Opinion

Summer camp? Now, more than ever, we need it

One of the joys of summer camp: gathering around the campfire. (Photo: Volodya Senkiv, via Shutterstock)

As a team that works on developing, producing, and running cool camp programs, most of us can’t think of a more challenging time.  The old adage “nailing Jello to a tree” rings true as we plan for what camp in this current environment might look like.  Just when we think we’ve got something solved, a new hurdle or change comes about.  We move back a couple of steps, or sometimes start completely over.  Some would call it insanity to keep trying.

Recently, we stopped to take a look around the forest for what others are doing.  Sadly, we see a lot of hammers, nails, and blobs of Jello stuck on the ground.  People are giving up.  After all, it’s really hard to nail Jello to a tree.

We’ve developed game plans to help children understand why wearing a mask ain’t so bad, and that staying six feet apart can absolutely be a fun game.

We’ve been watching and listening to needs and concerns of families everywhere. All legitimate.  Some families are completely against sending their child out of the home right now. Some families are dying to get their children out of the home.  Some families are fine with their children taking on more screen time. Other families can’t take another minute of virtual school or virtual anything.

The opinions are vast and varied.  There seems to be a common ground, however.  We need something for kids this summer.  Something different.

And you know what?  We’re close to solving this riddle — provide safe, sanitary, physically-distanced activities that still feel like camp, that are super fun, and are a little bit, well, silly! Camps that meet federal, state, and local guidelines for public health and can be accessible to essential workers one day, but suddenly adapt for more families when possible.  Camps that have a feeling of tradition in the bones, even if we have to wear a mask over our face.

In this process, we’ve had to constantly innovate and find ways to meet the needs of children and families.  To be responsive to change. Adaptive to change.  As an organization that has provided childcare to essential workers over the last two months throughout California, we’ve changed weekly and even sometimes daily to meet family needs.  We’ve developed game plans to help children understand why wearing a mask ain’t so bad, and that staying six feet apart can absolutely be a fun game.

The spirit of camp is about overcoming challenges, connecting with others, and discovering ourselves.

We’re learning that we can’t just keep nailing Jello with a hammer and nail.  We need buckets, glue, snorkels, ramps, bubble gum, bleach, and special nails.  We need a mix of innovation and good old hard work.  The good old hard work is doing the research.  Talking to as many experts and smart people as we can to make sure we are protecting kids and staff at camp.

The hard work is totally redesigning our programs that normally take months to prepare in just a couple of weeks.  And being prepared to pivot again and respond with new options. We know that we need totally new activities and innovations that aren’t just worksheets or clapping in 6-foot by 6-foot squares, but instead can be dedicated materials for individuals to unleash open-ended imagination and clever team challenges done outdoors with spacing and fresh air!

We need to allow our smart, experienced, and dedicated camp professionals find new ways to engage children desperate to be seen and be heard.  Outside of their home.  Somehow.  We must be resilient enough to know we cannot give up.  Because we know something about spirit.

The spirit of camp is more than a loud cheer or a perfectly executed high five. The spirit of camp is more than doing a silly walk from the drinking fountain to the door, while wearing a silly hat.  The spirit of camp is about overcoming challenges, connecting with others, and discovering ourselves.  Every single summer.

To provide camp or not to provide camp.  Many have chosen not to.  We respect that.

As for us….we choose camp.

Ed’s Note: Nick Schweickert is program development director at Continuing Development Inc.


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