Spring of 2020 set back many with the realization that COVID-19 was going to affect us for far longer than hoped. Places closed, families went into quarantine, and everyone was left wondering—what happens next?
One of the Sawgrass Nature Center and Wildlife Hospital’s main goals was to continue our mission of Environmental Education. No other program meets that goal like our youth camp, Camp Wild. However, Spring Camp had already been cancelled, so there was no precedent to running a successful camp during a pandemic. But the need for a sense of normalcy and a place for children to go have fun and further their education was definitely there.
Camp Wild 2020 – Summer Session continued under new rules and safety regulations. An average camp size of thirty, was reduced to a capacity of fifteen. In the open-air outdoor classroom at the Sawgrass Nature Center, assigned seats and spaces were created for campers with a six-foot minimum distance between them. Masks were required and worn at almost all times, apart from food and water breaks. Mandatory hand washing and hand sanitizing was scheduled throughout the day. Regular reminders to keep their hands to themselves, to show care for their friends’ safety by not sharing, and the risks involved with breaking the very important safety rules helped campers understand the role they were playing toward a safe and successful camp experience.
The curriculum and activities were also adapted to the new safety requirements. Typical toys and games that could not be easily sanitized (playdough, crayons, Legos) were substituted with items that could be kept clean and separate. When it came time for crafts, every camper was preassigned their own set of supplies and materials. Counselors were then responsible for collecting and cleaning supplies.
One of the most difficult issues of running an outdoor camp during COVID-19 is the requirement of face masks. How do we ensure the campers keep them on and that they are breathing properly in the face of Florida’s unrelenting heat? Fortunately, face masks have proven to be quite breathable. Campers were told that if they ever felt like they needed a mask break, or that they were breathing too hard, a safe space would be made for them to breathe freely.
With all these safety regulations, Camp Wild attendees were able to participate in typical camp activities like outdoor games, dip netting, slogging, bug hunting, and more. Camp Wild 2020 was a success in the face of global crisis. Six weeks of successful operation showed us that there is a way to keep our children safe and educated during uncertain times and for them to have a fun summer camp experience.