COVID-19 may have put the kibosh on many a popular children's summer camp, but there are still several running at reduced capacity that are filling up quickly. Here are a few creative options.
Woodcock Nature Center camp started the first week in July with fewer children so as to comply with state safety guidelines. Nevertheless, there is no shortage of excitement, according to the center's Executive Director Lenore Herbst. The site, a 150-acre nature preserve with property in Ridgefield and Wilton, is inherently going to appeal to playful children, she noted in a conversation. The camp had less challenges than others in the region because it is an entirely outdoor experience in normal times. Activities revolve around conservation with particular emphasis on animal encounters, nature crafts, hiking, kayaking and wilderness skills.
"Kids are energetic," said Herbst. "Parents have expressed how grateful they are and how excited their children are, and I"m hearing the normal levels hoots and hollers. I think they're happy to be here."
The camp is available Monday thru Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
"Our counselors wear masks and children stay in small "pods" [groups]," Herbst said. "Some of the fun activities include pond scooping. The kids love that. They go out two to a canoe on the pond with their nets and find fish, frogs and other wildlife."
At Stamford Museum & Nature Center, Director of Education & Summer Camp Director Lisa Monachelli described a robust program and enthusiastic campers the first week in session in late June.
The programs fill quickly here.
"We have had a great response." said Monachelli. "Our camp programs are always really popular. But this year, like many camps, we are running with lower enrollment and smaller group sizes, so our demand has been high."
She noted children used to their school routine taking their time moving into a fun, camp rhythm and being "excited to see friends, make new friends, hang out with the animals and just return to some sense of normalcy. The best part about an outdoor nature camp is that it is a natural fit for all kids — those with a ton of energy included."
Among the changes this year from prior summers are the camps group size reduction and spreading out of locations, but most of the changes are purposefully behind the scenes, according to Monachelli.
She emphasized the camp's intention to give children a "normal" experience.
"We have given staff additional tools to aid in answering questions from kids, working with any transition issues, or behavior challenges, as these can all be a symptom of the isolation of the last few months. We want to stress the kids being in the moment and enjoying a little return to normalcy," she said.
The outdoor programs in Stamford include feeding and caring for the housed animals, digging in the garden, netting in ponds and streams and other activiies that allow children to explore their "inner artists and have a child-led experience at their own pace."
"There is so much science behind the effect of being in nature on a child’s physical and mental well-being, which is never so important as with what has happened over the last few months," Monachelli said.
A themed art camp for children and adults has been selling out in Fairfield, said owner Priscilla Igram, who along with Christine Orlando runs The Studio Fairfield where children's camp programs run both in- and outdoors. The inside program is for teens, which Igram described as more like potter's wheel boot camp running in reduced numbers.
"Everybody is wearing a mask and learning drills and skills," said Igram. "It's less about the product and more about the process."
Unique this summer, some parents were taking the inside program along with their kids.
There are themed "clay camps" here for K through 12. During Garden Week, for instance, participants make clay water vessels for butterflies and bees, three ceramic mini planters for succulents or air plants and a leaf bowl from live giant plant leaves. During a different week children make their favorite Australian animal, a fundraiser for Australian wildfire relief — the camp will donate 50 percent of the proceeds to bushfire relief funds.
"Our studio is all about getting people who don't think they're artists getting skills for life. You can become an incredible potter with amazing skills without even knowing you have any type of abilities," Ingram said.
Reopening the studio was a meticulous process to follow safety guidelines.
"We took it slowly," she noted.
"We love what we do. We knew we had to re-open the studio at a reduced capacity. We're definitely down in numbers though at the reduced numbers, the outdoor camp is running at full capacity." said Igram. "If you come by you'll see a really fun, happy camp with kids outside on the porch. Staff is upbeat and happy to go to work."