Making new friends, gazing at stars and eating s'mores around a campfire. Those are just some of the many memories of past "traditional" summer camps. But with many in-person camps getting canceled this summer, numerous camps are going online. After months of homeschooling children and logging little ones onto zoom classes, some parents are skeptical about more screen time.
Often times, summer camp is about the outdoors or getting active playing sports, something you can’t do if you’re holding a device or watching from a screen. Parents are asking how meaningful camp is when a child is experiencing it virtually.
Parents are hesitant because:
- As most school-aged children have been online since March, many parents believe kids have already spent too much time on screens this spring.
- A camper’s participation may need to be monitored. This is especially difficult if a camper has a younger sibling.
- After months of being cooped up indoors, parents want their children to experience fresh air and outdoor exercise.
Whether they’ve already registered or are still deciding, connect with past and present camper parents, and highlight your virtual camp's outstanding features. While there is no substitution for the great outdoors, your virtual camp can still be successful. The key is to encourage engagement and learning by highlighting:
Virtual Learning as an Already Proven Hit
Since the unexpected online pivot last March, thousands of schools, before and after school programs, and specialty classes had to go online immediately.
Research indicates that online learning has been shown to increase retention of information and take less time. In other words, several changes that occurred because of the coronavirus are positive and are here to stay.
A Camp Day Filled with Variety
Naturally, there is going to be screen time, the definition of online learning. Build the day with variety, offering offline activities. Campers can return to the conference platform to present results or projects, giving parents a chance to see online learning blended with hands-on activities. Depending on the child’s age, there may need to be adult supervision.
Smaller Group Sizes
Promote and communicate to parents that your camps engage with smaller groups sizes. Small groups are the key to online participation. If feasible, six campers per group (with one counselor) is the recommended number. Six is the sweet spot number for keeping many campers as possible learning while maintaining a personal, engaging and inspiring environment.
Encourage Camper Friendships
Assure parents your online camp will be two-sided, with campers interacting with each other in addition to campers learning and engaging with the counselor. New friendships can be made by splitting small groups into pairs and creating different pairs throughout the week.
Mix Up Different Class Sizes
While small group sizes are ideal for learning, consider one or two larger group sizes for a variety of fun. For example, camps usually have a daily showcase, an opportunity for smaller groups to come together and see what other groups are doing. If you do decide to run some activities for large groups of campers, keep their curiously piqued.
- Draw campers in by using polls! Polls are an excellent tool, explore your conference platform to get to know the features. If your conference platform doesn’t come with a polling feature, consider having campers use Poll Everywhere. Q&A chats and shared whiteboards can also be useful and appealing to a broad audience.
- Have a warm-up presentation. Just like television comedy has a warm-up comedian, to get the crowd into the mood ready for the show or main act, your virtual camp may need something similar to captivate a larger audience. Having a local comedian present is an unexpected delight and who knows—it just might be the thing your camp needs to win over a camper.
While online schooling is becoming increasingly popular, camp directors are creating a real time playbook for virtual day camps. There’s no substitute for a swim in a refreshing lake or a game of 3-on-3 basketball. However, virtual camps can offer inspired learning, new friendships and a variety of unexpected fun.