Summer Camp as a Solution to Virtual Life in a Pandemic

Since March of 2020 phrases such as ‘unprecedented times’, ‘new normal’, and ‘state of uncertainty’ have become common keystrokes and predicted text for almost all of us. The simple statement ‘I hope this message finds you well’ now encompasses a double meaning and work emails run the risk of being undeliverable due to changes in employment status. As we continue muting and un-muting ourselves to maintain decorum there is a lingering question that remains. How will our children respond to the added screen time in these new virtual spaces and what should parents do about it?

In October, a month after the start of the virtual 2020-2021 school year, I asked a group of 8th and 9th graders in an after-school program whether they preferred the virtual classroom or the in-person format. All of them attended public school in a county that was offering 100% virtual learning. They all agreed. The virtual classroom was easier than traditional school. I was shocked. How could that be, I asked myself? The answer for them was simple.

Prior to COVID-19 these older children were already used to spending part of their free time in front of a computer or phone screen. The virtual classroom format exists within the comfort of their own relationship with technology. This format felt less intensive for them and did not challenge them in the same way as in person learning. Middle and high schoolers naturally had a different experience making these adjustments as some of our younger minds.

While our older children were smitten with their new ‘classrooms’, I noticed a very different energy and enthusiasm from our younger children. Naturally, these children needed some technical assistance. Logging in and out of their classes, navigating computers, and ensuring headphones and microphones were connected were just some of the initial obstacles for them in this format. Once they were properly inside of their virtual classrooms, engaging them in lessons and keeping their attention became increasingly difficult. They enjoyed seeing their friends in their classrooms, and many of the liked their teachers. The challenge? They were bored. The same factor that allowed our older children to enjoy the virtual setting was plaguing the younger children. This setting does not challenge children in the same way that in person classrooms once did.

The bizarre combination of screens and quarantines has done something remarkable. Children are looking to connect and put screens away during their down time. Tablets, laptops, and computer screens are now associated with their teachers, classroom aides, and virtual learning. Children are craving more traditional socialization and time away from their devices. Enter stage right: Summer Camp.

Summer Camp has always been a staple for outdoor education. In addition to this, many camps already have a focus on unplugging, shutting down, and turning off screens and devices. How will these existing principles and practices affect campers after a school year spent in front of a screen?

Mental & Physical Health: Camp offers a space for children to stretch their muscles and minds in a fun and engaging way. Camp spends time de-briefing activities and going deeper to ask questions that provoke further debate, deliberation, and discussion. Physical activities are a crucial aspect in keeping children active and healthy all year long. It is especially crucial during the summer months and camp allows children the space to exercise in a fun and creative way.

Relationship Building: In person socialization and ‘real’ human connection. There is something special in seeing camp friends from last summer, finding out that your favorite counselor is back for another summer, and revisiting cherished memories and moments. Camp activities facilitate team building and trust in a safe and positive environment.

Resilience: Camps focus on activities that challenge campers to push their comfort zones and cultivate their creativity. Building on the resiliency that our children have been forced to cultivate over the past year, we will establish confidence. They will learn how to ‘roll with the punches’ and let things go a bit easier. Adapting and accepting to changes happen daily at camp and in real life. Teaching our children how to adjust to their environments is crucial.

Outdoor ‘Therapy’: For some, Camp may be one of their only chances to spend time outside during the summer. Spending time outside of the classroom during the summer was always important. Now even more so. Sunshine, fresh air, and a natural setting can have huge improvements on mood and emotional well-being.

The benefits of Summer Camp are abundant. Camp HotSpots will work towards achieving our fullest potential every day as we protect, inspire, and connect. Connection. It can happen without a screen, or wires, or power source. It can happen when we maintain a safe and fun environment for kids to simply enjoy just getting to be kids.

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