Finding the right virtual camp or activity for summer

Joan Goodchild/Cyber Savvy Mom

We are firmly in the throes of summer, and it is now apparent to most of us that this year won’t look the same as previous summer breaks with our kids. Perhaps you had to cancel plans to get away as a family as the unpredictability of quarantine orders hung in the air. Maybe you are still sticking close to home most days. And it is very likely that your kids’ summer activities and camps are nothing like years before.

Indeed, many camps and activities were forced to pivot to online, virtual offerings this summer. While these online camps won’t necessarily offer the exact same experience, they still mean engagement, learning – and likely lots of fun.

My daughter, a theatre arts lover who has performed in several plays and musicals over the years, was planning to take part in a two-week theater camp run byApple Tree Arts in Grafton this July. The pandemic turned those plans on their ear. But rather than cancel programs, ATA chose instead to find ways to offer virtual experiences. One of these includes a summer “Zoomsical,” which is a show calledThe Big One-Oh, a musical written specifically to be rehearsed and performed in an online setting.

“We researched it, watched the performance video and thought it looked like something that would appeal to our students,” said Lisa Scarlett ATA’s theatre arts director. “We are hoping that they will be able to have a positive, rewarding and enjoyable theatre experience despite the uncertainty we are all facing.”

While it is done online, Scarlett said the production will strive to feel like a typical stage production and summer camp experience in many ways.

“We will be utilizing breakout rooms, which simulates how we break the kids into groups during the summer to focus on various areas of the show with a smaller number of students. We are also hoping to help encourage the connections they make with their peers every year by having an optional online lunch and social time.”

And since young thespians also practice on their own after theatre camp lets out each day, the staff at ATA will also encourage rehearsals once the computer goes off. Campers then submit clips for feedback. 

“This model also encourages more independence and responsibility,” said Scarlett. 

“It requires the kids to film some segments to submit to us for feedback or for parts of the performance. They will also be asked to take more responsibility for the visual representation and interpretation of their roles by having to provide simple costuming or props from items they have at home.”

Virtual theatre productions are just one way that typical in-person camps are getting creative. Local organizations here in Massachusetts have cooked up a host of choices for online summer fun. The Ecotarium in Worcester has pivoted to an online “discovery” camp that offers Zoom programming with a counselor in the mornings, and then instructions for activities to complete throughout the week, and kits with the needed supplies for all activities.

Local non-profit group Tenacity is offering its Boston and Worcester-based reading and tennis programs free of charge starting July 6. The plan is for virtual training sessions, but depending on the phase of opening Massachusetts is in this summer, there may also be an opportunity for on-court tennis skill activities. 

Check with your local parks and recreation department about possible online programs, or even your area scouting organization. You might be surprised just how much opportunity is out there through area groups to participate in a fun, but safe, virtual class or activity.

Of course, another advantage of an online experience is it doesn’t have to be local to take part!

New York’sMetropolitan Opera is holding a global summer camp at no charge this summer. It will be held via Zoom and Google Classroom and will feature all kinds of activities to help kids explore and learn about opera. The program will focus on a different opera each week. 

Destinations Career Academy is also holding a free online coding programs for older students, regardless of location. Options include Video Game Design, Programming and Virtual Reality, among others.

The takeaway is simple: Summer is different this year. But there’s no need to hear “Mom and Dad, I’m bored.” Because this season, with so many learning and fun options right at kids’ fingertips, it just takes a Google search to get started with a virtual camp. Many are low or no cost to you. 

Once they get started, there’s so much to do. And it can often be done at their own pace. And who knows? You might just find virtual camps and activities are so rewarding, that they make sense again in the future – even if we’re aren’t dealing with a pandemic. As ATA’s Scarlett points out, the key is flexibility and creativity this summer.

“While we know that a virtual production is a bit of an unknown, we are excited for the chance to work with the students in a different setting, to find new and interesting ways to approach theatre and to have ATA summer theatre programming continue in some way through this time of crisis.”

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