7 Critical Lessons from Running Virtual Camps

For years, summer camps have been fostering socialization, bonding between the campers and staff, and emotional connections. Now that we are facing an unprecedented global situation, we won’t be seeing fully-normal summer camps any time soon. Don’t fret as there’s still hope for kids to have the best summer camp experience in the safety of their home by joining virtual summer camps.

The transition from in-person camps to virtual camp platforms in 2020 wasn’t easy. Directors and co-directors of summer camps; namely, Camp Ben Frankel, Summer in the Cloud, and Camp BB&n share the struggles they faced in the transition from in-person camps to virtual camps in a webinar. We highlighted 7 things we learned from their different experiences.

 

1. Reinventing existing programs for the virtual setting

A virtual camp’s priority is providing the closest experience of an in-person camp in the comfort of the camper’s home. Examining existing programs with an established criterion is crucial to figure out which programs are fit for virtual and how they can be further improved. This requires a lot of information to be collected from surveys and research to running activities online.

Since camps are held online, programs must feel engaging and interactive to the campers; to achieve that, it’s beneficial for programs to offer electives – kids can choose which camp activities they’d like to join for that week – which makes it feel personalized and fun for the kids. Of course, it requires the right platform for virtual camps.

“What surprised me, more than anything, is the moments where it feels a lot like camp” – Adam Benmoise, Co-Director of Summer in the Cloud

2. Marketing is always a challenge

Before the shift to virtual, extending a camp’s reach to a large audience was always tough; 2020 made it challenging, more than ever. Luckily, parents often share their children’s great experiences in the programs with their colleagues and friends, which leads to them getting interested in signing their own children to the programs. The use of social media also helped spread the word, answered FAQs, and showed options for parents to have their kids engage in exceptional activities in the comfort of their house.

 

3. Think about the budget

The biggest problem in creating a budget is that there were so many unknowns – how many campers, how many staff, supplies to be used. Assumptions had to be made based on the team’s experience and information collected. Remember that virtual camps had to offer affordable rates in 2020, to convince families to give it a try before anyone has ever done that.

 

4. Camper’s engagement hurdles to face

Campers are divided into two main categories – returning campers and new campers. Camps help returning campers accept the loss of their in-person camp, and camps must ensure new campers feel immediately comfortable. For the two groups to get to know each other and navigate through the strangeness, discomfort, and doubt they might feel, part of the plan was thinking about “How engaging this activity is for the kids?”.

Icebreakers are a great tool for campers to know each other as they give the kids opportunities for dialogue. To combat cross-talk, a prevalent problem of every virtual engagement, camps hold breakout rooms that create smaller groups to develop intimacy.

Camps aim for less demonstration and talking to the kids and focus on interactive activities with opportunities for kids to respond and have dialogues of their own.

5. Strengthen a camper’s active and communicative nature

Elective-based programs are offered for different ages to choose from. There are movement classes – gardening, painting, photography, etc. – that keep the campers active. It’s not all on the screen though as educators hand out assignments that encourage kids to have an active engagement – take pictures of your quarantine life, bird watching, making bird feeders, etc. Thought-provoking programs – basic coding and graphic classes – are also offered for the older age group.

Naturally, some campers are much more introverted and are not always comfortable turning on their cameras or microphones. Camps continue to work with them until they share in moments when they’re comfortable and find that level of comfort from them. Additionally, younger and older kids worked well together to help engage one another; older kids are more confident in turning on their cameras which made the younger kids feel more confident in turning their cameras.

Most of the camp’s counselors are teachers that have experience in keeping kids engaged; they know when to and how to react in a particular situation in a camper’s involvement in the programs.

 

6. Staff ratio to campers

Each camp has its own way of assigning the number of educators for a certain number of campers. Parents can expect a minimum of 2 counselors; 1 specialist staff that oversees the whole program and 1 support staff that monitors the chat and helps campers that might be struggling by giving them a separate breakout room. Classes can 8-20 kids depending on the camp the parents choose and the program that the campers choose.

Some camps have accommodated campers with special needs and disabilities – speech, hearing, down syndrome, etc. Camp Ben Frankel had a camper with a speech disability who was fearful to try in-person camps. She was more comfortable doing virtual camps as she could type her thoughts in a chat bar.

Overall feedback received from parents in that particular group consists of their children being happy to see their friends on a screen and even if sometimes they don’t want to do the activities that were sent to them at home, they are just happy to be sitting there, giggling and laughing with their friends. Camps also play music in the background which campers like to dance to.

7. The potential future of schools

The directors of the camps mentioned that their teachers and campers agree that they didn’t think it would be as enjoyable given their experiences before. Campers actually really enjoy the programs, and teachers pointed out that this is potentially what the next school years might be like, as camps have proven to be fun and it’s possible to do it right.

 

Concluding thoughts

Right, virtual camps are not a perfect substitute for in-person camps. Both camp settings have their advantages and disadvantages. For parents that are interested to have their children in athletic-type camps, signing up for more screen time may be unappealing. However, with dwindling options, many parents are exploring virtual camp as a viable alternative given the uncertainty of our public health situation. Virtual summer camp is a radically new concept, and one key to thriving during this difficult time is to not expect perfection and instead learn to adapt to the present reality; virtual camps certainly fall in that category.

 

What’s next?

You thought a virtual camp is just a zoom meeting with some activities? Think again.

Clickto.camp is the platform that powers virtual camps that are looking to deliver an incredible experience. Interested in a demo or a free trial? Click here.

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