With covid-19 restrictions putting all of us in a “let’s take it day by day” mode, it may seem a bit crazy to be thinking about next summer, which seems so far away. It may seem even crazier to be planning for it or more than that, making a commitment to it.
But when it comes to the 2021 summer camp season I would argue that any of us who value camp should secure our places for our kids as soon as possible. And here are the reasons:
- Kids will need camp more than ever next year.
- Parents will need camp for their kids more than ever.
- And there are only so many spaces.
So the question is, why? Why will parents and kids need this so much?
Well, I’m glad you asked.
Though situations vary, most kids have had their lives upended in more than a few ways. Most American schools abruptly shut down during the spring of 2020, throwing kids into limbo including either no school activity, or all-virtual activity. The very screens that so many of us try to avoid or minimize became the so-called “new normal!”
When it came to summer, which we thought might be a respite due to warmer temperatures and access to the outdoors, covid restrictions remained intense. We held a successful alternative program at Camp Alleghany, but that was more like hosting a campground for families, rather than any of our regular programming. We would have much preferred our regular programming and felt certain we could make it work safely and successfully.
So what happened for camps that did open? On the news, a few sleepaway summer camps that opened their outdoors this past summer for full-fledged kids’ camps got notable press for unfortunate coronavirus outbreaks.
What wasn’t as widely reported were the success stories. I am especially impressed with the reporting by the magazine Science News that featured four Maine summer camps that adapted to coronavirus restrictions while still running robust — and covid-free — sleepaway programs.
Two of my close friends in the industry ran successful camp programs this summer at Camp Newaygo and Camp Tanadoonah. They are our shining examples going into next summer. I just wish there was more media coverage of the successful ones!
Heading into the Autumn, projections from Dr. Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, include pandemic warnings that have led to most kids still not being back in regular school settings. Most other typical activity — restaurants, movie theaters, shopping, large gatherings, travel opportunities, enrichment activities, etc., remain either essentially shuttered, or so onerous as to make them unappealing.
That’s a lot of disruption to Americans’ daily lives, making a huge impact on the sense of ease, activity, familiarity, exploration, opportunity, and openness that most American kids have typically enjoyed for the last century.
It doesn’t have to be this way!
Kids are being deprived of most non-familial social interaction, especially only children, and children in all-virtual schools. While we adults know this is temporary, to a child projections of future time and “this too shall pass” don’t come as easily. Heck, even we grownups are anxious for this thing to end and don’t find it easy to see the light at the end of the tunnel when we only focus on the bad news and we don’t focus on healthy, happy, and safe alternatives.
We need to stay optimistic through doing optimistic things!
In our area, fortunately sports aren’t cancelled so all three of my kids are playing soccer right now. I hope all kids are getting plenty of outdoor time whether in formal sports leagues, or just playing in the neighborhood.
But with so much time already spent inside for virtual learning and other demands on family schedules and getting kids outside — one of the healthiest places they can be — faces new hurdles.
In short, a sense of normalcy is GONE.
But I believe that that light at the end of the tunnel I spoke about — or at least that light of temporary reprieve — can be found in sleepaway summer camp next summer.
Home Away from Home
If we accept the probability that restrictions will remain through the winter, and that vaccination is still a ways off, “hunkering down” presents us with challenges and opportunities.
It’s challenging to spend so much time in doors and so our opportunity is to look for every avenue we safely can to keep our kids in touch with nature, physical activity, and fun. That’s not always easy depending on your situation so by the time next summer comes along, the chance for kids to truly stretch their wings again, and to be with other kids while doing it, becomes more and more important.
For kids who have been to sleepaway summer camp before, going back will have all the emotional appeal of a returning, to a place that feels safe, that feels like home (or a very familiar home away from home). On spiritual, psychological, and emotional levels, the impact of such reassurance and familiarity will be utterly priceless.
Summer camp is known for cultivating lifelong friendships whose depth is found in and defined by multiple years of coming back together after being apart during the school year. Letters and postcards hold friendships together (and even texting and social media in todays’ age). But nothing compares to the joyous reunions when campers return in the summer to finally see each other in person.
Unfortunately those lifelong friends were not only missed last summer, but getting together for personal reunions is challenging now, too. Continuing to cultivate these friendships after what will be two-years apart holds special meaning for Summer 2021. The sense of continuity that a child experiences when finding a port in the storm and that port being the smiling face of a beloved childhood friend can not be overstated.
Returning to something treasured and familiar like a favorite summer camp offers kids a measure of meaningful security in a world that is big and out of their control. And never more so than now when nearly every familiar thing outside their home has been upended in one way or another.
Even though we believe at Camp Alleghany for Girls in developing grit and resilience in our campers, this does not mean we expect them to weather hugely disruptive changes without any need for coping, comfort, or hope.
We believe in building girls’ confidence and their can-do-ism while also being realistic and fair about the nature of any given challenge. And the challenge of covid-19 changes are on a scale that none of us have seen in our lifetimes. It’s up to the adults to help the kids navigate this with compassion and grace in the immediate moment while also fueling their optimism with opportunities to reconnect with the meaningful people and places in their lives — meaningful places like camp.
Retune, Reset, Revive!
Children who have never been to sleepaway summer camp will benefit from coming next summer, too.
Recently I wrote a blog post on my own deep connection to camp and how being at camp this past summer reignited that feeling for me through a detox from screens and technology, immersion in nature, and through removing myself from situations and demands that cause stress and anxiety.
For me the fear I felt last spring about whether camp would happen or not, and how it would happen if so, was a daily worry. Though camp didn’t happen, the stress remained until I was personally back on our grounds.
But think about what kids are worrying about right now, especially if they overhear our hushed tones or our explicit fears. All they know is that everything changed. Surely they wonder if it will ever be calm again?
We wish we could reassure them that it will. But sometimes it’s just playing outside, tossing a ball, riding bikes, taking a hike, having a snack together while the leaves rustle in the breeze that can do the best talking, offer the best reassurance.
And camp is like that. Days of friends, activities, meals, campfires, sleep.
A rest. A respite. A reset.
This is important not only for kids who need to get back to nature, but for parents who have pulled double and triple duty as unexpected homeschooling teachers this past year. Parents will need to refill our cups as well and healthy, happy time apart from our kids can help us refuel next summer as we get ready for the 2021 fall school year.
Back To Normal
I feel certain that we can provide a safe place at Alleghany next summer, and I’ve got a blog post coming soon on how we’re planning this. Most of all there’s a certain motivation behind it all to give kids what they’ve been missing while still being as safe as possible.
To that end, I want to remind everyone that our typical summer-ahead registration is happening as it always does, with online access to registration opening on October 1st at our Early Bird rates. Frankly, we’re already 70% full in all three sessions (Mini Camp, and both sessions of Term Camp), and 85% full for the Leaders-In-Training Program, due to 2020 campers rolling over their registrations. Our Mother-Daughter Weekend Program is already 65% full.
If you agree that giving your girl a welcoming, robust, outdoor experience will provide a huge antidote to all the disruption, uncertainty, and changes then I urge you to register her for Summer 2021 as soon as possible.*
Things will get better for our kids. And sleepaway summer camp next summer is one of the biggest reasons why.
Elizabeth Shreckhise, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls
*If you want to learn more about the merits of sleepaway summer camp, download my FREE e-book, 3 Reasons to Begin Your Child’s Sleepaway Summer Camp Experience Early. It’s a great resource to share with friends, or if you are a first-time camp family and you wonder what sleepaway camp would be like for your child.