By Simon Wolle, B.A., LL.B., Executive Director – Camp Northland
As a summer camp director, my bias leans toward going to camp whenever possible. I appreciate, though, that it’s not always an option for everyone, which is okay…there is a world of opportunity in the city, as well. When I was first asked to write this, my mind was racing with countless ideas of amazing things to do with children during the summer. The hardest part, I thought, was going to be narrowing it down to just six. It didn’t take long before the reality of COVID-19 hit me. Due to the pandemic, and its accompanying restrictions, summer will look very different this year. The months of physical distancing, lives turned upside down, parental anxiety, job losses, illness, death statistics, and troubling news 24-7 will have lasting mental health impacts on our children.
So now my focus has shifted to the six best things we can do with our children in the context of a global pandemic. Our children need to feel a sense of hope and normalcy, but we also have a responsibility to guide them with accurate information and honesty. This summer, try to think outside the box, as their experience these past few months could have lasting effects. Here are six amazing things that you can do with your children this summer, looking through the lens of a unique and, hopefully, once-in-a-lifetime summer experience.
- Pick an outdoor game to play with your family in your yard or nearby and make it your ‘go-to’ family sport. You will play many games with your children over the years but make this one special. Schedule tournaments, create a skills competition, make team names, use your art skills to make simple jerseys with a logo, find time to make signs and team cheers. Just commit 100 percent. Teach the game to your children, but more importantly learn the rules yourself. Your kids need you now more than ever. Sending them outside to play without you might have worked pre-Covid-19, but it doesn’t work during these challenging times. Now, playing with your children regularly will be an important part of meeting their developmental and social/emotional needs through this crisis. The game I am choosing for my three teenage children this summer is an old camp favourite called Four Square. I love it because you don’t need much. Get a ball that can bounce (a soccer or volleyball are best). Draw the court with some chalk and you are good to go (the rules are easy to find online). Remember, the game you choose is less important than the commitment to turn it into an opportunity for connection at multiple levels – creativity, art, interaction, conflict management, and camaraderie.
- In a normal summer, this would not necessarily be a ‘top six’ but I have no doubt it’s important this summer. Every child or family should keep a journal. (For younger children, do this with them; for older children, each can have their own). Explain to your kids that this summer is a rare opportunity to take time to see some of the amazing places Toronto has to offer. Record all of the interesting things you get experience together, and finish each entry with a gratitude reflection. The opportunity to acknowledge what we can be grateful for will change a child’s perspective over time. It reinforces positivity and mitigates feelings of anxiety. This should be 15-minute maximum/day activity. Think about how amazing it will be to use this tool to help our children process their experiences. It will also serve as a record of how we were able to enjoy life with our kids during the unusual circumstances of summer 2020.
- Create art. We have the greatest artistic backdrop in the world right in front of our eyes. From skyscrapers to rolling streams, from the industrial feel of the Brickworks to the eye candy in the entertainment district, to the funky feel of the Distillery District. As parents pre-Covid-19, art at home sometimes felt counterproductive – it takes a lot of set up, it can be messy, and clean-up can be challenging. For all of these reasons though, it’s a ‘must do’ suggestion for summer 2020. Facilitating the opportunity to create art opens up windows of inspiration, awe and wonder in children of all ages. Never underestimate the power of a ‘foot-based road trip’ on a beautiful summer day. Bring some arts and crafts supplies and just ‘let them go.’ And do it with them. Discuss the choices and themes and colours. Praise them, and then do it all over again. Create a dedicated art space at home, too. By making a welcoming space for creativity, kids will want to participate and explore – it’s in their nature.
- Make a vegetable, herb, or flower garden (outdoor if you can, but indoor is amazing, too). The Six is full of amazing garden centres and inspirational parks (see High Park for sure). Make the trips to see some of the inspiration on offer but then make it your own at home. There is a big difference between seeing a garden and nurturing a garden. Doing this will give your children a sense of purpose and accomplishment. It teaches resilience (it’s okay if a flower doesn’t make it). It helps them with problem-solving, inspires creativity, and builds their sense of self-worth. When you plant a garden, you actually water your children (metaphorically…don’t actually water your children).
- Make your own waffle and ice cream sandwich. No summer is complete, whether in The Six or anywhere else, if a family doesn’t find time to make an ice cream sandwich with waffles. If you prefer, try freshly baked chocolate chip cookies instead of waffles. If you want to really live it up, make French fries and teach your kids to dip fries in the ice cream. Whatever your lifestyle, find the ingredients that work for you and have some food fun. Summer and ice cream just can’t be beat.
- This will come as no surprise (given my work as a summer camp Director), but it can’t be overlooked. Enjoy a campfire and barbeque in one of the magnificent Toronto parks (adhering to regulations). Given how different this summer may be, exploring multiple parks will be a great way to get your children outside and help develop a love and appreciation for nature. The smell of a campfire, the experience of roasting marshmallows or a hot dog on a stick, the opportunity to pause and see the stars twinkle in the night sky have mesmerizing and powerful effects on the well-being of children (and adults). If you play guitar, bring it along and celebrate music and family and campfire fun. If you are really lucky, maybe you will be able to go camping this summer and combine all of these in one place.
We are the luckiest people in the world to have the gift of living in The Six. It offers us a platform to ensure we use this summer to take care of our kids, support their mental health and well-being, and explore the magic of our collective ‘backyard.’ I am eternally grateful that I get to share that backyard with you for this memorable summer.
Simon Wolle is Executive Director of Haliburton’s Camp Northland. He is a trained lawyer and emergency medical responder, a skilled coach, trainer, educator, and father of three. For more information, visit www.campnbb.com.