teach at in the future. The middle schoolers knew more than I did about how to navigate this city. (And really this place is not like trying to get around in Dallas, Houston, NY or other major metroplexes) I took a group of third graders…about 12 of them on the Capitol Metro to go on a field trip to the University and a museum. Figured since part of the curriculum was to read bus routes, schedules and maps, that we’d better do it first hand. My principal nearly flipped and my parent backed out. (something about the riots in L.A. happening the day before) The rest of us went. We were fine. Oh, and I think I’ll be getting my older kids a bus pass and telling them to learn how to use it.

  77. Laura June 26, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    Oops. Is there a way to get rid of my first post? Its basically a repeat with a typo.

  78. Suz June 26, 2011 at 10:30 pm #

    I don’t think anyone is scoffing at the idea, I think we are a bit amazed by the idea that a child can learn where all the capitals are in the US, but she can’t take the bus. Seriously, I would love to do this with my kid when shields old enough. Great summer job.

  79. sheilagordy June 27, 2011 at 3:17 am #

    OK, I’m not teaching kids how to walk onto the bus, swipe their pass and have a seat, pull the cord, and walk off the bus. Kids are smart – they get this part without my help. What I am doing is teaching them to use public transit as a tool to independence and autonomy, how to read maps, use a bus schedule.

    KyohakuKeisanki, I’m not sure where you think the disquise comes in. I tell the parents I will be with the kids, the kids know I am there. The kids get to pick all the spots that are not planned field trips. If they pick somewhere that would take longer than an hour to get to I let them know that we will be on the bus for a long time – I don’t care, but sometimes the kids change their minds and decide on something else. The kids do pick the same destination some weeks – Zilker park and Amy’s ice cream are regulars.

    I wouldn’t pay it, because I can’t afford it (I can’t afford any camps) and because I would teach my own kids to ride the bus, just like some of you guys. The parents who are paying for camp are really appreciative of what I am doing.

    And I have to say I really love it! I get to watch kids get away from their parents for a while and explore new things and new possibilities in themselves. In a completely new and mostly unstructured environment. Last week, one of my 10 year old campers went home (one bus, no transfers) by himself everyday, at his dad’s request. “That’s what this is all about anyway, right?” is what his dad said to me. I was so excited for the kid and dad, because that is what it’s all about – opening your mind to possibilities. Especially the possibility that your child is more than who you think they are and is capable of more than you currently ask of them.

    Also, I am not pocketing the entire $300. If you ever managed money, or had a job, I think you know that not all the money goes in your pocket – most of it goes to someone else’s pocket. The price of the camp was based on 3 things: my expenses to run the camp, the price of similar camps, and the fact that working the camp would be my job for several weeks – I can’t afford to work for free :(.

    Sadly, “supervised” is the buzzword. For some reason, lots of people think that unsupervised kids don’t know how to behave themselves.

    By the way, the other adults in the pics are not part of the camp – they are other people taking the bus!

    @Donna – ok, you’re right, I looked up both words( I like to be accurate)
       /ˈsupərˌvaɪz/ Show Spelled[soo-per-vahyz] Show IPA
    –verb (used with object), -vised, -vis·ing.
    to oversee (a process, work, workers, etc.) during execution or performance; superintend; have the oversight and direction of.

    World English Dictionary
    chaperon or chaperone (ˈʃæpəˌrəʊn) [Click for IPA pronunciation guide]

    — n
    1. (esp formerly) an older or married woman who accompanies or supervises a young unmarried woman on social occasions
    2. someone who accompanies and supervises a group, esp of young people, usually when in public places

    — vb
    3. to act as a chaperon to

    So, actually neither word really captures what I am doing when we are on the bus.

    I do supervise the kids reading the maps and planning our trips until they get the hang of it – usually by Wednesday.

    I do accompany the kids on all the trips. So, I guess I do a little bit of both. But what I do is also much more and much less than that depending on the situation. You would really have to talk to the parents and kids who do it, I can only give you my perspective which is obviously biased(and which you obviously have issues with), but again parents really appreciate it.

    The reasoning behind the ages included in camp is this – I think that the camp is perfect for 10 to 13 year olds in every way. They are just beginning to have a desire for some independence and autonomy. But I know that lots of teens have had that same feeling at 10 – 13, but never got to exercise it (usually because of their parents). I don’t think teens need constant supervision, but if that is what they have had, I think this camp is a good in between for them to gain confidence that they never had the opppurtunity to gain until now. And if their parents were fearful for them at younger ages, then this camp provides parents the oppurtunity to start letting their kids explore “without going nuts with worry”.

    @Uly – thanks again, rereading the posts, I can see that you are right. Most people seem really frustrated that kids aren’t already exploring on their own by this age, not with what I am doing.

    Again, this is not for everyone, but what seems really small to a lot of you is really a big deal to the kids who are coming to the camp.

    @kwilt – Thanks so much for posting this, I really love the feedback – positive and otherwise. And, yes the first week of camp the temperature hit 105 in Austin EVERY SINGLE DAY!! And that doesn’t usually happen in Austin til August.


  80. Jen June 27, 2011 at 6:20 am #

    By Lenore’s original post, I thought it was a little ridiculous. Having looked at the site for the camp, I think it’s a cool idea. I kind of wish I lived in an area where this kind of stuff was a bus ride away, instead of always in the car. The area I live in, however, is rural, so there ISN’T public transportation. Heck, it’d be a 45 minute drive to the nearest bus stop, then another 45 minutes into Pittsburgh. I can honestly say that at nearly 30, I’ve never ridden public transport, unless you count the school bus. When we used to go visit my aunt in Washington DC we’d drive into the city, park the car and walk everywhere, and the on time I visited NYC, I spent a week walking around Manhattan.

  81. pentamom June 27, 2011 at 6:23 am #

    Kwilt — well said. This is reality. Kids are too sheltered. (Or, kids who come from places without good public transportation aren’t familiar with it. Where I live, we have buses, but given that we can afford to keep cars, it becomes a worse economic and efficiency decision to use the poorly routed bus service that we have.) We might not like the reality, but what’s the point in ragging on people for trying to do something about it, albeit later than we think they should have?

  82. kwilt June 27, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    Nicely said, Sheila. Don’t know if you recognize my name, but this is Kami from Austin Tinkering School.

  83. Neener June 28, 2011 at 3:44 am #

    I think it’s kind of awesome and I wish we had the same thing here in Houston…for ME! I’ve been driving since age 9, but I have never ridden public transportation beyond trains in Chicago, with my native Chicagoan best friend leading the way. I have no sense of direction. I can get lost backing out of the driveway. Bus routes and schedules terrify me. 🙂

    Sheila, pricing aside, my daughter would be ALL OVER this camp of yours. The chance to learn to use a system that will take her wherever she wants to go, without having to ask me for a ride? Oh, yeah. All over it. Make one for adults new to public transportation in large cities and watch ME be all over that!

  84. Uly June 28, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    Here’s something that’s come up a lot and a lot that… I gotta admit baffles me.

    $310 seems reasonable as a fee for a day camp in a city. Putting aside the issue of what ages are reasonable for day camps, and for what purposes (presumably most of who would reject daycare for 13 year olds would be more open to the concept of a special interest camp where they take intensive classes in dance or music or sports or whatever)… what does it cost where you are to send your kid to camp for a week?

    Because over here, unless you get into some specially funded camp (and there’s several of them, both charitably and publicly funded, but they’re not all easy to get into even when you know about them!), $310 seems positively cheap for a camp that takes your kids around town. Or that doesn’t.

    I know you’re thinking “Well, NYC prices”, but even on Staten Island I’d expect to pay about that much. When I was this age I was in a camp that was mostly free (I think it was partially covered by insurance?) but that was for kids “at risk”. (Translation: My bio teacher thought I was crazy, and I wasn’t doing well in school. I wasn’t crazy, she just had no experience teaching and was kinda a… well, whatever.)

  85. Uly June 28, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

    And when I say this, btw, I’m not saying ‘Yes, this is great, definitely wait until your kid is older and then have somebody else hold their hands while they learn to use the bus’. I’m saying ‘So long as there are people who do this already (and some who would like a little help with their more reasonably-aged child while they go off and work), why not charge the same as the local science camp or rock climbing camp?’ (Actually, Chelsea Piers would be the local rock climbing camp, and it’s $690 for a week.)

  86. Uly June 28, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    You know, Neener, it’s not totally impossible. I have a very bad sense of direction combined with some sort of spatial agnosia (things that ought to look familiar don’t. You joke (I think?) and say you can get lost backing out of your driveway, I once literally got lost across the street from my house because I didn’t recognize it if I stood on that side of the street!) and I find I can get around NYC pretty well… especially if I stick to the gridded part.

    Obviously a big part of the problem is how decent your transit system is, but if nothing else I find it’s harder to get lost when somebody else is moving things around. When I’m walking I can get turned around so easily, but train stations are labelled and you can generally ask the bus driver to let you off at the right stop.

  87. Neener June 30, 2011 at 1:12 am #

    @Uly – Sadly, I wasn’t joking. I have gotten lost in my very own neighborhood. If I haven’t been somewhere within the last month or so and (this is key) actually done the driving myself, the route has ceased to exist to me. On my iPhone, the map function with the little moving blue dot that shows your current location? Yeah, I should totally bake Steve Jobs a pie for creating that. 🙂

    I completely agree with your point about the cost of the camp. My daughter is 11. Thus far this summer, I have paid $175 for a three-hour per day, four day dance camp that was terrible, and $1600 for a two-week residential summer camp that was fantastic. She has also been to YMCA-type sponsored camps in the past that were very inexpensive, but were also unimpressive (more “babysitting”, less “doing”). I think for someone to get my child out and exploring the city (and teaching her how to get places on her own in the process), and for that particular age group where daycare just isn’t really appropriate anymore, $310 isn’t too bad at all.

  88. Uly June 30, 2011 at 8:57 am #

    Ah, Neener, let us unite in our shared problem! Soda, anyone?

    At least we each know the other one isn’t making it up 🙂

  89. Kristi June 30, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    My family just returned from our two week stay on the North Shore of Oahu. It was very common to see kids from ages 9 and up standing next to the Kam Highway, in the middle of nowhere, boogie boards slung over their shoulders, waiting for the next bus to take them to where the waves were best that day. No parents, no older sibling..just a kid, the board and a bus pass. In fact, I noticed that the about the only kids that weren’t free ranging were the tourist kids.

    When my two oldest girls, 11 and 8, found out that the bus ran completely around the island, they wanted to ride…ALONE. So, armed with their own money, and permission to get off for shave ice before finishing the ride, my daughters rode around the entire island, stopped for shave ice, sat on a wall and watched the stand up paddle boarders at sunset, met and got surfing tips from legendary surfer Buttons Kaluhiokalani and his wife, got back on the bus and made it back to the house in time for dinner.

    Not one person asked them where their parents were, and they came back overflowing with stories of the people that had gotten on and off the bus: the local girl that they had met that invited them to go to the family cook out at beach the next evening, the older gentleman who advised them on the best places to snorkel that only the locals know about, and a college student who worked as a hula instructor and invited them to attend a class before we left.

    So, for less than 10 dollars each, my daughters saw the entire island coast, met a local legend, made a friend, and lined up their own activities for the next three days. They’re now begging for me to request Oahu as my next duty station, and I must admit, it’s tempting!

  90. Kiesha June 30, 2011 at 11:46 pm #

    Well, no, you *shouldn’t* buy a smartphone with GPS if you’re only going into a big city once. I was merely suggesting it as the lady seemed completely not open to learning maps. Using the GPS on a phone while on a bus helps tremendously. I moved to NYC two years ago and spent the first month with my husband living in New Jersey with my father-in-law while my husband and I looked for an apartment in the city. We took a bus into the city everyday for our jobs, and if it wasn’t for the GPS on my phone, I wouldn’t have had any idea where to get off the bus at night, since I was coming home at 12 a.m. in darkness to a suburb that had little street lighting.


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