Just like school, summer camp is zooming to digital.
With sleep-away camps across the country canceling the entire season’s worth of programs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, startups are offering exhausted parents a virtual equivalent for the warmer months.
Some at-home programs are simply offering new options for continued learning opportunities, but others are creating entirely new digital experiences for campers, replicating the traditional sleep-away model through a screen.
Happy Camper Live offers youngsters access to a canteen, a camp store with clothing and gear, “the world’s biggest campfire where campers can upload their own videos” and a 41-episode web series which shows a recorded camp experience from pre-pandemic times. Created by a summer camp operator, the “360-degree virtual summer camp experience” boasts free activities and content, daily broadcasts and a simulacrum of the classic American summer camp experience.
Camp Supernow takes a nuanced version of the virtual experience, replicating the community part of having bunkmates.
“Experience the magic of camp from your living room,” Supernow advertises on its website. The freshly launched online program has “cabins” — groups of six to 10, for ages 5 to 11, who can either join together as a private session or be sorted into a group of tots from around the country. The virtual camp also has all the makings of a classic summer camp program including counselors, virtual field trips and nature walks, gratitude circles, crafts, and learning camp songs, dances and cheers.
But unlike summer camp, which requires shipping youngsters off for several weeks at a time, Supernow is conducted through Zoom for one hour a day, at a rate of $100 per camper after the first week (which is $85). A portion of profits will allow health-care workers’ children to attend for free.
Co-founder Lyndsey Wheeler says the virtual program differs from plopping an iPad in a kid’s hands since it’s interactive.
“Camp Supernow presents a more intentional approach to occupying and entertaining kids than YouTube videos or addictive games,” says Wheeler.
The camps, parents say, are a bright spot and a helpful daily distraction in the face of a seemingly endless span of unstructured time while stuck in quarantine.
Unlike remote schooling, though, digital summer camp isn’t being held up as a permanent alternative to the in-person experience. While a useful alternative at the moment, even creators aren’t promoting their programs as long-term substitutes for the experience of going to sleep-away camp, but rather touting them as an innovative Band-Aid to help families get through this summer since safety protocols prevent the real thing.
“Camp Supernow will factor large in helping us through this summer,” says Reagan Weil, a Texas father of two Supernow campers.
While 9-year-old Wolfgang Strohmeyer usually spends his summers traveling and doing martial arts, he is genuinely excited to start going to virtual summer camp through Varsity Tutors, which has free, weeklong Virtual Summer Camp sessions. The program also has live online celebrity-led classes and other courses including fairy-tale creative writing and intro to Spanish.
Although he understands that IRL summer camp can’t happen right now, his mom, Clarisa Strohmeyer, is glad she hadn’t planned her son’s summer yet when the pandemic hit, because now he has nothing to be disappointed over.
“I guess it’s because I did not give him expectations,” she tells The Post.
Virtual summer camp may not be a substitute for the real thing, but Wolfgang understands that, for now, there isn’t much in the way of better alternatives.
“He likes Minecraft, and programming and learning,” she says, adding “he trusts me.”