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It was a summer unlike any other for camp program

Social distancing and other precautions were a key part of this year’s summer camp operated by Woolwich Township. [Damon Maclean]

With kids heading back to school, at least theoretically, Woolwich has wrapped up its summer camp program after a season unlike any other.

The coronavirus pandemic put an end to camp staples such field trips, museum visits and the like, forcing organizers to shift gears at the township-run program.

“Camp has been definitely different. We had to make a lot of different modifications following lots of COVID guidelines. But we had an opportunity to be creative and still provide a high-quality fun camp for the kids,” said camp staffer Alison Orr.

This year saw capacity drop radically to ensure COVID-19 measures and Public Health guidelines could be maintained. Campers were placed into cohorts of nine, and there were only four cohorts per week. At the Woolwich Memorial Centre, camp was operated out of the two hockey rinks. Dividers were placed in the middle of both rinks to segregate the groups of children.

Keeping physical distancing and attempting to maintain individual’s bubbles was a challenge unique to this year’s camp. There were many new considerations in the mix, said Orr.

For instance, kids returning for more than one session were grouped together to reduce the amount of overlap or interaction with new arrivals. Organizers also looked for connections outside the camp time, taking into account existing bubbles.

“Returners are always put in the same group as best as possible to ensure that there’s not too much overlap. And if they’re siblings, they’re always in the same group, unless requested otherwise by the parent. As well, parents call in or email us if they have friends and family or people that have been in their bubble already. Same as leaders, if they’ve been babysitting or they’re neighbours, they stay in the same group as the child’s so we don’t have too much overlap and keep it as best we can,” explained Orr.

Programming looked at maintaining two arms’ length – so-called airplane arms – as well as activities that including the likes of pool noodles to ensure distancing could be kept and reinforced. Kids were also staggered when sitting at a table for crafts or bingo.

“The only difference is usually we used to do bigger group games with the whole camp, and we can’t do that this year… because of social distancing. So that part was a little bit harder to adjust to,” she added.

Marie Malcolm, Woolwich’s Community Programs and Inclusion Coordinator, noted registration numbers were low at the beginning of the camp season but gradually increased.

“We did notice after mid-July to August, enrollment increased, and we were reaching pretty much our capacity for the camp program,” said Malcolm.

With the return to their classrooms this month, kids who attended the summer camps may have a leg up on some of their peers, say organizers.

“They’ve already started wearing masks and everything – they’re getting used to it. A lot of the kids know the routine now that they’ve been here for the whole summer, to the point where you can tell them to do something without instructions – they already know where to line up, socially distant, and how to line up for the washroom. They always remember to wash their hands now, even reminding the leaders to wash their hands,” said Orr.

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