Couch potatoes, unite. The summer of 2020 is yours for the taking.
An annual ritual for parents is sending kids off to camps, ranging from soccer to singing, art projects to exploring the great outdoors.
This summer, that has been replaced by endless hours around the house, with kids mastering the thousand-yard stare as they devote too much time to their tablets and devices.
Such is life in the middle of a pandemic, a viral outbreak that has had a profound effect on how parents manage to keep their children occupied in the extended space between the mid-March shutdown of schools and the time the morning bell rings again at some point later this year.
“The thing we’ve heard from parents is kids are lonely and bored and parents are desperate,” said Richard Ginn, owner of Black Rocket Productions. “This summer, we’re dedicating as much help to them as possible.”
Ginn’s company is working in partnership with Santa Fe Community College to offer virtual camps designed to teach kids technical skills with interactive video games and instructional classes. Courses are run through the college’s website and last three hours a day, giving tutorials on how to do everything from YouTube videos to group projects that require coding and animation for games.
If you look hard enough, you’ll find places in and around Santa Fe that offer services, but not many. Camps typically organized by community centers and local pools are nonexistent, and summer sports leagues for all ages have been canceled.
The Santa Fe Children’s Museum is among the casualties, but it has managed to maintain an abbreviated version of its wildly popular kids camps.
That’s the good news.
The bad? Every one of the half-dozen weeklong camps, which began June 15 with Jurassic Explorers and continues Monday with Earth Explorers, is full — with a waiting list growing larger by the minute.
The common denominators everywhere you look are a camp’s ability to let kids spend at least part of the time outside to allow greater social distancing, not to mention sheer numbers.
As in 5-to-1.
In accordance with the state’s health guidelines, groups can get no bigger than a 5-1 student-teacher ratio. Whether it’s a sports team doing basic conditioning drills or a children’s mountain adventure club hiking through the Sangre de Cristos, the congregation must remain small and hold true to the strict protocols we’ve all learned to live with: masks, sanitizers, social distancing, etc.
That means no sports like Little League baseball and softball, and no soccer or football. For years, schools provided a reprieve to parents by offering their own summer skills camps, all of which are gone until further notice.
Some entities outside the influence of sports have kept going by adopting a flair for the creative.
“This is going to sound different, but the Santa Fe River has been a blessing for us,” says Sarah Baker, owner and director of the Children’s Adventure Co. “We’ve spent a lot of time playing in there, which is great for the kids.”
The Children’s Adventure Co. typically manages 150 kids or more. Health guidelines have restricted that number to about 40, roughly 25 percent of normal. Procedures for morning drop-off and pickup have changed to accommodate health concerns, as have the hours the camps provide.
Kids in Baker’s care are required to wear masks, while the staff is armed with a veritable arsenal of sanitation supplies. Everywhere a group goes, teachers are at the ready with wipes, steam cleaners, gloves and hand sanitizer.
“I’m really impressed by the way the kids, the families, everyone has handled this,” Baker said. “We’ve all been forced to do things in a new way, but this can’t happen without the dedicated families who understand what we’re all going through. We’re doing this for the kids, but really it’s kind of for all of us.”
The underlying message is fairly simple: Parents need something for their kids to do. With so many adults working at least part time from home, the realization of a bored child without something to keep them busy is downright frightening. And maddening.
“The last thing a parent wants is a child at home doing nothing, but that’s a problem we all have,” said a spokesman for Santa Fe’s Dragonfly Art Studio, run by owner Oceanna Holton, which offers interactive online and in-person art classes for kids. “They’re all just looking for something creative to do.”
Erin Doerwald was fortunate enough to get her grade school-age son into the Assistance Dogs of the West program, one of the few Santa Fe kid-centric businesses to remain open in the wake of the novel coronavirus. The program allows children to work with puppies in training to become service dogs. They help issue commands, run obstacle courses and have close interaction with the animals.
“Kids have been denied so much social interaction since this started in March so, yeah, it’s a little weird to see how excited my son is to get out,” Doerwald said. “It’s almost like he’s going to an ice cream and candy camp.”
For the ambitious types willing to travel, there are options outside Santa Fe. Sports entities like i9 opened limited conditioning services in the Albuquerque area in mid-June, while Animal Humane New Mexico in Albuquerque has launched a creative series of online courses, the next of which starts July 6 for kids ages 11-13.
They include animal yoga and art projects where the staff will drive to students’ homes and deliver kits to work on while in the camp.
Ellen Schmidt is the senior director of adoptions and outreach for Animal Humane. She and Education Director Jeanne Frye-Mason launched classes that are still open to kids around the state.
“It’s hard to have kids who just finished online classes for school to do the same thing this summer, so we’re trying to break away from having a child just sit in front of the computer for hours,” Schmidt said. “We’ve found that the kids picked up on stuff pretty quickly. They’re very tech savvy, and the the goal was to get them up and moving.”
Hummingbird Music Camp in the Jemez Mountains plans to open June 28, but a spokeswoman said they are still awaiting final approval from state officials to make that happen. In the meantime, she said, preparations have been underway to provide a safe environment for the weeklong sleep-away camps.
“I understand how parents can get a little frustrated,” Baker of Children’s Adventure Co. said. “Kids just want something to do, and everywhere you look, the things you normally do with them can’t be done. We’re all spending too much time inside, I think.”
The long-term damage, Baker said, could run deeper than having kids stare into devices with lifeless, glazed looks on their faces.
If things don’t get back to normal soon, a bigger issue could be the survival of places like the Children’s Adventure Co. and dozens of others like it.
Forced to shut down in mid-March, Baker’s business didn’t open again until June 1.
“We’ve been here 33 years, and the community, I think, needs us,” Baker said, pausing to consider a reality she and others now face. “We never make a profit. I’m just hopeful that we get through this by the end of the year because I’m not sure we can make it past that point.”