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Camps Prepping For Limited Capacity, Virtual Options For Summer 2020

Ohio day camps can begin reopening May 31, Gov. Mike DeWine announced in his daily coronavirus press conference Thursday. Full guidelines from the state are forthcoming, but camps around Northeast Ohio already have plans of their own at the ready to keep children safe.

Hiram House in Chagrin Falls has suspended some of its camp options for the 2020 season, said Executive Director Courtney Guzy, including the overnight camp, cookouts and group photos.

“In a lot of the conversations the state has been having, we have not really heard the term ‘overnight camp’ being used,” Guzy said. “We’ve made the decision that we’re just going to move forward with our day camp program.”

Hiram House also will have a delayed start this year, Guzy said, as organizers are still deciding when to open and are calling the families of regular campers to see what kind of safety measures would help them feel comfortable sending their children off to camp this year.

Typically, the 172-acre camp has about 250 children on site during the day, Guzy said, but current plans tentatively allow for roughly 50 campers per week, depending on the state’s guidelines.

Demand for summer spots at Hiram House remained consistent even as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, Guzy said, but group sizes will be smaller this year to keep children safe. Groups will have designated stations with their own restrooms and changing rooms, Guzy said, and increased sanitization and disinfection methods will be implemented across the grounds.

The high-ropes course and rock-climbing walls will remain closed, Guzy said.

“There are aspects of those two challenge activities that are difficult to make sure that they’re disinfected and clean,” Guzy said.

Great Lakes Science Center

The Great Lakes Science Center also will be offering in-person programming this summer as well as the option for virtual camps. At-home campers will receive a kit with all the same materials as campers participating in person, said Vice President of STEM Learning Scott Vollmer.

“We decided to plan for what’s best for all families, whether people need to be staying at home or if people are allowed to congregate in public,” Vollmer said.

The science center’s camps will run for eleven weeks, each week with a different focus. Weekly supplies will range from glue and scissors to iPads and robots, depending on that week’s topic, Vollmer said. In-person campers also will receive their own kits, to help reduce the chance of spreading the coronavirus by way of shared materials.

“We want each child to have their own materials,” Vollmer said. “Your scissors are your scissors, your robot is your robot, you use them throughout the day and you put them in your own container.”

Families choosing the at-home camp option will pick up kits the Saturday before camps start, and must return it the Saturday after it ends.

“We take those materials, we sanitize them again, and then we repack them and ship them out for another program,” Vollmer said.

The kits will include instructions for children and parents to follow along at home, with Zoom sessions available during the day. Internet access is required for at-home camps, Vollmer said, but activities will also include outdoor elements to get children away from computer screens, he said.

“We’re very aware that summer camps are meant to be fun, they’re meant to be high-quality, and they’re meant to be safe,” Vollmer said. “We are taking all of those into account.”

GLSC classes will be limited to six to eight campers.

Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Other Northeast Ohio summer camps are shifting to entirely virtual programming, including the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

“We did not feel comfortable in putting staff and kids together in the summer, because how do you keep third graders six to ten feet apart from each other in the museum?” said Director of School & Family Learning Renata Brown.

Kids will be able to access digital content through Zoom, she said, but will also participate in challenge activities that will take them away from the screen.

“We’re looking to make this a little bit of a hybrid, where we log on, we do some things together, and then log off, get outside, do something, and then get back together and share.”

The museum is also offering “camperships” for families who can’t afford the full cost of camps, Brown said, but it will still require an internet connection.

About 20 to 25 children will be in each of the virtual summer camps, Brown said, which is about the same number accepted for in-person camps offered in previous years.

Nature Center at Shaker Lakes

The Nature Center at Shaker Lakes decided several weeks ago to move forward with all-virtual summer camp programming, President and CEO Kay Carlson said. The center needed time to plan out what the camps would look like, she said, and parents were already canceling their in-person registration.

“All the protocols and requirements for keeping everyone safe if we held a camp in-person were cumbersome and kind of onerous,” Carlson said. “We didn’t feel like we could really do that feasibly well.”

Parents were surveyed on whether they’d be interested in a virtual program, Carlson said, and the main concern was including too much time in front of a computer screen, she said.

“There’s going to be a lot of self-directed activity, but we’ll be providing all of the instruction, tools and supplies for them to do that,” Carlson said.

The camp will include two online meetings per week with an instructor and other campers, as well as three pre-recorded activity videos. Families can pick up an “adventure pack” each week with instructions and materials, Carlson said.

A hiking trail at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes [Annie Wu / ideastream]

The Nature Center is still looking into ways to provide the camp experience to families without internet access, Carlson said, but the virtual camp will allow children with disabilities to participate in ways they may not have been able to with in-person activities.

“I think there’s going to be some great lessons that we learn through this experience, and a lot more opportunities for us to reach more people,” she said.

There’s no set limit on enrollment at this time, Carlson said.

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