Kids’ camps gone virtual this summer

Summer camps aren’t what they used to be, especially this year. The Alberta government’s surprise announcement to launch Phase 2 a week ahead of schedule, caught many off guard and though timely, was too late for many summer camp operators to come up with safe, in-person camp curriculum.

Summer bike camps at Winsport. Dave Holland, Winsport, Canadian Sport Institute

Jody Robbins, Calgary Herald June 26, 2020

A recent study by Calgary’s Child Magazine shows that if allowed, 58 per cent of Calgary-area parents would send their children to an in-person camp this summer. Despite the demand, the supply isn’t there. For the first time in 30 years, Mount Royal University will not be hosting summer programs and they’re not alone.

“It’s challenging to make camps profitable at the best of times. Those that do in-person really well, didn’t feel they had a good model for offering a virtual version. Everyone just wants to make sure kids are safe, while delivering quality programming,” says Ellen Percival, publisher of Calgary’s Child Magazine.

The good news is that there is a slew of online experiences for families to consider, plus a few traditional summer camp options in the Calgary area. Here’s a game plan for keeping kids actively engaged this summer.

In-person camps

Winsport’s popular mountain bike camps for ages 6-16-years-old, have been modified, but are running, with evening and weekend bike programs also offered this summer. While they’re not able to offer before or aftercare, bike rentals or lunch programs, the instructor to camper ratio is lower at 1:6 to keep with safety protocols. Because the ski lift isn’t running this summer, bikers will be peddling to all areas on campus, plus spending time in the new Skills Centre, a network of cross-country trails, features and loops.

Pedalheads, a learn-to-ride bike camp for ages three-years and up, is offering in-person camps ranging from 45-minutes to a full day, with before and after camp care at 10 sites across Calgary.

Another interesting option comes via Calgary Reptile Parties. Besides running virtual camps, this small business is offering four weeks of full-day, in-person camps for elementary school-aged children at two community centres. In addition to interacting with up to 10 reptiles a day, campers get plenty of outdoor time, and before and aftercare is available for an additional fee.

The City of Calgary confirmed last week it will be holding day camps for children ages 6-12 at green spaces beside six city recreation facilities. Registration opened June 25. And while YMCA Calgary has cancelled its traditional summer day camps, it is offering single day or twice a week Summer Moments experiences at four YMCA locations for ages 3-15-years.

Virtual Summer Camps. Varsity Tutors

Virtual world

TELUS World of Science is hosting three camp sessions per day facilitated by STEM experts. Ideal for kids ages 5-14, camper’s minds will be kept active through live discussions and experiments in STEM-related areas including: engineering, coding, space, sports and nutrition. Expect more than tinkering with inventions and learning the basics of coding with Minecraft; campers can hone their storytelling skills with journalists and will be encouraged to explore local ecosystems.

More than 100 camp scholarships, Internet service and electronic devices can be provided to those who may not otherwise have access to this opportunity.
The Calgary Zoo is running short virtual camps that offer caregivers a guaranteed chunk of time off. Camps for the 4- to 5-year-old set are 45 minutes, while sessions for older children are two hours. Virtual sessions for those aged 11 to 14-years are currently being developed.

Quest Theatre is embracing the digital world with summer Drama Camps starting June 29. The camps include drama activities, storytelling projects and real-time interaction with instructors and other children. Well-known local actors are leading the camps with such notables as Braden Griffiths and Devon Dubnyk.

“Although we enthusiastically applaud the dedicated work our schools are doing teaching core subjects remotely, for many of our young people, arts education has been virtually eliminated. Our summer camps have always given young people a chance to be creative, explore theatre-making, develop their sense of imagination and make new friends,” said Nikki Loach, artistic director of Quest Theatre.

There are four camps offered for different age ranges. Families are able to choose from a range of prices that works best for them, and if that is not an option, applications for bursaries are also available.

One upside of the virtual world is that online camps don’t need to be local. Varsity Tutors has partnered with celebrity personalities from entertainment, sports and science to launch “StarCourse” – a series of live, online celebrity-led classes for K-12 kids. All Varsity Tutors virtual camps are free, and while technically there are attendance limitations (over 50,000 attended Mayim Bialik’s class on neuroscience), once classes reach their threshold, Varsity Tutors works to launch new sessions.

Neuroscience: It’s Not (Necessarily) Brain Surgery with MAYIM BIALIK – Lesson 1  Our Amazing Brains. Students will learn all about the brain and the spinal cord, exploring how the central nervous system facilitates everything we think and do. Mayim will explain why she’s so fascinated with neuroscience, and challenge students to take maximum advantage of their amazing brains. Varisty Tutors. Youtube May 14, 2020
Most recently known for her award-winning role on The Big Bang Theory, Mayim Bialik was a natural to play the part of a neuroscientist. Bialik earned a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA and has written two New York Times bestsellers on the science of growing up.
What else can parents do?

Need a few hours to fill in the gaps? Part escape room, part Amazing Race, Mystery Towns is a clue-based, adventure solving game. They’ve recently launched The Brotherhood, a play-at-home series. Families of children 10 and older can partner with friends for a live, online race or play on their own. Not sure if your crew would be into it? Try a free demo on their web site.

If you have the budget, consider staycationing within Alberta. Instead of hitting up the usual suspects, consider exploring Writing on Stone Provincial Park, Cypress Hills or Medicine Hat with its vibrant downtown and rafting opportunities.

Whatever your comfort level, better be quick about deciding. All in-person camps have limits, and some virtual experiences do, too. Even if a camp is at capacity, consider getting on the waitlist. Camps like Canmore’s Nature’s Tracks Forest Play (currently full) often have cancellations.

Though it may not be the summer of respite parents hoped for, don’t write off virtual options until you’ve investigated the programming, urges Percival.

“They can be done well, and it’s possible to create an online community for kids where they’re engaged, making camp friends and learning new skills.”

More info

Check out summer camp options in Calgary at For a comprehensive listing of virtual camps and programming visit Virtual kids’ camps and programs at

Jody Robbins is a Calgary-based lifestyle writer. Follow her wellness adventures on her blog: Travels with Baggage.

Source Calgary Herald


Also see
Julianne Hough, Mayim Bialik, Aly Raisman and Leland Melvin Host Free Live, Online Classes with Varsity Tutors PR Newswire
What to Look for In a Summer Camp During COVID-19 American Academy of Pediatrics
Is it safe to send my child to child care during COVID-19? American Academy of Pediatrics
How the pandemic is changing summer camp Medical Xpress

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