That Scream You Hear? A Parent Facing Summer Without Camp

By  |  June 18, 2020, 2:31 PM  |  Techonomy Exclusive


We know we’ve got big issues to tackle … racism, unemployment and a nasty virus, but life’s smaller inconveniences can still rankle. And this summer is going to look very different, especially if you’ve got kids at home. Three months of unstructured free play was a challenge for parents in normal times.  Now, it’s Sisyphean. 

So tag, you’re it. With many camps cancelled this summer,  parents are about to  brush up their reveille, move ‘em from arts and crafts and create the family color war. 

Summer camps are an $18 billion industry, according to estimates from the American Camp Association. The CDCweighed in on camp programs, issuing guidelines. They left camps with three choices: cancel and lose the summer’s income, adopt expensive social distancing and hygiene measures, or go virtual.

Turns out that social distancing is the polar opposite of everything camp stands for. And going virtual is concerning for parents who are already apoplectic that their kids’ entire social and recreation lives are unfolding on screens. I asked a group of parents on Facebook what their plans were and they ranged from hopelessness to desperation to some pretty creative thinking.  

In the hopeless category:  “I think my 3 pre-teen and teenage kids are locked in the basement watching porn,” lamented Amy, a caterer in NYC.  She says she’s plum worn out.

Megan, also from NYC,  writes, “We are in a bind. My daughter is zoomed out. She’s 13 and  too self conscious about her looks to be staring into a camera all day like she was during virtual school. The social awkwardness of Zoom makes it unbearable for her. Plus she loves her tech-free sleepaway camp that is now cancelled. We are looking at piano lessons, art projects at home, and socially distant meetups with friends who have not abandoned the city.”

A creative friend in Texas writes,  “The kids are devastated, and working parents are stressed. We’ve developed a co-op with two other families and a college freshman (counselor) to all adhere to Covid best practices and to have the kids do camp-like things with the college student – rotating houses as home base 3 times a week.”

Others embraced the virtual. “We’re all about the digital vamps (virtual camps), ” says Barbara Chamberlin, a professor from New Mexico with two young boys. Her son is involved in a STEM  program offered by her University. The kids are ‘engineering’ different things. They meet for an hour online, then they have work they do on their own. 

Nicole in NYC is testing the virtual waters. “We are trying a few different online camps for my 7 year old. Lots of tech-based options like coding, game design, Minecraft, chess. One week of story pirates, and just did one week of LEGO engineering that was really cool because the camp sent all supplies, including different science experiments, in advance. It’s not ideal but it’s more fun and lower pressure than remote learning – lots of enthusiastic young campers to answer questions and indulge little kid tangents.”

Vox surveyed a number of camp programs, finding plenty of jury-rigged hybrid solutions.  Tech-focused camps that teach coding or robotics can make an easier transition to online. Roblox summer programs are super popular. So is Minecraft. 

A few ambitious groups pivoted quickly. Outschool is offering everything from online music classes to financial literacy, and is completely customizable. The over 1,500 choices start at $10 a class. 

One of the most ambitious I’ve seen is Camp Curious, launching next week.  Its founder Justin Kitch is CEO of Curious.com, and this is the camp version of the site. It caters to curious minds. It replicates a day of mixed camping experiences with scheduled activities including arts and crafts, soccer, dance, yoga and more.  Kitsch relied on the abundance of summer intern power both to build the site and serve as camp counselors.  Even lunchtime, which involves cooking with a celebrity chef, is figured into the equation. With a variety of sessions timed to East and West Coasts and different age groups, he’s able to offer one of the most immersive replacements for real world camp that I’ve seen. 

The Giant Room, originally a kid’s play space in NYC, is now a weekly themed online live summer camp with a  ratio of 1 counselor to 3 campers, and a program full of hands-on experimentation, covering everything from public speaking to theatre, STEM and arts and crafts. One parent was enthusiastic about Camp Good Workhouse, a one week program to foster global citizenship.  

Translating physical sports camps to virtual worlds is a challenge. The creativity award goes to Super Soccer Stars for figuring out how to do a virtual soccer camp (hint: prepare to set up some obstacles in your home). 

Geeks at heart should look at Two Bit Circus Foundation. They’re collaborating with the Annenberg Foundation’s educational division, Annenberg Learner, to provide free access to over 150 hands-on science, arts, and tech projects with a focus on STEM learning. 

As a working mother and parent of three kids who collectively participated in dozens of summer experiences, here’s my take.  You’re not going to replicate outdoor adventures online–so you’re in charge of those. Even if you’ve never been more than an armchair athlete, it’s time to get up and out.  Hiking, biking or throwing a ball is your fiefdom.  STEM, robotics, coding, arts and crafts, theatre — all lend themselves well to Zoom environments taught by energetic counselors.  Try them out.  They’re amazingly affordable.  Finally, create a small pod of family of friends that you feel comfortable being with (social distancing enforced) and have a picnic. Lots of picnics.  And lots of luck for a summer you’re unlikely to forget.

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