Five Ways to Get Through the Summer If Camp Is Closed

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Ah, summer. Sunny days, evenings sipping red wine, and weekends on the beach reading trashy novels.

Wrong.

Don’t try selling that fantasy to parents whose kids have been home for months and who are now facing a summer with their children, since Covid-19 forced many sleep-away and day camps to close.

Netflix Party, online trivia games, and trips for ice cream can take up only so many hours. Fortunately, people who run camps and others have come up with ideas to engage kids—and keep them out of your hair for at least a few minutes a day.

Lisa Damour, a psychologist in the Cleveland suburb of Beachwood, suggests cycling through a wide range of activities, from the cerebral to the corporeal to the utterly brainless. They don’t all have to happen every day, she says, and while interacting with others is important, it’s all right for there to be downtime. “Learning can be very, very broad: It could be the harmonica, or juggling, or baking, or another language,” says Damour, author of Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls. “It’s also important to be useful, helping around the house or around the community.”

Here are tips on keeping kids occupied through the summer:

Mail-order meals: Get a kit with cool stuff delivered to your door. Raddish Kids sells boxes with recipes, utensils, and step-by-step instructions, following themes such as regional cuisine or “cooking with science.” Try outsourcing dinner to your children, with such recipes as Moroccan chicken tagine or crunchy pea tacos. “This is something kids can do at home,” founder Samantha Barnes suggests says. “They don't need to go to a class, and everyone benefits.”

KiwiCo sells themed crates with everything necessary to complete an engineering or craft project, such as building a hydraulic claw or making an electric pencil sharpener. This summer, the company is also offering free do-it-yourself activities on its website, such as a “day of camp” focused on flight, with videos explaining how rockets fly or how to make a paper wing.

Start a book club: Get family members, or your children’s friends, to agree on a title everyone wants to—and is able to—read, then set a time to discuss it via Zoom or FaceTime. KiwiCo founder Sandra Oh Lin’s family is starting with The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, and All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.

Spend a day at the museum: Check your local museums (or even those far away), as they sometimes offer kid-oriented programs focused on nature or art. The Queens Botanical Garden, Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, and the San Diego Museum of Art, for instance, all have online camps this summer.

Educational websites such as Khan Academy and Outschool.com go beyond calculus, chemistry, and Kafka, with fun courses for all ages. Outschool, for instance, offers Harry Potter scavenger hunts, photography classes, and Star Wars discussion groups. The key, says Amir Nathoo, co-founder of Outschool, is to keep things light and entertaining. “Help your kids pursue interests, rather than putting too much pressure on the academics,” Nathoo says.

Play art historian: Emanuela Grama, an associate professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, has figured out how to spend more time with her 9- and 11-year-old stepchildren while encouraging their love of art. She plans to show the kids images of paintings from various historical periods, then ask them to describe what the subjects are doing, how they’re dressed, and any clues about their lives. A good place to start, says Grama, is the detailed village-scapes of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, or works by Johannes Vermeer that juxtapose servants and nobles. “I want them to learn how to appreciate art and place it in its own historical context, as well as how to pay more attention to disparate details and information, and connect the dots,” she says.

Run a boot camp: Kim Cobb, a professor at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, tries to rein in the chaos with a rigorous schedule of jobs for her four children, aged 9 to 13. They all have to make their beds, fold their pajamas, and get dressed before 9 a.m. They’re divided into teams of two to set the table and wash the dishes, and they can lose screen time if they don’t do their share. “They do build new habits,” Cobb says. “It took a week to get through the screaming phase. Now when I say, ‘Do your chores,’ I only have to say it once.”

Share your tips: Ask friends what they’re doing, and ask the grandparents to pitch in with activities. And if you get some good ideas, please pass them on to jlorin@bloomberg.net. I’m anticipating a long summer with my 9- and 11-year olds!

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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