As we begin to accept the fact that remote learning will continue through the rest of the school year in New Jersey another question is now front and center: What about summer camp? Will they be able to open? And just as importantly, will they be able to operate safely?

While the thought of kids hanging around the house all summer seems unimaginable, no one is quite sure yet whether it will be safe for kids to attend camp–and if they do, what exactly day camp or sleepaway camp will look like in the time of COVID-19. Will tug of war games and campfires be replaced with socially distanced nature walks or online camp programs? Will campers don face masks in addition to their camp t-shirts? We spoke to Susie Lupert, executive director of the American Camp Association, New York & New Jersey to get some answers.

Big Changes on the Horizon
Although exact rules will be determined by the state, if camps are allowed to operate, parents can expect to see some drastic changes including:

-No field trips
-No intercamp games
-Smaller group sizes
-Fewer children on camp buses
-Additional health screenings for campers and staff
-Increased sanitation and cleaning measures

Resources for Our New Normal
Now more than ever, parents need solid information on how to deal with the big changes their kids must face. There are some great resources available with information on everything from how to help kids cope with disappointment to staying active virtually.

“The American Camp Association is working closely with the CDC and federal and state government to share the most up to date information regarding COVID with member camps,” said Lupert.  “ACA has also engaged an outside consulting firm who are convening with public health experts, doctors representing the American Academy of Pediatrics, experts in epidemiology and camp health experts to develop operational recommendations and resources for camps. These guidelines will be available soon and will be shared with local and state governments, camps, and parents.”

The ACA has also provided a number of professional development webinars surrounding COVID-19. Parents can expect camp directors to be in touch regarding the status of camp registration, deposits and fees and important health information.

Virtual Camp?
Adding more screen time to our already over-Zoomed kids’ lives may seem like the antithesis of the idea behind summer camp, but for many parents, it may be a viable option. Virtual camps can include everything from theater classes, coding, photography, learning about animals and even studying a foreign language.

“There are certainly camps in other parts of the country who have had to make the call at this point but camps in the northeast are very much in a wait and see period,” said Lupert. “We are awaiting decisions by the states on whether camps can operate and what guidelines will have to be in place to ensure that all staff and campers are safe.”

Making a Tough Call
If your summer camp is canceled for the season, there will definitely be a sense of loss for both campers and parents.

“Deciding to not open camp this summer is a very hard decision and probably one of the most difficult decisions a camp owner has ever had to make,” said Lupert.  “Our hearts go out to all the camps that have had to make that decision for summer 2020.  We are still waiting to hear from the governor of New Jersey and other states in the northeast on whether camps will be able to operate.”

As we wait and see what will happen, one thing is certain: “Children need camp this summer more than ever before to be part of a structured environment, to take a break from the days of distance learning on screens, for socialization with their friends, and to have a sense of normalcy after the upheaval of their lives over the past two months.  Parents also need camp as childcare so they can get back to work.”

A Hopeful Outlook
Robert Jordan, director of Rambling Pines day camp in Hopewell which has been welcoming campers since 1976, said he is hopeful that camps will be allowed to operate, albeit with certain measures in place.

“I have to believe summer camps will be allowed to run this summer,” said Jordan. “Camps would be an essential part of opening up the economy. We provide parents with a safe, enriching place for their children to be while they go back to work. Also, we employ many people including a large number of young adults.”

As Rambling Pines awaits and word, they’re continuing to plan for the summer 2020 season.

“We are awaiting word that we will be allowed to operate and await the guidance from the Department of Health, the American Camp Association and the CDC. We have already been planning for what we assume will be the type of modifications and safe practices required.”

No matter what happens, it’s definitely time to start talking to your kids about the “new normal” while still trying to keep that camp spirit at heart.

“Camps will certainly look different this summer, although there are certain parts of camp that even a pandemic can’t take away like camp spirit, special traditions and the strong community feeling,” said Lupert.


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