As we look toward summer, decisions about summer camp are weighing heavily on many parents
For parents and children alike, life in a pandemic is far from normal. Families have been faced with complex challenges and decisions about learning, socializing and children’s mental health. And as we look toward summer, decisions about summer camp are weighing heavily on many parents.
Though the bad news is that COVID-19 is still with us, the good news is that we know more than we did last summer. A good place to start is with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which offers guiding principles to help camps operate with a higher degree of safety and help parents know what to look for as they choose where, if and how camp will factor into their family’s summer.
Camp directors are also making important decisions this spring, and a few weighed in on guidelines and considerations for parents.
Camp set up and safety
Camps do often have indoor-outdoor spaces, open air and plenty of room for social distancing– all important health considerations.
“The joy of summer camp in our region is that most everything is outdoors or in well ventilated areas,” Page Ives Lemel, Director of Keystone Camp in Brevard, North Carolina, said. “The majority of our indoor gathering spaces are open pavilions or screened buildings. Dining halls are possibly the more constrained indoor spaces, and those of us who operated in 2020 chose to eat in staggered shifts to put smaller groups inside at one time.”
Seth Herschthal, Director of Blue Star Camps in Hendersonville, said camps are in a unique position.
“Part by luck, part by relentless work preparation and design, camps are built for this – open air, cabins, outdoors, we are always outdoors – so in many ways this is a best-case scenario for a structured, probably one of the safest environments,” he said.
Lemel said camps have a history of managing healthcare and safety.
“Camps are in the business of mitigating communicable disease, from norovirus and the flu to head lice,” she said. “COVID is another communicable disease that camps manage by following all of the recommendations from the CDC. Several Western North Carolina camps ran successfully last summer with no incidence of COVID by cohorting by cabin, masking when we were inside or were not able to socially distance, and by increasing handwashing. We made small adjustments to operations that allowed the campers to be safe while still enjoying the camp experience.”
Mental and physical health matter
Families have felt the profound impact of immense school change, screen time and more during the pandemic.
“Camp gives time for children to detox, appreciate the outdoors and have social interactions,” Darby Dame, Director of Marketing and Communications for High Rocks Camp for Boys, said. “While camp will look different this summer, it will provide an opportunity for children to find community again.”
If a child is able to attend in person, it will provide a chance to look up from the screen for a bit.
“We already have a no screen policy at camp,” Herschthal said. “For many kids, their social and emotional muscles have atrophied so we have a big job to do this summer to build back these skills.”
Consider whether the camp is accredited
Once a parent has made the decision to explore summer camp options, the American Camp Association’s website is a good place to start.
Herschthal said the ACA’s “Field Guide for Camps” was created by an expert panel, including specialists in pediatric medicine, camp medicine and nursing, epidemiology, infectious disease management, biological safety, industrial hygiene, organizational design and more. Camps can employ those guidelines along with CDC, state and local regulations.
“Parents can then have clarity on what those guidelines are (and that) can help them feel secure in their decisions about summer camp,” Herschthal said.
Talk with the Camp Director
One of the best ways to alleviate fears and address concerns is for parents to talk directly with the camp director. Asking specific questions about individual camp safety protocol, policies and procedures such as pre-camp quarantine procedures and staff COVID testing can help parents better determine if and where their child will go.
“Camp directors are always excited to talk about their camp and answer questions,” Dame said. “With COVID-19, talking to camp directors is more important than ever. Give them a call or set up a Zoom meeting for the whole family. Ask how they are planning to run this summer, what safety measures will be in place and what their refund policy is like.”
Resources as you decide:
· Start with COVID-19 basics at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV
· The CDC offers guidelines to supplement, not replace, state and local measures at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/summer-camps.html
· The ACA’s Field Guide is available online at acacamps.org/resource-library/coronavirus/camp-business/field-guide-camps
· For more information on finding the right camp for your child, visit acacamps.org