How Summer Camps Are Transitioning During The COVID-19 Pandemic (while still ensuring plenty of fun!)

5/29/2020

By Jesse Buntyn

It’s no secret that our lives, our families, our jobs, and overall well-being, have been drastically affected these past few months. While for some, it could simply be a time to stay home to relax and rethink their priorities, however, for others, it could be the loss of a loved one. Now, I know, that’s quite blunt, but that is why it is important to keep this difference in mind and come from a sense of understanding (or empathy) for those around us. At this time, we must be together (although not too close!). That is why summer camps around this country are transitioning and evolving to bring together families and children during these difficult times.  

Across the country, more than 20 million children head to summer camps each year, according to the American Camp Association. Like so many institutions, however, summer camps across the country are facing uncertainty about whether they’ll open and how they will reinvent themselves if they do. Specifically, registration is underway for dozens of camps throughout Florida, despite the uncertainty of whether any will take place. But as Florida considers reopening businesses, there may be a gleam of hope for kids anxiously awaiting camp this summer, and for parents who will need childcare options due to the reopening of businesses, and thus having to go back to work. Despite this, registrations are down significantly across the country, however, this can likely be attributed to cautious parents waiting to see when and how health officials and politicians loosen restrictions on public meetings. Nevertheless, significant changes are going to occur, in particular, some camps in Florida have considered narrowing groups of what were previously 20 children, to smaller groups of ten. In order to better prevent the spread of disease, other camps are ensuring, for example, that the bows and arrows will be disinfected between archery classes. Also, rather than laying staffers off, they’ll have to bring on more, to make sure kids maintain social distancing and keep track of water bottles. Along with these measures, some camp operators believe that they could see children perhaps wearing masks this summer, doing whatever it takes to make sure summer camp goes on! However, Jay Jacobs, a camp operator in New York and Pennsylvania, is enforcing the idea that is summer camp does in fact go on, that all attendees must be tested for COVID-19, and only those who test negative will be allowed to attend the summer camp, and thus creating, in a way, a protected and safe environment.

Ultimately, camps around the country have devised three new scenarios for how summer camps will continue this summer: a) “Small Group Adventures”, b) “Camp at Home”, or c) the final option: virtual camp. Option A would match one counselor to five-day campers, who would be dropped off at trailheads or reservoirs for safe-distance adventuring. Option B, "Camp at Home", would match four kids to one instructor, with online instruction and meetups at nearby green spaces. Option C would be the final option, a completely online summer camp in which roughly 15 kids and one instructor are matched virtually. Option C is undoubtably a tough pill for some to swallow, when camps generally provide an antidote to the overly screened existence many kids had before the pandemic, which has intensified.

To put it simply, Summer camps have a transformative power. Camps, whether they are online or in-person, help kids gain exposure to new interests, and allow kids to delve deeper into subjects they enjoyed while in school. Not to mention, camp is a place where kids are subject to meeting new friends, and for some, these friendships are very meaningful, especially being outside of the drama-filled friendships in school.  Nevertheless, many camps promise children an unforgettable summer. That will no doubt be the case for this year's crop of eager campers, wherever they end up.

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