In midst of pandemic, virtual children’s summer camps to open their world and minds

Summer is here, and while trips and vacations may be somewhat restricted because of remaining coronavirus restrictions, virtual summer camps can bring the wide world to the home and open children to new and lasting experiences.

Algebra, arguments and life skills at Montgomery College summer youth programs

At Montgomery College, Summer Youth Programs have been offering activities to D.C.-area children for decades.

But with its programs being online this year, friends and family can take summer camp together — no matter their distance.

“What we’re seeing and we’re hoping to see even more of is that friends that live in different states or different areas, they’re taking camps together. Cousins can take camps together that live in different parts of the world,” Mary Mukherjee, the senior program director for the youth program at Montgomery College, said. “It’s opened everything up to the entire world.”

One of the most popular camps in the schedule is field trip camps online, where instructors — Montgomery College and Montgomery County Public Schools faculty — will take elementary and middle-school students through museums.

And it’s more than just going to museums and looking at what’s there — students will be researching what’s there.

And with camps being online, the students will not just be limited to D.C.-area museums. They will be checking out museums in Europe, Asia and other parts of the U.S.

For example, the traveling history camps for middle-school students will focus on specific topics, such as the American presidents, the 19th Amendment and the 100th year of women’s suffrage.

There is also a class on civil rights, where students will go through different parts of the U.S. to see where key civil rights events happened.

“Alabama has a whole bunch of museums now that we can’t usually get to. Usually that would have been a D.C. camp, and the instructor would have taken them around to see where things actually happened. Now they’re just going to do it virtually … The cool thing is they can do even more,” Mukherjee said.

Moreover, some of the classes children can take will teach them about themselves, how to find their voices and how to present them.

Mukherjee said that students wanted a safe place where they could talk about things that were controversial, and they wanted to learn how to talk about them and listen in a constructive way.

One of the classes offered tackles how to handle conversations amid a diversity of opinions, especially on hot-button topics.

Using psychology of conversation, interviewing methods and other techniques, it aims to teach students how to evaluate what they hear and how to “engage in conversation without the trappings of name-calling or shouting.”

“We were thinking, it’s kind of come in the last couple of weeks to be even more important, is we really want to teach students life skills,” Mukherjee said. And while it is important to know algebra, “it’s also important to know who you are.”

In addition, there are four camps that are approved for student service learning hours for Montgomery County schools. These camps can fulfill the volunteer and service hours students need to graduate.

In those camps, the students are going to be doing work about advocacy.

“They’re going to pick a topic, and they’re going to research, ‘How would I express that to somebody else?'” Mukherjee said.

All the world’s a stage at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s virtual summer camp

Grandparents don’t have to travel to see their grandchildren perform in a summer camp production of a William Shakespeare play.

At Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Virtual Camp Shakespeare, thespian tots can record their performances from home, in a park or in the backyard.

“We’ll put that together, edit it together and then share that link out for friends and family. So, they will be able to share their performances with anyone no matter where they are in the world,” said camp director Julane Havens.

The virtual camps are from one to two weeks and are for children ages 7 to 18. Each camp is led by two teaching artists and a college intern.

For younger students between 7 to 8 years old, one-week camps are designed to focus on finding the fun and joy in Shakespeare’s characters, Havens said.

“They’re going to start learning skills, learning about the characters in the play, having fun with each other, learning basic acting skills, voice and movement techniques,” she said.

The two-week camps for older kids include an optional 45-minute class. There will be breakout sessions and opportunities for one-on-one coaching and rehearsals, as the actors work toward a final performance.

And it’s not just fun and games — the players are still going to have to audition for roles.

To make sure that the camps have that personal and interactive feel necessary in acting, class sizes have been reduced, which allows students to work individually with instructors or another student.

“We can set up a split screen in Zoom, so when they are reading their parts they can see what the other student is doing and interact just as you would if you were doing a Hangouts call or FaceTime with a family member or friend,” Havens said.

Another creative outlet in the camps is costumes. The productions for each camp may have different settings than what Shakespeare originally wrote.

They could have a modern or futuristic setting or have a color concept, but they will be accessible and easy for students to use what they have from home.

Instructors will work costumes out with the students, and, “We’ll just have to be creative,” Havens said.

There’s also space for students to connect with each other outside of classes and rehearsal. Called a virtual lunchroom and overseen by the camp’s interns, it’s a space for students to have fun, talk, sing songs and talk about whatever they want during the day.

“They can drop in and out of that. But if they want to share lunch with friends, which that’s a big part of camp and they would have done that had they been with us in person. So we wanted to make sure we still offered that this summer,” Havens said.

Virtual Camp Shakespeare scholarships are available. Information and application forms are available on the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s website.

Northern Virginia 4-H online camp has the arts, the sciences and the outdoors

Northern Virginia 4-H Center’s Camp Reimagined has three themed weeks from June 28 to July 16. The camps are free and open to everyone.

From June 28 to July 2, the activities focus on outdoor skills, which include fire-building, knot-tying, outdoor cooking, making a pocket adventure kit and animal tracking.

The week of July 5 to July 9 will focus on the creative arts and include projects such as making reusable bags, natural foods tie dye, making bird feeders, among others.

The last week, from July 12 to July 16, will focus on science, technology, engineering and math. Campers will learn how to make ice cream, tackle a blocks challenge, learn about fingerprinting and chromatography and take on engineering design challenges.

“We have a lot of educators on staff. We’re really trying to make these programs educational, in addition to fun and engaging,” program director Katie Tennant said.

All the activities are asynchronous, which means parents and campers can log on and do them when it is convenient for them.

“Unfortunately with where we are located in the mountains, we won’t be able to do any livestreaming because we just don’t have the WiFi capabilities,” Tennant said.

In order to foster a sense of togetherness typical of a camp experience, campers are encouraged to send pictures as they are doing their camp activities for a slide show that will showcase each day at camp and let everyone know what is happening.

Also to mimic what you experience in camp, parents can send out for care packages.

The care packages cost $50 and contain camp swag, such as T-shirts, stuffed animals, bandannas and some fun activities they can do at home, such as how to make different types of s’mores.

“We want to make sure that kids are getting a little bit of learning and over the summer. This spring was a little bit rough with how school ended, so we want to engage them in a fun and interesting way, at the same time teaching them, hopefully, new skills to learn,” Tennant said. 

Find out more about the virtual camp at the Northern Virginia 4-H Center website.

Local parks and recreation departments

Many parks and recreation departments in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia announced the cancellation of their summer camps and programs earlier during the public health emergency.

In the meantime, they launched websites and portals with activities and resources for children and families to do while they were home from school during stay-at-home orders.

However, as restrictions are lifted, many are planning limited outdoor camps and virtual summer programs.

Check with your county parks and recreation department to see what they are offering both online and in person.

Maryland

Phase Two began in Maryland on June 12, with more restrictions being lifted.

Per the state’s coronavirus recovery plans, outdoor amusements and rides may resume, as well as practice and training for outdoor high school sports. These activities have accompanying safety guidelines.

Anne Arundel County — The county announced that in-person school-sponsored summer camps are canceled. As the state announces more reopenings, Anne Arundel County’s Recreation and Parks department is updating the status of its facilities and programs.

Charles County — Traditional summer camps in Charles County are canceled, but a virtual learning camp called Camp 2U that includes kits is being offered. The kits have materials for two weeks of crafts, fitness and fun games.

Carroll County — The Recreation and Parks department has put out a catalog of summer programs and camps. The activities are a mix of things you can do at home and in-person with others, such as line dancing in the park, bicycling and tennis, among others. Find the full list of activities here.

Howard County — Howard County Recreation and Parks is keeping a list of summer camps that are running. Indoor camps will begin June 29.

Montgomery County — Summer camps in Montgomery County have been canceled. And Montgomery Parks said programs are canceled through June 30. However, the county announced on its website on June 25 that future camps offerings will be shared soon. Outdoor day camps have been allowed since Phase One.

Prince George’s County — The Department of Parks and Recreation is holding virtual Summer Clubhouses. Through STEAM, sports, arts, music, theater and more activities are available. You can find the full list here.

Virginia

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said the state may enter Phase Three of reopening starting July 1. But whether Northern Virginia aligns with state plans depends on each jurisdiction. Currently, the state is in Phase Two, which means overnight summer camps must remain closed. And any gatherings must not be more than 50 people in one location.

Fairfax County — The Park Authority has canceled summer camps through August. However, virtual activities are being offered at its Virtual Exploration Center.

Loudoun County — The Parks, Recreation and Community Services started most summer camps and other activities on June 22. You can find a list of activities here. Try searching by type of activity to see what camps are offered in that field.

Prince William County — Summer camps offered by the county start in July, and you can register for them now.

D.C. 

The Department of Parks and Recreation is offering Camp-at-Home, which includes self-directed activities, online sessions, arts and crafts and activities to do outside. There are free packets that can be picked up that includes all the materials your kids need to do the activities.

D.C. entered Phase Two of its reopening on Monday. During this stage, day time summer camps may begin but overnight camps remain prohibited.

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