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Home Away From Home (At Home Edition)

Fun in the sun? Good times and tan lines? Not so much. This summer was unconventional to say the least and the prospect of missing out on fun summer camps seemed imminent, but the idea of a virtual camp was quickly devised. Originally offering only music lessons, Quarantunes expanded into offering free summer camps, hosting multiple week-long sessions during which children were occupied with traditional camp activities altered to meet the demands of the Zoom barrier. Led by Madeline Levin, Anna Roth, and Julia Segal, the Quarantunes Summer Camp added a tinge of normalcy to an otherwise unorthodox break.

Disheartened at the cancellation of her younger sister’s summer camps and the looming months-long boredom that would ensue for all kids this summer, Anna decided that “we- Madeline and I- could create a zoom summer camp that could have all the activities that me and my sister loved like crafts, games, dancing, but just modified a bit.” Madeline hoped for the camp to be “fun and interactive, while also abiding by any restrictions in place because of social distancing.”

Modified for the screen, the Quarantunes Summer Camp sought to provide all the elements found in the standard summer camp. Games such as Mafia and scavenger hunts as well as arts and crafts were all staples throughout all the sessions, but Anna and Madeline decided to seize the chance to add an educational component as well, which eventually took form in a book club. As Anna stated, “We knew that a lot of the kids were probably spending most of their time watching movies or playing video games. We decided that it would be fun to create a sort of book club and have the campers choose a book they wanted to read at the beginning of the week and then have activities related to it throughout the week.” Different themes included the beach, camping, and magic. During the week of magic, the book Narnia was selected for the children to read. The campers read a chapter every night and played games related to the themes of the book chosen that week.

Counselors and campers show off their Toy Story-inspired crafts!

Although the organizers did not have to fret about the logistics such as a venue, drop-off and pick-up times, physical safety and what-not, hosting an online camp significantly minimizes the number of activities that can be done. One issue was ensuring that all the kids were moving-around, regardless of whether they played a sport. Therefore, one out-of-seat activity was scheduled for every day, mostly as fun games that all kids could participate in such as dance competitions and scavenger hunts.

Moreover, another challenge was that of accessibility. Therefore, activities such as arts-and-crafts were often limited to basic materials- pencils, crayons, and paper- that almost everyone could access. Books that had free online-pdf versions were often selected and if a big activity was planned, parents were surveyed and informed in advance. For parent Yuko Huang, “it was easy to prepare for the camps where counselors were able to send out supply lists days before the session started,” but when the lists were sent out the night before, it was difficult to find similar items. Overall though, Huang said that “trying to predict what the items would be used for was fun for our kids.”

The efforts of the organizers and counselors largely paid off, as the children generally enjoyed the modified camp activities. Sandy Chang’s son Calvin (10), who attended one of the sessions, really enjoyed the arts-and-crafts; that week, they created paper masks. Huang’s two twin daughters Ellena and Layla (both 10) found games such as Mafia, Simone and Talia’s version of jeopardy, and making ice-cream and s’mores to be entertaining.

Additionally, the opportunity to socialize in times of limited interaction was invaluable. Groups were purposely kept small to ensure quality time. Chang, who stated that “online tutoring [usually occurs in] big online groups, so there’s no real human interaction as the teacher keeps talking and probably doesn’t know what’s going on.” Whereas during the Quarantunes camp, Chang said that the kids "could actually interact with each other.” Also, at the end of every session the counselor took a screenshot of everyone and sent it to the parents, which Chang really appreciated.

The barrier of Zoom allowed for different forms of entertainment, including online games that everyone could enjoy!

The experience was fulfilling for Anna and Madeline, both of whom gained increased insight on working with kids. Anna learned to be flexible to their needs and began “giving the kids options for their next activity, spending more time on one and cutting one short depending on how interested and excited the kids were, and creating activities for later in the week that matched their interests definitely helped everyone stay engaged and having fun.” On the other hand, Madeline was impressed by the resilience of the campers, who were “great about coming in with an open mind, and knowing that this was going to be different from a normal summer camp.”

On a more personal note, contributing to the creation of fun summer memories for kids was especially meaningful. As Madeline reflects on the weeks-long effort to bring joy and excitement into their days stuck at home, “knowing that me and other counselors were partly responsible for that was very inspiring.”

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