The future of many summer camps this year remains up in the air as the state moves forward with its gradual reopening plan during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Some organizations have already canceled their summer camp sessions, while others are moving forward with plans in place to ensure the health and safety of campers and staff. Still, other organizations are shifting their focus to a different kind of offering: virtual camps.
A spokesperson for Gov. Jay Inslee said plans for summer camps are still in the works.
“Right now there is an informal work group representing organizations that hold camps and they have been meeting with some of the governor’s policy advisors on envisioning what the future may look like this year for both day camps and overnight camps,”press secretary Mike Faulk said in an email.
He said most of the discussions right now are focused on day camps.
“We can’t take the chance of convening girls and volunteers early in the post-outbreak recovery period since other locations have seen infections spike as soon as they’ve relaxed mitigation efforts,” CEO Megan Ferland said in an update on the Girl Scouts. “The health and safety of our girls and volunteers is not worth the risk.”
Still, other organizations are moving forward — at least for the time being — with programs that might look a little different from what families are used to.
The Boys & Girls Club of King County is planning to offer all-day programming over the summer beginning the third week of June. The organization said it is reaching out to families to see what kinds of needs they have to make sure everyone stays safe and is prepared to adapt.
“Our dedicated team of child development experts has stepped up to meet the challenges our community is facing,” President and CEO Laurie Black said. “We are focused on safety, while also providing exceptional programming to ensure kids and teens have a fun, educational, positive place to go when not in school or at home.”
Black said the organization would continue to be “flexible and forward-thinking” in all its future programming.
Field trips will be evaluated on a trip-by-trip basis. If the organization isn't able to offer field trips this summer, it plans to use technology so kids can “explore beyond the walls.”
Some of the steps the Boys & Girls Clubs will take to ensure everyone's safety include taking peoples' temperatures, asking families who have had contact with someone with the virus to quarantine and making sure youth and staff wash their hands often. If someone attending a summer program does test positive for the virus, the organization also plans to close down the facility for at least two days to clean and disinfect.
The YMCA of Greater Seattle also plans to offer traditional day camps across the county. The organization will modify its programs to make sure it follows guidelines set forth by public health officials, including wellness checks, physical distancing and cleaning protocols. The camps will be smaller this year and kids might not be able to do some of the activities they have done in the past, but the organization is looking for ways to serve as many kids and families as possible, said Gwen Ichinose-Bagley, chief youth development officer.
“For the most part, we're being really creative in the way that we can create that camp,” Ichinose-Bagley said.
The YMCA is also offering virtual camps, which will include live sessions and theme-based activities kids can do at home. Activities may include scavenger hunts, creative arts, physical fitness and outdoor activities.
Sebastien Boccaccio, North Puget Sound area manager for Skyhawks Sports, said the organization is also planning to go ahead with its summer programming when it gets the go-ahead from the state. The group will be closely following local and federal guidelines to keep everyone safe.
Skyhawks has also started some virtual classes during the pandemic. It offered a few free classes that were well attended and received positive feedback from parents and kids, Boccaccio said. Now, the organization is offering some live Zoom classes for different sports and age groups at low costs.
Many other organizations are also embracing virtual offerings. The Seattle Public Library plans to launch its Summer of Learning programs at the end of June, which will include interactive how-to videos for kids.
Avid4 Adventure, an outdoor adventure camp, is also adapting. It is putting together an online camping option, designed for kids to be able to do activities around their homes or in their backyards. Programs will include activities such as yoga, music, art and first aid skills.
The organization is also offering a “Camp at Home” option, which includes a day camp for a group of four kids. As part of the program, an instructor will come to the homes of families and lead the group of kids in activities around their homes, including biking, outdoor cooking or hiking.
“We know that this summer is going to look different for all of us,” Avid4 Adventure CEO Paul Dreyer said in a statement. “Summer camps will be different. However, our alternative camps will still embody our Avid4 Adventure core values.”
Seattle Parks and Recreation will be offering more than 400 spots for full-day, summer-long childcare — far fewer spots than in the past. Priority will be given to kids enrolled in emergency childcare. The department plans to do daily health checks and limit classroom sizes. But as far as other camp options, the department is still evaluating whether it will be able to move forward.
Registration was originally scheduled to open for the department's summer programs and other camps in April, but it was pushed back several times.
“Seattle Parks and Recreation is in close contact with Seattle/King County Public Health to determine the feasibility of these programs and any changes in format,” the agency said on its website. “At this time, we do anticipate being able to offer some programs, but unfortunately not all.”
The changes and uncertainty have left parents — especially those who work, or who may have to go back to work — in a difficult situation, scrambling to find options for their kids.
Kathy Henderson, a mother of two, said over the summer, she had planned to enroll her 10-year-old son in a bunch of day camps. But just as she started to look into options, the coronavirus outbreak hit the region. Now, she expects most of the camps she wanted to enroll her son in won't be happening. And going forward, she said she'll probably have to go back to work pretty soon — at least for a few hours a day.
For now, her family is still working things out.
“It's definitely going to be challenging,” she said.
Her kids are a little older and can be left home alone, she said, but it's still hard for kids who need activity and will continue to be isolated.
“It's a real big bummer,” she said. “Especially, just not being able to socialize with your friends, not getting to do some of the fun activities we normally get to do.”
Still, she said, she knows she and her family are lucky. She and her husband were able to continue working and being with their kids during the crisis.
“There's a lot more families out there that are hurting,” she said.
Ichinose-Bagley said having safe places for parents to send their kids is definitely a concern heading into the summer, especially as families may be needing to return to work.
“We really want to be able to provide options for kids to come together safely,” she said, “and a way to give parents a bit of a break and let kids be kids.”
Becca Savransky | Published May 20 20| Summer Camps in Seattle Work to Adapt| Seattle PI