Summer 2020 is here…yay?  It is sure to be like no other. With a much-needed social upheaval in progress and COVID-19 gripping the nation, questions like whether to send your child to camp this summer may seem like a banal issue.

However, since the social-emotional health of our kids is also at the heart of the matter (and parents also deserve a break!) here are some options about how to look at summer 2020.

The treasured institution of summer camp – either day, or sleep-away – will have to be re-imagined.  If camp is possible in your state, there are still essential questions to consider before sending your kids.  In the meantime, parents are facing a slew of on-line programs, some from as high-brow as The Met, to as funky as a local babysitter. The choices are daunting and it can feel overwhelming.

Read on to learn about the kinds of questions you can ask virtual and in-person camps, ways to take the temperature of your family’s needs, and above all make sure that you all thrive together in this most incredible of times.

Put Kids in the Driver’s Seat

Have a family meeting to decide what are the priorities for the summer.  Audrey Monke, author of Happy Camper suggests finding a theme – much like you would in a real camp – to help ground the activities and centralize the summer plans.

Engage kids by asking them what kinds of projects they want to tackle, or what new skills they’d love to acquire. Maybe they always wanted to tap dance but the studio was too far from your house?  Maybe magic was always calling them, but they never had the time to devote to figuring it out.  With so many amazing artists and teachers streaming content from home, and eager to connect with young people, it will be easier than you think to find a creative teacher to help your kid learn.

In an ideal world you can strike a balance between getting some quality family time, creating new traditions, outside play, and acquiring skills. Giving back to the community can ground your summer in a purpose.

Independence and Resilience

After months of being cooped up together, the need for a little independence and self-sufficiency this summer is paramount.  Know that it isn’t going to be easy, but this is a moment to teach about sitting with feelings, moving beyond disappointment and ultimately making silver-linings out of darkness.  If summer 2020 is going to give our kids anything, it is resilience. Goals like learning to:

  • Skateboard
  • Bake
  • Knit
  • Play guitar
  • Learn to sing
  • Start a veggie garden

Firstly, they may need your help getting started – or finding a teacher to support their learning.  However, if they are excited about what they pick to learn about, these are gratifying hobbies that can turn into hours of screen-free explorations.  Summer 2020 may be just the moment for them to find their passion.  Ultimately, these are things that they can continue to practice and develop on their own.

“‘What else can I do?’ is a magic question that teaches the important life skills of taking initiative and finishing a job well. We can become more effective and less frustrated as parents when we take the time to teach our kids to do for themselves rather than waiting for someone else to do for them.”
– Audrey Monke, Happy Camper: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Kids Who Become Thriving Adults

Finally, self-sufficiency – a long-time staple of most sleep-away camps – can also be a major goal of your summer.  Think about how your kids can help around the house.  Can they be masters of their own laundry?  Do they have three lunch meals in their back-pocket?  Can they set the table daily and do it without being asked?

For more about age-appropriate chores, and how to turn clearing into a game, read this.

Making Learning Meaningful

Child-Directed Activities for Summer 2020

With so many options of activities and classes, it can feel like a never-ending buffet of choices.  Make sure to have some child-directed activities in the mix as well as classes around things that your child is really interested in.

Make Your Own Program

Activities like book clubs, writing groups, movie-making and podcasting are awesome.  They put technology to use but keep it social and passion-forward.  The ownership is on the kids to lead discussions and have really scintillating time together. Young people can even form their own club based on their interests – getting as niche as they want!

To solicit like-minded kids, send out an email to the class or put up a message on your local parent page about starting a group that your kid wants to spearhead.  You can find a teacher who will support the group over zoom or google classroom.  With kids ages 6-10, it can be helpful to find a leader – even an older teen – who can moderate the discussion and make sure there is balance among the participants. You also may want to make a new class around your child’s interests.  From Pokémon to Greek Mythology, ultimately games are a great way into supporting on-line learning in a group. Places like Outschool have a slew of interesting themes and one-off classes to choose from.  You can also create your own class facilitated by a theater games teacher that will merge play and the specific interest of the group!

Think Local

Lastly, when selecting your camps, think about supporting local businesses.  If you are NY based, check out this excellently simple resource from Pixel Academy that shows beloved Brooklyn-based programs.  You can see at-a-glance which are going virtual and which have in-person programming.  With so many businesses hard-hit by the pandemic, it is important to think about putting back dollars into your own community to ensure that these places are there when real doors are ready to open back up!

Activism and Social Justice

Youth activism is at an all-time high.  The current social upheaval and the momentous Black Lives Matter movement presents an incredible opportunity for compassionate and civic growth.  For example, the student-led work of Teens Take Charge – is a student-led movement fighting for educational equity in NYC classrooms.  This time presents an awesome opportunity to make social justice a theme for your summer.  Join up with other families and see how much agency your children can take in the planning of a rally, a (socially distant!) bake sale, start a non-profit, or a fundraiser.  If that feels wildly ambitious, pick a charity and see what ways kids can brainstorm raising money for them. It may be really fun for them to design and sell a shirt for charity, and companies like Ink to the People make it super easy to start a fundraiser.

photo credit: Jeff Zorabedian

Schedules Are Truly Helpful

Schedules are not just for school days!  It’s ok to keep a loose – but consistent – idea of how the day will flow. Keep that whiteboard from the homeschooling days – or that post-it note schedule, and reinvent the rules for the summer.  Knowing what is next – and deciding the order of their day, gives kids a great sense of control, and helps you know when you get a break!

Schedule in the screen-time so it doesn’t overwhelm the day and is something to look forward to.  Finally designate a time for social connection.

Online Activities for Kids to Play with Friends

Here are some socially-distant ways to connect with friends (that don’t involve Fortnite or Minecraft!). Schedule these into your summer to make sure kids keep connected and playing with friends.

  • Solve riddles and make up your own.
  • Do some online yoga or kids pilates
  • Watch the same educational show at the same time – like the Discovery channel’s Serenghti or any of these great documentaries listed by Common Sense Media. Cue up the tv at the same time as you are on FaceTime!
  • Work on a crafting project together like macrame earrings or jewlery!
  • Illustrate a book together using Art Hub for Kids or Mo Willems as inspiration.
  • A virtual book club will ground the conversation with friends – maybe led by someone other than you!
  • Play a virtual game – Charades, Pictionary, Hedbanz!
  • Make up a story together playing favorite Child’s Play NY games: one word story or story clap.
  • Create movie trailers on iMovie about a friend (looking at pics and videos will get those endorphins flowing) and send it off!  Or make a short film over zoom!

Put Play Front and Center

There is no denying that there will be academic losses from the lack of school this spring.  That said, don’t prioritize academic learning over play.  Kids learn through play – and in following their passions, they will gain immeasurable executive function skills.  These EF Skills are a greater indicator of successful life outcomes than IQ!  Click here to read the research.

You can also certainly work in academics into the playing.  Read this for awesome resources for how to use games to support kids’ writing.
If you do want to keep the academics going,

  • assign a daily book on GetEpic.
  • check out grade-level math on Kahn Academy.
  • schedule a class on Varsity Tutors.

Seek Support

It can not be underestimated how stressful this time has been on families and children.  If you or your children need support, find a professional to talk with.  FIU has evidence-based telehealth services for families in crisis. You can also speak with your pediatrician to ask for a referral of a mental health practitioner.


This is the wild west of summers, and there are no right or easy answers as we balance the needs of our children’s mental and emotional health with wanting to keep them coronavirus-free.  Make the choice that is right for your family and proceed with calm and confidence.  Of course, kids pick up on our anxieties and, as hard as it is, try to remain calm and neutral through this process.

When we pull back on the idea of summer not going our way, the first thing we need to cultivate is gratitude: If you have your health during a global pandemic, that is something to really celebrate and not take lightly. Secondly, you can think about really small achievements in parenting that can make each day feel like a win.  For example – did your kid eat something green?  Get outside for a little? Socialize online or in a class with a person their age?  Make a list of achievable priorities for you and then…go easy on yourself.  We really don’t need to have our kid’s start up nonprofits or write a screenplay – only if they WANT to!

Certain images and/or photos on this page are credited to JZD Photography.