Day camps turn virtual for Canadian children

The Canadian Press
Julian McKenzie

MONTREAL — Despite being allowed to operate, some day camps in Quebec and Ontario are turning to the internet to keep children entertained this summer.
And while online day camps can help prevent kids from catching COVID-19 and assuage the concerns of skittish parents, they aren’t accessible to everyone.
Rock Camp Montreal, for instance, wasn’t able to get access to some of the venues it used in previous summers. Instead, the camp will open online-only this year with a different focus that it hopes will appeal to young people.
“We have had to basically completely change the model of camp to be more of a music production focus,” board member Skye Miechkota said.
The one-week camp runs music and anti-oppression workshops and is offered to girls and gender non-conforming youth. This year, instead of teaching campers in an electroacoustic studio at Concordia University, they will try to teach their campers through music production software.
But the camp cannot be as inclusive as it wants to be because of the digital divide.
“It’s definitely been very stressful,” Miechkota said. “We’re trying to work around people’s schedules, but ultimately if a camper doesn’t have access to the internet, unfortunately it’s beyond our means right now to provide that for a camper.”
The Ottawa Children’s Theatre previously used the Dominion-Chalmers United Church for its summer programs but is now holding sessions online, including one led by two former Ottawa residents who’ve since moved to New York City to work as actors and playwrights.
But the children’s theatre must also reduce access to its activities this year.
“Most of the camps, we’re dealing with six, eight or 10 kids,” said Amanda Lewis, founder of the Ottawa Children’s Theatre. “Keeping very small numbers so that we can stay closely connected to each and every child.”
Malik Shaheed is the director of operations for the Youth Stars Foundation, a non-profit organization that runs an annual summer day camp in Pierrefonds-Roxboro, a Montreal west-end borough.
Shaheed said the camp will offer free online workshops on coding, arts and crafts, and music starting June 29. He initially wanted to open the camp and welcome kids in-person, but relented when parents expressed concerns.
“Once the COVID really hit, registration completely stopped,” Shaheed said. “We had a couple of people inquiring, but not the magnitude it usually is.”
Day camps are permitted to open in Quebec and Ontario under certain public health guidelines designed to control the spread of COVID-19.
But some parents such as Tara Belle are getting ready for a summer multitasking work and parental duties.
“A lot of parents keep their kids all summer anyways,” Belle said in a interview. “It might be a hardship for us, relative to what we usually have. At the same time, it’ll allow us to spend more time with our kids than we really ever have before.”
The YMCA in Quebec was forced to close several of its day camps that don’t have dedicated outdoor space this summer because the government is requiring all activities take place outside.
YMCA Regional Director of Camps, Sean Day, says that Quebec YMCAs are looking to provide ways for children to connect online with a camp counsellor.
Day said he feels strongly that children need something to look forward to this summer.
“You can imagine the complexities of creating these programs,” he said in an interview about the YMCA’s online summer services. “We’ve been working hard at it because we feel so strongly that there needs to be something for kids this summer.”