By Jess Michaels
If ever there was a summer that children needed camp, it’s this summer. So many New York children have been learning remotely, with very few days of in-person learning each week, if at all. Children are missing out on some important developmental opportunities due to COVID and camp is an environment that can provide so many of these missed occasions. Here are just a couple of the reasons why camp is so important for children after a year of remote learning.
Break from the Screens
One of the many drawbacks of life with COVID is that children are spending more and more time behind screens. Sam Borek, Owner and Director of Woodmont Day Camp in Rockland County feels kids are missing out on social interactions and the ability to connect with friends. “When children are watching their teacher on a screen, they can zone out or use their phone while not focusing on what is being taught. Remote learning is giving children the chance to escape into their own world, which is unhealthy. It’s also difficult for teachers to connect with their students in a virtual classroom. Camp is the complete opposite of this. Kids are connecting with peers and learning from role models by being present and participating, rather than watching on a screen. Campers and staff are sitting and talking to each other where valuable lessons are learned at many moments throughout the day.” Laurie Rinke, Owner and Director of Camp Echo Lake, a coed overnight camp in the Adirondacks, agrees. “Because we have been more isolated, kids are on their screens for learning or just to communicate with their peers. There is a loss in face-to-face interactions, facial cues, body language and the ability to just stand in front of someone and see how what you say is received and react to that. Camp is like a communication, kindness and empathy immersion class which is exactly what kids need right now.”
Like so many things, sports and extracurricular activities aren’t running in the same way this year and it’s having a huge effect on today’s youth. “So many of the activities that help kids find their passion have been amended or canceled like sports, musical theater at school or jazz band,” says Rinke. “Kids aren’t able to do the things they are excited about or able to be sparked by something new right now, but at camp, we can give them the opportunity to play sports, climb the rock wall for the first time or perform in performing arts. These activities are harder to do everywhere else but at camp, counselors able to make these things safe and give exposure to things kids love or might learn to love.”
Borek feels one of the biggest challenges of virtual learning is that while children are seeing kids on a screen, they aren’t interacting with them. “Children are missing out on those precious moments that create memories. Laugher or a spontaneous comment is totally devoid in Zoom or Google classroom. When children sit together in camp at lunch and talk throughout the day, these are the moments that make camp so special. It is what children are truly missing in a virtual environment.” Genna Singer, Director of Camps at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan says, “Kid only opportunities are so valuable to children and it’s so hard when children have lost nearly a year of those formative experiences. Just being with other kids is a learning curve of experiencing how to navigate being with peers and is an opportunity to find a common language. These are all important things that come along with kid-specific experiences such as camp.”
Due to COVID, children are with their parents at home more than ever before. While this is good for family bonding, it can certainly hinder a child’s development. Singer says that when kids are home doing remote school, their parent or caregiver is often just five feet away from them. “Traditionally, when children go to school, they stretch in different ways socially and academically but when they are learning at home, they are still just at home. The confines of how they think of themselves in relation to family or at home is still present, so kids aren’t stretching in the same way. Camp is where children can find their real self and become independent. Separation from their parent or caregiver will be so much more important this summer.” Rinke agrees and explains, “Children need to gain independence individually and if they are only with their parents, they can’t do it as easily. Camp allows children to make their own decisions, with the guidance of their counselors, such as if they need a sweatshirt if it’s a chilly day or being able to choose their own elective. Being without parents there to help is crucial because it gives children the opportunity to have these experiences which will help them develop into independent adults.”
Children thrive on routine. Unfortunately, COVID has taken that away in so many ways. “Right now, kids don’t know when a quarantine may happen or if school will close so they are forced into things being unpredictable,” says Rinke. “There is a certain level of consistency and routine at camp. Kids know they will be there for a certain number of weeks, what time their meals are, who is in their cabin and what kind of activities there are. This kind of consistency is good for kids and also a way of getting back to a normal level of routine.” Borek agrees and says that right now, children are in school for very few full five days from 8:30 – 3 pm. “This year, kids are being short changed of the feeling of structure and being in a full day program. Children thrive off of structure so when they only have three hours a day of school, it leads to lots of free time for Tik Tok or Instagram. A camp day reminds children of how to follow a schedule.”
This story first appeared on our sister publication newyorkfamily.com.