Day camp operators prepare for physically distant summer
By Darren Lum
Since being given the go-ahead to run summer day camp for kids, operators have been modifying their programming to conform with provincial safety protocols – encountering some challenges along the way.
Abbey Gardens education co-ordinator Irene Heaven said offering summer day programming is important for children who need to be outside and socializing, but this season they will be introducing restrictions on how many kids can participate, and ensuring physical distancing is happening.
“It’s going to be very different [from last summer] because of such small numbers allowed. As a programmer, it’s challenging that way, but I think we have come up with some pretty neat ideas for them so I’m excited about it,” Heaven said.
Typically, there are upwards of 25 participants for some of their offerings. This year’s day programming is capped at eight for two of the three program options: Lil’ Buds Discovery and the Outdoor Kids Discovery program, giving children an opportunity to explore and learn about the environment. The third program, Taking the Reins, for 11- to 14-year-olds interested in working with horses, is capped at six participants.
Heaven said it’s important parents are realistic about their children’s capabilities to ensure they can work with little supervision due to physical distancing measures.
She said a challenge this summer will be to engage the kids while also keeping them apart from one another.
“Now you’re trying to engage them, but with six feet apart from each other, but then also try to continue to involve each other so it is very challenging,” she said.
Six-foot bamboo “discovery sticks” are given to the participants to ensure physical distancing. The sticks can also be used for hiking. Participants have their own bin for storing belongings and materials. Equipment such as mats and clipboards will be assigned and labelled and sharing prohibited. Regular handwashing and sanitizing breaks will help ensure hygiene standards and each day the kids’ guardians will be asked to fill out a health checklist.
Heaven said a major factor in going ahead was having plenty of outdoor space to conduct the programming.
“All our programs are outdoors so we have two large tents that are open walled … and [we] will have our stations set up all distanced out, but really have 300 acres that we can go and explore. That’s huge. We’re not using any indoor space and if we tried to use our typical indoor space I think it would be much more difficult. It’s a lot more cleaning. A lot more sanitizing and I think making use of the Abbey Gardens property made it an easy decision to do,” she said.
The decision to proceed with a plan to offer educational outdoor programming was made on June 1. If the popularity warrants it, Heaven said they will look to offer more programs.
Camexicanus’s co-founder and director Greg Sadlier said for some of their participants this will be an opportunity to get back what was lost when schools closed.
“For a lot of the kids maybe to have their first experience outside their ‘bubble’ or outside of their home interacting with kids for an entire week who aren’t their siblings ... first and foremost having safe fun just being able to forget what’s been going on for months and just be kids for part of the summer,” he said.
He said it’s important to be able to bring quality arts programming to children in the county.
Parents have told him they’d like to give their children an experience with other kids before a potential return to school in the autumn.
“Life outside their home, following guidelines around other kids. Just a chance to really practice before they go to school,” he said.
Parents and guardians may be returning to work this month, leaving them with a need for children’s programming.
“We just really want to put that need out. We’re kind of facilitators. We just want to put that need out to the community and say, families really need this and how can we respond to that as a community.”
Sadlier said he and his staff have been preparing to offer two one-week camps with arts and sports programming for kids ages six to 14 (grades 1 to 8).
One hurdle for Camexicanus is finding indoor space. Currently, they have secured the Lloyd Watson Memorial Centre in Wilberforce for a full week starting Monday, July 27.
“Highlands East was really great. They jumped on it and their emergency response committee was right on top of it and wanted to make it happen,” Sadlier said.
He’s hoping to secure indoor sites in Minden and Haliburton. The space needs to be large enough to allow for physical distancing and must have washrooms.
“Space is of the essence because the more space we have really the more we can do. The more flexibility we have we can do dance, we can do drama, we can do all those things we would regularly do, if we have that availability of outdoor and indoor space,” he said.
Safety protocols will include taking temperatures, physical distancing, tracking facility use and recording health information. Activities that require physical exertion will be done outside.
Sadlier said they purchased hula hoops to ensure physical distancing is maintained.
“Each camper is going to get their own individual hula hoop for the week and so when we’re doing programs, or sitting down in a group or whatever each of them will sit in their hula hoop,” he said.
Participants will have their own space, tools such as easels, and also receive a prepared package of materials and tools that are sanitized to work with for visual arts.
Sadlier said making adjustments and adapting to the new world order is challenging, but he and his staff are ready.
“We are used to being flexible. We have run programs in different countries: Mexico, throughout Canada and various different spaces and places. Being flexible when you’re working in the arts and when you’re working in the arts with youth and kids is vital and paramount to the work we do anyways. ... That was the main piece of the puzzle was getting the right team in place that is able to just work cohesively, creatively because we really want this to work. We want this for the sake of families and their students to be a positive marker in this year,” he said.
Camexicanus can be reached at email@example.com or online at camexicanus.ca.
Abbey Gardens’ Irene Heaven can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or online at abbeygardens.ca.