This school year has been very far for normal for many families to say the least.
With the coronavirus still lingering, the summer months are also looking to be different in regards to summer camps.
Typically families start registering for summer camps as early as February but due to the pandemic, many summer camps are either closed or moving to virtual offerings.
And for some families, this can be an issue.
“A lot of camps are in a state of paralysis and with the patchwork of laws and regulations on safety, people don’t really know what to do,” said Allen Koh, chief executive officer of Cardinal Education. “So parents are just holding their breath and waiting and we’re recommending they have some sort of contingency plan.”
Cardinal Education is a national education consulting firm that specializes in higher education admissions and student academic coaching.
Locally the Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast have switched to virtual summer camp programming and the YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas doesn’t currently have any in-person camps scheduled.
Skip Ferebee, chief marketing officer for YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas, said during a typical summer registration for camps would’ve ended by now and camp would be starting on June 15. But due to restrictions from the pandemic, the organization is limited on what can be offered.
Recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Camp Association have devised national guidelines for summer camps opening.
Ferebee said the YMCA is continuously updating and preparing to open summer camps but they have to wait for guidelines from Gov. Ralph Northam.
“It’s hard to answer how long it would take to plan camps again if they reopened because we don’t have those guidelines from the governor,” he said. “But we’re nimble and agile and ready to welcome them back, we just don’t know what the restrictions will be.”
As the state gradually reopens, many parents are going back to work without the safety net of summer camp available for childcare.
Fereebe said the YMCA and other local organizations are open for childcare services for those who have to go back to work, but there are still limits on capacity and the experiences are different than during a summer camp.
“I think there are a lot of families right now that are scrambling to create their own plans for the summer,” Koh said. “For more affluent families, they are creating mini-camps for their kids virtually or in-person.”
There have been families who are creating an improvised cooperative summer camp program with local neighbors and friends — typically about six children who are engaged in various activities with parents that switch shifts. Koh encourages these types of improvised camps because it creates a solution to various problems associated with a lack of summer camp options.
“Families need a plan,” he said. “Not only are we worried about parents, but the kids’ mental health, too. They’ve almost run out of YouTube and Netflix, so if you don’t have a plan to keep them occupied, the wave of mental illness in a few months will be staggering.”
Koh said even virtual programs are better than nothing and there have been many camps that have gone that route.
“Camp is a time of building soft skills and I would say the virtual camps might fall short of the real world experience and it’s important for kids to develop their social skills,” Koh said.
At Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast, participants now have the option to do twice-a-day video meetings with different themes and topics. The camp is also sending supplies for crafting activities and has reduced the camp cost from $100 to $200, to $30 to $40, said Shanise Harris, public relations manager for Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast.
But even with those virtual programs, there is still concern over the loss of socialization.
“We’re facing social distancing but one of the best parts about camp is the social interaction,” Harris said. “We’re just trying to do what we can to keep some variety.”
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