Online and on-site: What summer camps are currently offering for 2020

Camps are getting creative amid coronavirus crisis to ensure services are still available

"We're definitely offering two types of camps and hoping to offer a third," says managing director Christine Campbell, who has been running summer camps since 2005. The first option is via Facebook Live, which they offered at Easter. Instead of doing the planned camps of four hours over two days, they did two hours over four days. Having got good feedback, says Campbell, they are modelling a summer camp on that basis, at a cost of €40 a week. A box of material needed for scientific experiments will be sent out beforehand and then a tutor will show children how to do them during a daily, two-hour session on Facebook Live, Monday to Friday, with another person responding to children's online comments or answering questions. The video will also be left up so people can watch it later. Some parents have said they want something more personal, where children can have interaction with each other, so they will also offer summer camp on Zoom, two hours a day over five days. With a maximum of nine in the group, that will cost €60 a week. "We are also hoping that come August we may be able to do some real camps with social distancing," she adds, but they would have to reduce numbers attending by 50 per cent.

The science club founded by Tracey Jane Cassidy in 2012 has moved online since mid-March, devising a package where parents can take a monthly subscription for €30 covering 14 science webinars on different themes to watch on demand. While these 40-minute sessions work "brilliantly", there is no question of doing something like that for five hours straight as a virtual summer camp. She's trying to be positive that it might be still possible to run safe and financially viable "live" camps. If they decide they can't go ahead, Junior Einsteins will offer a weekly subscription called a summer camp where parents can choose webinars "and sit the children down when they feel they need intellectual stimulation and learn a bit about poop or slime, or watch a forensic crime scene, or do something different".

The Lego-inspired educational play summer camps are tentatively planning to operate from July 20th, according to franchise manager Peter Clark. "To ensure we are fully prepared for re-opening in line with WHO and HSE guidelines, we are currently working with a health and safety consultant to develop an updated health and safety plan and Covid-19 standard operating procedures," says Clark.

"We're quite fortunate, compared to many other summer activity providers, as we're a totally outside, non-contact activity," says Glyn Williams of the Irish National Sailing and Powerboat School in Dún Laoghaire. They have drafted procedures that they believe will enable them to operate with social distancing and all the required cross-contamination control measures, both on and off shore, if permitted to go ahead. Children will sail in single-handed boats and double-handed dinghies will only be used for a pair from the same household. They will halve their camp capacity and have developed new teaching methods to eliminate the need for anybody to be within two metres of one another.

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Although people have been booking camps, "it looks like it will not be responsible to offer camps until August 10th", says Paul Shorte, operations director of Artzone, which ran 48 general art and academy camps last summer attended by more than 1,600 children. If they can proceed in August, they hope to operate at half capacity in four venues, running with public health protocols. If the return of children to school is staggered in September, they may keep camps going for those out of school. Meanwhile, they host free online art classes twice per week on their Facebook page and are investigating the possibility of trialling online live art camps this summer.

Plans for virtual camps in July and August, covering drama and acting, art, singing and dancing are being finalised by Play Act, building on the live interactive classes they have run since the schools closed. "This is a wonderful opportunity for students as virtual classes are much smaller than our usual classes," says founder Adrienne Lee. "This is to ensure all students in our virtual setting receive as much individual attention as they would in our physical space."

"Gymnastics is a tricky one as coaches have to work so closely with gymnasts in terms of safety support etc," says managing director Neil Gissane, who thinks it unlikely they will be able to run "on site" camps. However, they are developing an online summer programme for members, which will include a virtual camp focusing on mobility, conditioning, flexibility and interactive games for gymnasts.

With GAA training expected to restart from July 20th, the organisers of these highly popular, nationwide camps all around the island hope they will be able to operate from then too – albeit it with reduced numbers and procedures that will enable social distancing. Bookings are being taken but full refunds are promised if camps are cancelled.

These multi-activity camps that run all over the country for children aged five to 12 are ready to go if given the green light from July 20th, says founder Eileen Sheehy. While they await clarity on whether phase four or five of the roadmap applies to them, they are adapting camp programmes to what they hope will meet with forthcoming public health requirements.

While still hoping to run some of its traditional high-tech camps for ages eight to 15 in various universities and institutes of technology, WhizzKids have developed resources to deliver virtual summer camps with a digital skills virtual classroom at whizzkids.io. Suitable for children aged eight to 12, course options range from coding and animation to game development and graphic design, with online classes and video tutorials.

With the staging of its “boutique” summer camps in jeopardy, this small band of music teachers have switched very quickly to offering online lessons and building up video resources. If their live events are wiped out, they will have virtual options for the summer. It has also developed an eight-module “ukulele licence” course, funded by Music Generation dlr, that can be accessed for free.

Forest school leaders don't know when they will be "back in play", but it could be in line with the phased reopening of early years services from July 20th. What they have no doubt about is that connection to nature is needed now more than ever, and they hope the fact that they operate outdoors with small groups would be in their favour. "Not only is time in nature good for our children's mental health while providing physical activity, there is the hypothesis that we need to get our hands dirty to keep our immune systems healthy," says Ciara Hinksman of Forest School Ireland (formerly Earth Force Education). "Research shows our soil has biomes and the biodiversity of bacteria in it can be used by our bodies to boost our immune system."

Read: Uncertainty hangs over summer camps