Adventures in Cardboard inspires creative and imaginative play, both theatrical and tactically competitive, in beautiful wild places. For the past nine years the camp has sought to leave children with a strong notion gained from experience, that any group of kids can be a resource for creative fun that easily competes with the fun of computer screens and phones. No guilt-tipping here: their counselors love the incredible video games and social media possibilities of our age as much as any kid, but Adventures in Cardboard has a track record of inspiring children to organize their own summer adventures at home with little more than the imagination of a group of friends, a thicket of trees and maybe a scrap of cardboard.
Beginning in 2013 with three weeks of camp in a small city park in Minneapolis, Adventures in Cardboard has grown into a fifty-week summer operation serving ninety-six campers each week. “We facilitate activities that demand the use of legs and feet as much as hands and head, where artist-instructors seek to unleash a zeal for creative role-playing and group tactical organization, and where wonder is the preferred path to igniting a passion for design, construction and playful exploration of the natural world,” says Julian McFaul, owner and director.
In Adventures in Cardboard, artists and children take inspiration from the natural world to create their own fantastic places to inhabit and explore. McFaul states, “We know that natural spaces open the imagination and in turn the imagination can open new respect and longing for the natural world. From the work of Richard Louv and others describing 'Nature Deficit Disorder' we know children are smarter, healthier and happier when they have time for open play in natural places.”
The Pivot to Virtual
"In 2020 we cancelled all programming in May as it seemed irresponsible to run camp during a pandemic; many municipal park’s restrictions made it impossible to run camp as our customers had come to expect anyway," McFaul said. "But by the end of June we were able to adapt and run smaller camps and ended up being able to serve about a third of our regular campers. We were able to avoid bankruptcy by appealing to our customers to roll their tuition into a refundable deposit for 2021’s summer camps. Many families generously helped out this way, some families even donated their entire tuition. Without the help of our customers we would certainly not have made it into 2021."
In addition to offering the smaller camps, AiC also offered roleplaying games with their favorite experienced counselors online from their own homes. These were originally written role-playing game adventures adapted for different online platforms including Discord, Zoom, Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds. The games were played by listening, storytelling and interacting with each other in groups of no more than six adventurers and a guiding counselor. Campers ranged from having little experience in storytelling or role playing to being highly accomplished RPG gamers, but most seemed to enjoy the activity immensely. Science fiction, fantasy, mystery and horror were all presented with the whimsy, grit and improvisational openness campers have come to expect from the counselors at Adventures in Cardboard.
As a three-year Camp & Class Manager partner, McFaul says the feature he finds the most success in are the automated registration and payment system which allows them to register and process payments from thousands of participants in a few hours on the opening registration day. McFaul emphasizes, “I can’t imagine how we could possibly accomplish this otherwise. I find the ability to send mass emails is also extraordinarily helpful. Secondarily, the report generator and the ability to quickly divide registrants into different groups are extremely time-saving features. Further, there is always someone available for a quick email or phone chat if necessary.”
It’s no surprise that everyone is making a shift in operating procedures while the distribution of vaccines competes with the spread of covid-19. This is how Adventures in Cardboard proposes to maximize their staff's and campers' safety until the national outlook improves:
By Lowering the Numbers of Participants
Adventures in Cardboard is limiting the size of camps depending on park facilities and available open-air shelters which dictate their ability to maintain social distancing outdoors in rainy weather.
By Using Face Masks
It’s a requirement to bring and wear a mask, but campers may remove their masks when distant from each other by 15 feet or more, or whenever their well-being is just completely over-encumbered by a mask. In 2020, there was no problem in getting kids to comply and respect each other this way.
By Maintaining Physical Distance
All campers and staff maintain at least a 6' radius of distance from each other in the open-air shelters, fields and trails. A brief proximity closer than 6’ was acceptable for assisting each other in activities if both participants remain masked and if this proximity was limited to no longer than a minute.
With Hand Washing
By Sterilizing All Tools and Equipment
Counselors sterilize all equipment and tools before campers arrive and after activities are finished.
By Avoiding Mass Transportation when Necessary
Bus service to and from camp was cancelled last year. With cautious optimism, AiC is offering bus service for 2021 Summer Camps, but if unable to deliver they will finance and refund the charges as required.
Fever Checks to Enter Camp
All staff and campers had to consent to a non-invasive temperature check when they arrived and had to agree to leave camp if they were running a temperature. Pro-rated refunds were offered for days missed.
Counselors Must Test Negative to Work
All counselors must consent to covid-19 tests if possible and may not work at camp before a 10-day quarantine if they test positive or know they have been exposed to the virus.
Exposed Campers and Staff Must Stay Home
All staff and campers had to agree to stay away from camp if they or someone they were in close daily contact with tested positive for covid-19.
Proceeding with Caution
In 2021 Adventures in Cardboard will have to operate MORE camps in SMALLER groups. To serve the same number of campers, each week they are operating in five smaller groups in five locations rather than three big camps in three locations. McFaul states, “We’ll also have to rent more outdoor shelters at the parks to maintain social distancing on rainy days. We’ll use the same COVID-19 protections we did in 2020 until the national outlook improves.”