When it comes to summer camps, many children find it quite the task. Summer is for playing outdoors and for long vacations. But there are also those who enjoy picking up new skills, languages, and interests, and in such cases, engaging summer camps are a thing to look forward to. However, in recent times, keeping children engaged through online activities has been a challenge. With physical summer camps being ill-advised at this time and the pandemic changing learning methods completely, virtual learning, even during the summer, might take a toll on children. So the onus lies on organisers to make their sessions stand out from their usual online classes. With summer drawing to a close, TNM spoke to a few summer camp organisers to share their experience on how they adapted their offerings to an online-only medium and how children responded to it.
Meera Sitaraman, who is part of Theatre Nisha, a Chennai-based theatre company, just wrapped up a 15-day theatre workshop for children between the ages of 5 and 10. She tells TNM that the idea behind their workshop was to keep children engaged on their own. āWeāve been dealing with online-only education for a year now. If we were to conduct an engaging creative session online despite that, we will have to keep the child engaged on his/her own. We focus on such activities and not something that requires a group effort,ā Meera explains.
She further admits that it is very easy to lose track of what children are up to on the other side of the computer screen. āWe know such things by now; when thereās a sparkle in the eye, we know thereās another tab open. It used to be bugging earlier, but thereās no point in having a fight with the child. Itās convenient for them to miss class. It is even more important to keep the child interested in learning,ā she explains.
The theatre workshop inducted children to movement, acting, writing, understanding plays, theatre crafts, theatre music and more. āSo we had them using handmade shakers and tables for creating music, talking to parents using sock puppetsā¦ The idea is to be creative within the space of the house and to ensure that whatever they do, it is possible to do so with all thatās within their reach,ā Meera adds.
Lakshmi Rammohan, founder of Bengaluru based pre-school Earthlings Early Years is now conducting her first summer camp for children between 2 and 6 years of ageā a very tough audience for an online medium, she admits.
āChildren miss out on the ability to run and play. A lot of our events include movement-oriented games. There are games like hopping around, call and response, act like an animal, stomping around, etc,ā Lakshmi shares, adding that the most popular game played on demand is called āThe Floor is Lavaā.
The team also has activities planned around things that are available at home. āFrom sponge to carton boxes, paper cups, plates, dupattas, building blocks, etc, we have games and crafts that children can do. For instance, we ask them to imagine the dupatta to be a river and ask them to build a bridge across it,ā Lakshmi says. In addition to physical games, they also pay attention to sensory play, making children come up with objects using sponges and (home-made) slime.
The biggest challenge when it comes to holding camps for children belonging to such an age group is to make them feel seen and heard, Lakshmi shares. āIt is challenging,ā she says, adding, āMost of the time they don't respond because they don't feel heard. We therefore have three facilitators in each of our sessions. Weāre all online at the same time, watching, encouragingā¦ It is impossible to perform and watch at the same time. This way, every child gets attention and responds individually.ā
But the challenge is not just for organisers. Parents too have to take a lot of things into consideration before signing their ward up for online summer camp courses. Veena*, who lives in Hyderabad, never considered summer camps for her son before the pandemic. āWe usually travelled and I also made sure he had time for himself to do whatever he wanted,ā she says.
But with the pandemic and the lockdown, Veena gave her sonās school-organised summer courses a try last year. āI am a bit wary about online-only courses, especially since I donāt spend all my time with my son. I want to be careful. With school I know who the teachers are. I have a better sense of safety. This year, I also signed him up for Theatre Nisha based on the recommendations I got from people I know and trust,ā she shares.
As for the experience of the summer camp itself, Veena says her son thoroughly enjoyed Theatre Nishaās workshop. āI could see for myself that he was enjoying his time online. I also feel summer classes do good to the child, especially since they have no other better way to spend the summer. Itās been over a year since my child stepped out of the house and such camps are very helpful in keeping them occupied,ā she adds.
*Name changed on request