What's up with camp this summer? For hiking, substitute sitting. For a campfire, substitute a chat box. And for fun, substitute — well, here's the thing: Some kids don't like the online camps COVID-19 has foisted upon them. But plenty are having a good enough time, and some kids are loving their virtual camps. And if kids are busy and happy even for a short (blessed!) portion of the day, their parents are happy campers, too.
The American Camp Association doesn't have an exact number of camps that have gone online for the summer, but they know of at least 230. That's out of the 3,000 camps that are members. It's possible that many hundreds more are giving it a try without notifying the association.
Elina Furman, an author and digital marketer in Connecticut, has her 7-year-old son attending one. By the time Furman realized that some in-person camps were going to be open this summer, most of the slots had been filled. She managed to secure a place for her older son, but for her younger son, she found an online "toy-inventor" camp.
"It's a very nice camp," Furman says. But for her and her son: "It's a complete disaster. I have to literally, physically sit with him and help him construct everything." What's more, the camp sends some supplies home, but not enough — necessitating a Target run. By week two, the projects were getting lame: a spoon catapult. Her son's interest started flagging. By week three? "He barely finished." And now? "We're going into week four, and I'm hoping he'll log on at this point."
This experience contrasts pretty sharply with that of Virginia mom Marjorie Leong and her daughter Rachel, also 7. Rachel's theater makeup minicamp has been "a very good experience," says Leong. If anything, the instruction "probably works better virtually" than in real life, because every kid can grab a relative to practice on. That said, Rachel has used her new skills to turn mom into the Joker.
However scary that may sound ("And it was scary," says Leong), it beats the camp that Rachel attended earlier in the summer, where the director announced that the kids would be performing (drum roll, please): a one-act based on Sophocles' "Antigone"!
Turns out that a Zoom "Antigone" starring 7-year-olds was not quite the smash hit it seemed destined to become. Go figure.
Part of the fun of any camp production is hanging out with the other kids (perhaps making fun of the director's choices), but there are some advantages to participating from the comfort of one's own home. Que'Ana Morris Jackson, a performing arts teacher in Atlanta, says her daughter, 10, really enjoys her virtual dance camp because once the instruction is over, she can keep practicing. When camp was in real life, another group would always need the studio, breaking up the rehearsal.
Jackson's 9-year-old son, on the other hand, is frustrated by his dance camp, because (being a 9-year-old boy), he misses tumbling around with his friends — and Jackson doesn't allow a lot of wild romping in the house.
Some of the most successful online camps seem to involve activities that are online to begin with. There are camps teaching Minecraft, Dungeons & Dragons, animation, video production ... Adam McBride started Camp TikTok a few weeks ago, and it is thriving. The kids watch short, instructional videos on TikTok techniques and then post and look at one another's creations.
How is this very different from kids watching a bunch of how-to's on YouTube? "I'm not exactly sure," McBride confessed. "But this is a new modern definition of camp."
And, just like the old-fashioned camps, the most important thing is that it's fun. What more do you need during a summer like this?
Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, founder of Free-Range Kids and author of "Has the World Gone Skenazy?" To learn more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: davidraynisley at Pixabay