While much of the country is reopening, coronavirus has put summer at a standstill. Vacations are canceled. Plans are sidelined. The majority of sleep-away camps are either closed or severely restricted; other camps are operating in a socially distanced capacity. Even if there is opportunity to send their kids to summer camp, many parents aren’t comfortable with doing so in the midst of Covid-19. There’s no way around it: This is tough for many families, especially for those with full-time working parents. But there are ways for kids to stay engaged, busy, and socially distanced this summer: virtual summer camps.
This summer, many traditional camps (and other kid-focused organizations) are moving online, bringing children together via video chat to connect with one another, learn new things, and get some of that playtime they’re missing. Virtual camps give kids a chance to talk to new and old friends, learn from experienced educators, and engage in new, structured activities, whether it’s a dance class, an interactive storytime, or a game of imagination. Some even recreate the “bunk” life that defines so many sleep away experiences. No, virtual camps can’t replace time spent outdoors or the good clean fun that comes from spending hours with friends in person. But, when thoughtfully chosen, the right virtual camp can add structure to those long summer days and provide kids with some much-needed socialization,
What to Look For in a Virtual Summer Camp
As they’re a substitute, the best virtual summer camps should provide, as much as possible, the comradery, connection, and socialization that traditional summer camps foster. Parents should opt for virtual camps that feature live, personal instruction, rather than one-way pre-recorded sessions (which have their place as classes, not camps).
“It is a chance for kids to make that social and emotional connection with one another during the time when they may not be able to engage in a playdate,” says Tony Deis, founder of Trackers Earth, a day camp based in Portland, Oregon which is offering a series of virtual camps this summer.
As such, parents should make sure that kids will be placed in a group with other campers that they can get to know over the duration of the session. Small group sessions and low camper-to-counselor ratios are key to creating opportunities for kids to really interact with each other. Think a little smaller than the size of an elementary school class, around 20 or fewer kids.
Virtual camps are available for pretty much all ages, interests, and attention-levels. Sessions range from half-hour to full-day, so parents should obviously consider their child’s interests and how long they can stay focused, says Elisa Pupko, founder and CEO of Treasure Trunk Theater in Brooklyn. It’s also important to ask about general housekeeping items such as the platform on which the camp is hosted, what supplies are needed, and what level of paternal involvement is expected.
One thing that will likely concern a number of parents is the amount of screen time on which virtual summer camps rely. Deis urges parents to prioritize camps with activities that involve outdoor time, movement, or hands-on activities. At Trackers Earth, for instance, that might look like cooking or learning how to tie different knots. “The screen is where they share this, but they do the skill in the real world,” Deis says.
“Not all screen time is created equally,” adds Jesse Engle, director of Camp Good Work House, a virtual camp that focuses on storytelling and being a force for good.“Scrolling on Instagram often times leaves kids feeling worse than when they went into it, especially if they’re already feeling lonely or isolated. Through Zoom, you’re connecting live.”
Finally, when selecting a virtual summer camp, safety is crucial. Parents should take the same steps they’d take when choosing a physical camp. This means making sure that the teachers are background checked and trained directly by the organization.
10 Great Virtual Summer Camps For Kids
With many organizations shifting the way they do business in the midst of coronavirus, there’s no shortage of virtual summer camp programs to choose from. It’s important to research the best programs out there for you and your child’s needs. There are happy mediums. In any case, here are 10 virtual summer camps for kids that reflect the core values of traditional summer camp, have low counselor-to-kid ratios, have flexible schedules, and feature a wide variety of activities and classes to keep campers engaged and active all summer long.
Click Read More for a list of camps.