Kids camps open up for summer fun, learning

Programs especially welcome following year of being shut in

With spring here and the end of the school year approaching, parents are looking forward to summer camps to give their children academic enrichment, social interaction and the chance to get out of the house after enduring a year’s worth of online learning.

“I’m feeling over-the-moon excited about the possibility of summer camp,” said Stacey Palevsky-Lewis, a San Francisco parent. “We kept our first-grader home last summer from everything and he’s been distance learning since last March, so I am ready for him to be back in the world, playing and having fun.”

The City’s COVID-19 reopening plan gives summer camps and extracurriculars the green light to run in-person programs that must be at least three weeks long, have a maximum of 14 children and require parents, counselors and children older than 10 to wear face coverings.

Camp leaders are eager to kick off plans, too, as Phase 1B of California’s vaccine plan allows counselors, considered employees of children’s recreation programs, to get vaccinated.

“I’m just really excited to have kids back in person and be able to see them, having a good time,” said Juliet Reingold, local director of Steve & Kate’s Camp in Noe Valley. “Summer camp is always a really special time and I’m just excited to give that back to the kids.”

The camp, made for kids ages 4-12, offers activities including sewing, performance, coding or a mix of options presented in interest-based “squads.” There’s also virtual performances from magicians, reptile shows and other acts. And while the mix of online and in-person things to do is new to her team, Reingold says beloved traditions are not.

“Summer camp and new social activities for kids are still important, and the importance of youth programs and summer camp hasn’t changed because of the pandemic,” Reingold said. “Those same reasons that people have sent their kids to camp for so many years still exist and are going to continue to exist as long as camp is around.”

Divyata Griggs, center director of Mathnasium of Pacific Heights SF, says her program — both in-person and virtual, covering math, logic, STEM games and more — gives kids a chance to work on math face-to-face after what she calls the “COVID-19 slide.” Kids typically lose some skills during summer, because they’re out of practice, but deficiencies she’s seen this year are greater than ever.

“If those learning losses are not addressed, then there is a very serious risk of them falling behind in math. Math is especially difficult because it builds upon itself in layers,” Griggs said. “The concepts get more complex as each grade level goes, and the fundamental concepts are critical for their success in higher grades,” she said, adding, “As The City’s numbers are improving, we are getting a lot of calls from parents asking to come back because kids are tired of online learning. They want to interact with the instructors in person and learn.”

Circus Center’s camp focuses on fun, not academics. Kids are encouraged to get goofy and burn off pent-up energy as they learn to juggle, tumble and stilt walk with circus professionals.

“One of my favorite things about circus is that it is a wide door, in that anybody can come in and kind of find something that suits them,” said Barry Kendall, executive director of Circus Center.

The camp plans to run partially inside, where kids can have access to rigged aerial equipment, a trapeze rig and tumbling mats, and partially outside, where they can play circus-related games. Kendall says that following COVID safety protocols while providing a safe place to practice means that stunts needing a spotter may be limited.

“In the heat of the moment, if it’s the choice between a child safety, and getting a little closer than the health order says is OK, we’re going to get closer in order to protect the child’s safety,” Kendall said. “But we want to think ahead before we get into that point, to try to make sure that we’re planning our activities so that we can try to stay safe always.”

Kendall, a parent, knows there will be a high demand for summer camp, given the need for smaller group sizes and kids have spent the year indoors. Circus Center’s first week already has a waiting list.

“I’ve got a 7-year-old, and she’s dying to get out of the house,” Kendall said. “That’s gonna be our chance, you know, to give them some sense of normalcy, even if things haven’t all gotten all the way back to normal for the rest of us.”

More city summer camp opportunities with various focuses, from art to athletics, are featured here.

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