Summer camps have always been a key component of YMCAs. Since the coronavirus pandemic has taken away traditional camps for many facilities, some are getting creative to still deliver the fun atmosphere of camp to the kids in their community. One of those organizations is the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago.
The Chicago Y decided to pivot to give families options for this summer, including virtual alternatives. “Whether it be in-person or online through a computer screen, it is still interaction,” said Man-Yee Lee, a spokesperson for the Chicago Y. “Many parents know by now that what’s unique about the Y’s approach is we are very intentional about building interpersonal skills and instilling strong, responsible values among kids — something they haven’t been able to practice during this period of isolation.”
While the Y is still able to offer in-person camp at some of their locations, they are adding virtual summer camp options to cater to family needs. Beginning June 1, kids got to choose from 17 different specialty camps that have been converted to an online, interactive format. Some camp topics include: Animal Planet, improv, science, art, cooking and creative writing.
“Counselors have incorporated plenty of movement, games and interactive activities to keep campers highly engaged during the two to three-hour sessions through hands-on experiences and learning tools,” said Lee. “Supply kits to aid each lesson are delivered by mail in advance to the camper’s home.”
Having online specialty camps provides a unique opportunity to offer key components of the camp experience, such as experiential learning, camp routines and building connections. Lee said developing positive, supportive relationships and meaningful peer connections are crucial elements of social-emotional growth that are supported during online camp.
“Y camps in particular emphasize social-emotional skills that encourage independence and responsibility, and help develop problem-solving and relationship skills,” said Lee. “This year’s camp offerings will provide much-needed learning and fun for children, and the opportunity to develop memories and friendships that last a lifetime. These are skills campers take with them when they go back to school, attend college or get their first job, even.”
The Chicago Y has been happy with the response to the online camp so far. Their Online Specialty Camps are already 80% full, and some camps even have a waitlist. While virtual camps have been a learning process, Lee said they are thankful for their talented, smart and experienced staff who are 100% committed to giving kids the best summer yet.
Below, Lee shares four pieces of advice for other facilities considering hosting online camps: