Virtual summer camp: The benefits and challenges of this new format in the pandemic

Connecticut Families

(WTNH) — With virtual replacing live camps this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how will campers get the same quality of experience? What are the new-found benefits of this new format?

“Virtual camp is actually not too different than in-person Zoo Patrol,” explains Jen Farrell, an educator at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, one of the well-known locations that opted for virtual camp this summer amidst the pandemic.

She says today’s incredible technology makes it possible.

“If I’m teaching the kids about owls and I want to highlight the features of this owl feather, I can bring it real close and you can see all the fringe detail and colors,” she explains, holding the feather up to the camera.

While a huge challenge is not being together for a tactile experience, some unexpected benefits are popping-up.

“We can extend our services beyond our state. We already have some registrants from New York,” she says.

“We’ve got some in California, Arizona, New York, so you can stay where you are and still be in camp,” agrees Kelly Wuzzardo, Director of Education and Engagement at The Shubert, already offering online programs like storytime and Lego Lab. Kids will be invited to be even more creative than usual during the virtual version of Theater and Arts Camp.

“We’re good at building set pieces out of pool noodles, right? So, this time it’s going to be, ‘What’s in your house? What’s in the recycling bin?” she explains. “It’s going to drive that theme home that you don’t have to have stuff, you don’t have to be in the theater to create theater.”

Both the zoo and theater have reduced prices for the new format. And, an annual circus camp, a partnership between Oddfellows Playhouse and the city of Middletown is completely free this year.

“It’s indoor-outdoor stuff. The computer is the home base. An assignment is given, go run around and find four things that are red and then come back,” says director Jason Leinwand. “Now you have four objects and play ensues.”

He says his staff of 13 puppeteers and performers are going above and beyond to make the camp – called From the Big Top to the Lap Top – extra special.

“This is what we do for a living, we problem solve and it’s promoting that to the kids now,” he says. “It’s saying, ‘OK, this is what we have but how can we make something else happen that is magical?'”

While all hope their situations return to normal next summer, they believe some aspects of this online curriculum will stick and augment in-person camp in the future.

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