Summer vacation is just around the corner and for thousands of New Jersey families that means getting their children ready for a welcomed tradition after a grueling year: summer camp in the great outdoors. 

Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore and camp operators across the Garden State are busy preparing for a safe and exciting summer for children as coronavirus restrictions are lifting and vaccinations are progressing, bringing us closer to the life we lived before the pandemic hit.  

While keeping kids safe at camp has always been a top priority, this season we all need to be vigilant about the evolving COVID-19 safety protocols, as well as sensitive to the social and emotional needs of our children, whose lives were turned upside down by COVID-19.

For many children, time outdoors with fellow campers this summer will be a joyous return to the normalcy they’ve been missing. But others, especially younger children, may be less enthusiastic - even fearful - about separating from their family after long stretches of time together in isolation. 

To help families prepare their children for summer camp during this tenuous time, the Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore camp team, including our therapy advisor, has some tips to share for a strong start to adventures under the big summer sky:

Be Upbeat About Camp

In the weeks leading up to the first day of camp, chat with your kids about the fun and adventure they will be experiencing. Help them envision what a day of camp will be like from drop-off to pick-up. Get them excited about the choice of activities, the weekly themes and treasured camp traditions. And if they haven’t already visited the camp, now is a good time.

Talk About Safety

Be sure to go over the latest COVID safety guidelines with your children, reinforcing that camp is a place where they will be safe. Summer camps in New Jersey are following protocols from Governor Phil Murphy, Centers for Disease Control, and local health departments to ensure a safe environment. At this time, campers will need to wear face masks when they can’t distance. They’ll also likely be grouped in “cohorts” that stay together throughout the day and be reminded to wash their hands frequently. For younger children, help increase their spatial awareness by encouraging them to spread their arms like “butterfly wings.” 

Create a Transition Plan

Families can create a smooth transition to summer camp much like they do for the first day of school. Adjust the kids’ bedtime and wake-up schedule the week before camp begins. When shopping for camp gear and clothes, let the kids chose their water bottle, backpack, bathing suit and towel. Replace screen time with family walks through the neighborhood or area parks to refocus children’s senses and increase their mindfulness.

It’s been a long and difficult year of change for everyone, especially our children. We look forward to giving them an unforgettable summer to explore, dream, grow and thrive outdoors - and the opportunity to just be kids. 

Eileen Higgins is CEO of Girls Scouts of the Jersey Shore, which serves approximately 9,000 girls in Monmouth and Ocean counties. She and her team oversee two outdoor day camps in central New Jersey: Camp Sacajawea in Farmingdale, Monmouth County; and Camp Amity Acres in Waretown, Ocean County; both accredited by the American Camp Association and operated COVID-free in summer 2020. For more information about summer camp and Girl Scout programs, visit www.GSFun.org.