Last summer, right in the thick of COVID I searched online for camps that were open near me. I think that was my exact Google search: “camps open near me.” (I also searched other things around that stressful time including: “best martini recipe,” “how to cut your own hair” and “can you get COVID from licking a shopping cart?” Yep, all these things actually happened!)
After a few months of online learning, my kids were burnt out from so much screen time and so little interaction with the outside world and friends. I discovered a camp that was operating within COVID guidelines of social distancing, mask-wearing, frequent hand washing and other recommended protocols. Instead of the traditional groupings by age, there was only one small group of kids and registration was limited. Without being able to actually go in and see what the camp looked like (due to COVID) I registered my son for all six weeks and ordered two camp T-shirts in his size, happy that at least one of us would have a reason to leave the house soon.
In the past, we’ve set money aside for day camp because we believe it provides so many necessary things—the chance to be a kid and play outside, an opportunity to make new friends, face challenges and problem-solve without your parents around. Last summer, the need for camp seemed even more urgent. Our son, then 8, had spent countless hours in front of a computer screen every day. I hated the fact that my active young boy had become so sedentary. Sure, we forced him to get outside every day and exercise but it just wasn’t the same as his usual hours spent running around with peers during recess or after school.
This coming summer, I have no hesitation about sending him back to camp (likely the same one) because of the great experience he had. No one got COVID. He played outside. He made new friends. He wore a mask when necessary and respected the counselors and camp rules. When people work together like this, it’s possible to create a safe and fun experience.
The one thing I wish is that I had gotten a chance to see the inside of this amazing camp. This particular organization holds camps in various country clubs across the US. Every morning, we drove up to the entrance of the club’s main building where my son had his temperature taken and waved goodbye. I heard about the pool with a snack bar where the kids got lunch every day (included in the camp) and the tennis and golf lessons he was getting on alternating days. I sat at home in front of my computer working and living vicariously through my son who was living his best life. And isn’t that what childhood should be, even during a pandemic?
I was extremely grateful to find this camp at a time when my son needed it most. And even though the summer looked incredibly different from years past, it was worth it to give my guy just a sliver of normalcy in a time when the world had turned upside down.
If you’re considering camp this summer my advice is to talk to the camp director and make sure you’re comfortable with the precautions being put in place to keep everyone healthy. Yes, there are risks in sending your child to summer camp, even as we start to get vaccinated. But to us, the benefits of summer camp outweigh the small risk for children. The importance of physical exercise, socialization and routine cannot be overstated. And summer camp provides all of those things in spades.
—Ronnie Koenig is New Jersey Family’s senior editor. She lives in Princeton with her husband and two children.