If your kids missed summer camp last year, now is the time to start researching camps and what they are doing to make the experience as safe as possible.
Since so many camps had to hit the pause button last summer, they are excited to welcome back campers. Atlanta Parent spoke to four camp owners and directors to learn more about how camps are approaching this summer.
What Plans are Camps Making for the Summer?
Camps are looking ahead to determine how they’ll handle summer this year, and organizations, like the American Camp Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are publishing tips and information for camps. CDC recommendations include guidelines on cleaning and disinfecting, ventilation, water systems and more. The ACA has shared tools to help camps prepare for 2021, and all accredited camps have access to their manuals. Camps are deciding how they’ll handle meals, social distancing, mask wearing, hand hygiene, drop-off and pick-up and more to create a safe camp experience.
WinShape plans to hold overnight camps at several locations in Georgia. Their cross-functional safety team includes their on-staff healthcare manager, who is researching and consulting information from Christian Camps and Conferences Association, Association of Camp Nursing, ACA, CDC, Georgia Department of Public Health and local government officials.
“We truly believe kids were made for adventure and making friends and epic moments. That’s why we’re doing everything we can to make in-person camp a reality this year, even if that means camp looking a little different. We’re evaluating every aspect to figure out how it can be done in the safest possible way,” Malone says. “June is still quite some time away, but we’re preparing for the most detailed measures with the hopes of being able to safely loosen those up as summer gets closer. If not, we can be confident in the stringent plans we have in place.” WinShape plans to communicate about social distancing measures and changes on a monthly basis with families leading up to June.
“We are full steam ahead,” Waldman says of Camp Blue Ridge. “We are spending every minute now preparing, as things are going to change month-to-month. From the minute we wake up to the minute we go to sleep, we are thinking about what is happening and what we’re going to do about COVID.”
At Camp Blue Ridge’s family camp last spring, families were tested before they arrived, and they agreed to quarantine for 10 days beforehand. “Parents understood the need to quarantine before camp and that played a huge role in bringing everybody to camp healthy,” she says. This year, Camp Blue Ridge plans to ask for campers to be tested before camp, when they arrive, and 10 days into the camp.
This summer, Camp Ocoee plans to run at 80% capacity, in order to maintain social distancing, but they are waiting until April to make final decisions on the safety policies for this year. “It’s a moving target every single day,” B.J. Davis says. “We’re planning to run a more regular camp, but we’ll reevaluate in mid-April what changes we need to make to make sure kids and staff are safe. We have to be fluid and flexible.” The changes they incorporated at last year’s summer camp allow them to have a blueprint for 2021.
Glisson has been monitoring information and guidelines from the CDC, ACA, Governor Kemp and the Georgia DPH since March 2020. “With conditions constantly changing and new understanding continually emerging, tracking these sources has allowed us to keep our policies, protocols and procedures in-line with best practices and to ensure we abide by government directives,” says Russell Davis. “Since last March, we’ve been working to adapt our programs so that we’re ready to open camp as soon as safely possible.”
At Glisson, campers have moved in small “living groups” for decades to help them develop communication skills, empathy, teamwork, self-awareness and leadership. “One of our fundamental strategies for social distancing will be cohort-based camper activities, a mitigation requirement of the governor’s executive orders and which happens to be something we’re really experienced at,” Russell Davis says. Their large group gatherings will be done differently and outside as much as possible, and parents and family members will remain in their cars during drop-off and pick-up.
What About Cancellations and Refunds?
One of parents’ biggest concerns about camp this summer is losing deposits or fees. If you’re concerned about losing the money you deposit for a camp session this summer, pay attention to the camp’s financial policy. Many camps have changed their refund policies to ensure you’ll get your money back if the camp is unable to proceed.
“We want to ensure in all areas that we never lose parents’ trust, all the way down to finances,” Waldman says. If camp is canceled this year, they will issue refunds.
WinShape has changed their cancellation policy for 2021 to allow for flexibility when it comes to situations involving COVID-19. “This means that parents can secure their spot at camp without having to weigh the risk of losing their deposit if COVID-19 creates issues either at camp or at home,” Malone says.
To reflect the changing environment with the pandemic, Camp Ocoee’s refund policy now includes a full refund through May 14. “This gives parents the confidence they can register now, and pay monthly so it’s not a big chunk at the end,” B.J. Davis says. “If things change, they can get their money back.”
Glisson’s policy is to issue a full refund if they’re unable to provide one or more of their camp programs. “It has long been our policy that we are unable to refund camp fees should a camper become ill during the camp session, and that will continue to be true this summer and will apply to COVID-related illnesses as well,” Russell Davis says.
If your family is facing financial difficulties due to COVID-19, and you believe you’ll have to sit out of the camp experience this year due to economic hardships, look at camps’ assistance programs. “Many camps offer scholarship programs that can help cover some of the costs,” Malone says. “At WinShape, all first-time overnight campers receive a 50% gift toward the cost of camp. We continue to offer scholarships based on financial need. Many camps also offer payment plans so that you don’t have to pay it all up front.”
Camp Ocoee also offers financial help. “We offer financial assistance, so every kid has the chance to attend camp,” B.J. Davis says. The needs-based scholarship is open to everyone.
What Should I Look for in a Summer Camp?
Start by thinking about what your kid would enjoy. Breaking out of comfort zones is one of the benefits of summer camps, but if your kid loves the arts, find a camp offering more of those activities.
Research recommendations from the ACA, CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics to help you understand the safety precautions camps should be making, as well as what you should do to help prepare your child to be away from home. With capacity limits, expect waiting lists to develop earlier, so start researching and narrowing down options now.
“Summer camps have spent the entire year speaking to professionals, and the ACA prepares field guides and updates as situations change,” Waldman says. “Get as much information from the camp as possible about what’s going to be put in place. Ask questions, go back and ask more questions, so you know you’re comfortable sending your child there.”
Malone also recommends asking questions, as well as learning about new safety precautions. “Camp has always been a place for kids to escape ‘the real world,’ even if for just a week. Not only will overnight camp be a place for your kids to reset and refocus, but it’s a chance for them to grow as a person,” he says.
B.J. Davis recommends looking at if they ran last summer and how it went. If they didn’t, ask them what their new protocols are. “Check websites to see what they’re planning to do to keep everybody safe and healthy while they’re at camp. Know what experience your kids are looking for,” he says.
“Parents should ‘follow their gut’ when it comes to the question of registering their children. If they aren’t comfortable with camp this year, don’t force it. Your camper will likely pick up on any anxiety you have, and it could affect their camp experience,” Russell Davis says. “Similarly, if the camp has a requirement, like wearing masks, like we do, with which you disagree, perhaps this isn’t the summer for your family to attend. This will be a different summer for all of us, and we’ll need to work together as families and camps to create safe experiences of growth for our campers.”
Reasons to Send Your Kids to Summer Camp
Summer camps, especially overnight camps, offer multiple opportunities for your child to grow. Not only will they experience new activities, such as archery, ziplining, kayaking and more, they will also gain independence, make new friends and craft confidence, all while having fun.
“Children have the experience of gaining independence, as they make their own decisions and realize they can stand on their own two feet. With COVID-19, parents have been nervous about children and family members, but sending them to summer camp tells them, ‘I trust you, and you can do this.’ It’s a great feeling for them to know that they’re trusted in these hard times to do the right thing,” Waldman says. “Camp is magical. No matter who you are at home – the dynamic with mom or dad or siblings or friends – you can always reinvent yourself at camp.”
According to Malone, parent surveys at the end of the summer focus on the four strengths of WinShape: new friends, being active and away from screens, growing in faith and fun. “We’ve often said that there are only three rules at camp: Have fun, have fun, and HAVE FUN. Fun is at the center of what we do,” he says. “While camp may look a little different for summer 2021, we promise that kids are going to have fun.”
“Summer camp is even more valuable now with kids in virtual school,” B.J. Davis says. “Screen time for kids is way up at home. We’re a no-screens facility, and we really believe in giving kids time away from screens, phones and social media. They’ll get to experience every single activity camp has to offer and be outside, be with peers, make friends that are different than them and are from different situations or cities. They get to create a new family with the group of kids in their cabin group. Kids are going to get the experience of a lifetime.”
Russell Davis believes deep connections and friendships are why campers return to Glisson. “The ziplines, climbing towers, waterfront, backpacking, kayaking and other activities may have precautions added but will still be fun, maybe even more so after a year stuck at home,” he says. “There is no more effective means of holistic growth for your child than the immersive experience of summer camp. Character, self-confidence, grit, empathy, teamwork and leadership are highly valued qualities that can be developed through quality experiences. Summer camps exist to help children and youth realize their potential individually and as a part of society.”
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