With the pandemic over the past couple of years, experts say kids have never needed summer camp more than they do this year. Maine camps are ready, with surging enrollments. Some are already full to capacity.
From isolation to remote learning to distancing and pandemic protocols, youngsters have endured a myriad of challenges since the COVID-19 pandemic began two years ago. Add to that an increasing reliance on technology and immersion in social media, both children and their parents are looking to the summer camp experience for a much-needed change in landscape and return to the basics.
As a result, camps are filling up fast, and many day camps are already at maximum enrollment. According to Ron Hall, executive director of Maine Summer Camps, a Portland-based nonprofit representing more than 150 member camps, many southern Maine day camps have closed registrations. Camp Ketcha, a day camp in Scarborough, was full in ten minutes, he says. Many parents are distressed, Hall said.
Day camps are in higher demand than ever because more and more parents are returning to their offices to work and need summer childcare, Hall said. But he adds that families also are “really very concerned about [children’s]lack of social and emotional growth during the pandemic.” This is driving high enrollments not only at day camps but also at Maine’s scores of residential camps.
Catriona Logan Sangster, who with her husband, Andy, owns and directs girls’ residential Camp Wawenock in Raymond, says enrollment at the single session, seven-week camp is nearly full. Parents’ bandwidth for creating summer experiences at home – or “patching together day camps” is strained, she said. “And they want to get their kids off technology,” she said.
“I do think, especially for girls, social media has really become embedded in their life in a way that’s not healthy,” she said. “It is really important for young people to be reminded of how to interact in a real authentic relationship, in person, with others, for an extended period of time.”
Camps foster those relationships, Sangster said, where children can “learn and practice the hard stuff, like having conversations about when you don’t see eye-to-eye or learning and trying new things.”
Hall said camps will certainly need to implement COVID-19 protocols, similar to last summer, and many camps will likely require vaccination, he said. But those requirements are not feasible for all camp populations, he said, so mandates will not be universal.
“Camps know this summer will be different,” he said, “and they also know they’ve been able to adapt over the past year or two to operate and operate safely.”
Parents should act quickly to seek and secure camp placements for their children, Hall said. Maine Summer Camps’ website (mainecamps.org) includes a “Find-A-Camp” tool that families can utilize. In addition, the organization will host a camp fair on March 27 at East End Community School in Portland. Information about this is also available at www.mainecamps.org.