If there’s one lesson coming out of the City of Farmington Hills’ decision to hold limited summer camp programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s this:
Kids can handle masks.
In fact, Nature Center Director Ashlie Smith and Cultural Arts Coordinator Jessica Guzmán Dunn say campers, some as young as age 6, have exceeded their expectations when it comes to wearing masks and social distancing.
“I’ve been just completely blown away by how amazing these kids are,” Smith said. “I cannot tell you enough how they’ve exceeded every expectation I had about how quickly they’ve been able to adapt.”
Even with temperatures soaring over 90 degrees, kids are masking up when they can’t social distance, Smith said. One little boy, cooling off in front of a fan at the end of a camp session told her, “It was the best day ever.”
“They are just soaking up every minute of being here and being together,” Smith said. “Kids have been socially isolated, that’s one of the reasons we decided to run it.”
“We are really impressed so far with the kids,” Dunn said. “They’ve been really good about wearing their masks and reminding each other about social distancing. Even the younger ones will say, ‘You’re getting close to me could you put on your mask?’.”
The decision to hold camps this year came after frequent meetings and monitoring the latest information from state and federal officials, as well as the American Camp Association. The city surveyed parents and found a majority wanted some kind of in-person camp experience for their children.
“We started doing a little feasibility study to determine is this something we’re going to be able to pull off,” Dunn said. “We put together a loose plan, so we were ready to go when the word came.”
Smith said the same held true for the Nature Center, where staff members have rigorously adhered to mask, social distancing, and other safety protocols. All camps have vastly reduced numbers, and campers stick together with dedicated counselors – there’s no crossover.
Also, the Nature Center and its public restrooms are closed Smith said, so that children have no accidental contact with anyone outside their group.
Campers have daily health checks when they arrive at any of the city’s campsites: the Nature Center and Stables Art Studio in Heritage Park and the extended day camp at the Costick Center. There are a few archery camps scheduled as well, at the Riley Archery Range in Heritage Park.
Camp counselors have also gone above and beyond, Smith said. In addition to the typical aspects of their training, they’ve had to master COVID-19 safety measures and helping campers who might be uneasy or nervous about being around other kids.
“They have so much on their shoulders,” Smith said. “They are charged with these kids’ safety every day, and they are just rockin’ it.”
During the art camps, kids social distance for their health checks, then have some free time before playing games, going for a hike, and diving into the art. The first week’s projects were universal, with a Harry Potter theme, but as kids have an opportunity to express themselves more, Dunn said, she’s interested to see how the pandemic will play into their work.
“We took photographs, and they did self-portraits,” she said. “About half drew themselves wearing masks.”
Both Dunn and Smith said their goal is to make camp as safe as possible, while ensuring a high-quality camp experience. Dunn said that requires a partnership among camp staff, kids, and parents.
“We worked really hard to ensure that we could give kids a real camp experience, and the only way we can do this is if we’re part of a team, with everybody masking up, social distancing, and washing hands.”
“We just want to have them enjoy the summer and be healthy,” Smith said. “Whatever happens, we’ve got a plan.”
Correction: Ashlie Smith’s last name was incorrectly reported in the original version of this post.