2020 has definitely been a year unlike any other and has caused many of us to convert to virtual camp. If you haven’t been living under a rock during 2020 you have likely had to learn how to pivot your business to an online business or access online services in a way you have never conceived of before. But what happens if you are a summer camp? How do you sing around the campfire when there is no campfire? While having campers create fires in their living rooms and join a Zoom call is definitely not ideal there are ways to pivot to an online camp. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are planning on doing so.
- Keep It Simple. Whatever program you plan start simple. This is new for everyone and while we are getting better at understanding how to run virtual programs we aren’t quite experts yet. If your program has layers of complexity that will present barriers for your campers and, more importantly, for their parents who are trying to help them participate. Some of your campers may be too young to read and write very well so asking them to participate in a chat is likely too complex!
- Look for Ways to Engage. Keep track of everyone. Let’s face it, virtual is just not as much fun. But this means you have to be extra diligent about involving everyone. Train your staff on body language so they know what to look for in campers that appear bored or are checking out. Can you see everyone in your screen? Not all videoconferencing tools show you every person that is on the call. Do checkpoints with your campers often to engage and make sure they are still with you. Find ways to engage them. Get them talking. Do scavenger hunts. Have them show off their favourite pets, create a game around it. Most of all find out what is most important to them and create a fun activity around it. If they leave find out why which is a great segue to my next point.
- Provide Great Customer Service. Heres the problem. At normal in-person camp if a camper has a bad day you have a chance to talk to the parents about it at the end of the day or before camp the next morning. If theres something you can do, you try and do it. But, with virtual you don’t have that opportunity. The child is gone or stays and doesn’t enjoy it but your only chance to find that out is if the parent calls you. 9/10 they are not calling because things are tickety-boo! Don’t wait for that call. If a camper leaves mid-session call the parent and find out why while the session may be going on. At the very least call after the session and try to call everyone. You will be glad you did and the parent will appreciate the extra attention to making it a great experience for their child.
- Don’t Throw Any Idea Out. At STEM Camp we never thrown ideas out off the cuff. Why? Because just because it sounds like a crazy idea to us we recognize we are adults, not kids. Do kids like adult things? Not usually. Look through your activity analysis glasses from the perspective of a child. If you still aren’t sure ask your kids! Or ask their friends! Or find someone in your circle that has kids that you can ask. Camp by video is such a new concept that 100% of the ideas have definitely not been tried yet. Don’t be afraid to try things out to test. You just never know where that next great idea may come from.
- Know Your Technology Inside Out. Big surprise…parents don’t read instruction e-mails and don’t test things out ahead of time. Not a lot of people do. It’s jus the way it is in our society today. But that doesn’t mean you should be unprepared. You are the expert. Make sure your staff are experts too and can solve any problem quickly and efficiently so parents can get their kids doing camp games as quickly as possible.
- Parents Are Attending! You know how every once in a while at camp you say something that you afterwards wish you hadn’t? But you realize that no one except you and the campers heard it? Well, guess what! In virtual camp, parents are attending. It’s no longer see them at the end fo the day. They are sitting beside their child, in the same room, or within earshot. And, they are listening. You and your program are under constant evaluation. make sure you are on your A game at all times! your reputation is on the line.
I hope this helps give you some idea into what is really important when you convert to virtual camp. Feel free to reach out to learn more and good luck!