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'Happy camper' never sounded so sweet as summer activities begin


Patricia Logan

Triple Creek Ranch in Longmont welcomed kids for horse camp this week.

Budding O'Keeffes and Monets will soon have paint brushes in hand at Sunflower Art Studio in Gunbarrel, though there will be fewer campers than in year's past. Owner Lika Gitis has cut the number of campers in half. She'll take seven kids a week when she opens June 15. She hopes to slowly increase her numbers as the summer unfolds.

Colorado allowed summer camps to open this month with limited numbers and lots of rules. Camps that are primarily indoors can have no more than 10 children at a time as long as there is enough square footage for social distancing.

Expectations for summer camp are different this year at Sunflower Art Studio. Gitis is tweaking the experience based on the state guidelines and what children may want and need as they finally get to be together. "Our goal is to provide kids with fun, relaxed, normal activity," she said, "maybe going outside and playing more so kids can be together and have fun." With more outdoor playtime, Gitis tells parents that they may not see as many art pieces coming home as in previous summers.

Her teaching style will change a bit too as she does more demonstrating and less close contact with kids. "When they need help we normally sit by them if they need extra encouragement," she said. "We will have to do it from a distance." But, she said that teaching in-person is a big step forward after doing everything online during the past few months, "Getting them in front of us will be a huge advantage."

Kids will be seated at least six feet apart. Gitis will have to get creative when they aren't at the table. "It will be harder for break time. They usually all end up on pillows on the floor or all play together," she said.

Sharing supplies has been scrapped. Each child will get his or her own bin of art supplies for the week along and kids will get cute and artsy face masks to wear each day.

Gitis said that running her business with half the number of children will be a financial challenge. "I won't be making money but I'll be keeping my business going. Usually summer is our busiest time when we can make some profit to use for the rest of the year. This year we won't have that cushion." With fewer campers, she reduced her staff to just one other teacher besides herself.

Sunflower's week-long camps are filling up, but Gitis said some parents and children aren't comfortable with in-person learning. "Some sensitive kids can feel it's dangerous out." She has already been teaching classes online and will continue that. Families also have the option of having the teacher come to the child's home. So far, she's been teaching private lessons, but she said that may evolve into small groups if there is a friend or two that wants to take an art class on the porch.

Many of the health rules for indoor and outdoor camps are the same, but up to 25 children can be enrolled if activities are outside. Horse camp at Triple Creek Ranch in Longmont is already full and that is disappointing to a lot of families, according to Lynn McChesney, who runs the program, "My conversations with parents, it's sad. They're saying, 'I've got to get my kids outside.' But there are not enough camps out there."

Triple Creek typically hosts 30 kids a week. This year they're only taking 22 and splitting campers into two groups of 11. Kids and staff will remain in the same group all week with no mingling. "The parents that signed up for my camp are respectful of the virus but also respectful of the guidelines I've put into place. They're comfortable with their kids being outside," McChesney said.

There will still be plenty of rules, which she posted on her website. She is finally ready to ride this week after gathering all the information and supplies she needs. That includes forehead thermometers and a list of health questions from the state that she'll use daily to screen staff and campers.

Her staff will wear masks but campers don't have to because they are under 12. That's a relief, she said, "I can barely keep a helmet on them, let alone a face mask. They get hot, sweaty, itchy." She knows that social distancing will be iffy. "Six-year-old girls that are best friends are like Velcro. They're always right next to each other, holding hands," she said.

McChesney has been in the horse business for 30 years. Figuring out how to operate summer camp in a pandemic is another piece of rethinking her entire operation, which includes horse boarding and lessons. She's just glad she can be there for the kids. "My return campers, they were going to be quite sad if they weren't going to get their horse fix," she said.

Some kids and families won't get an in-person camp fix at all. Not all summer camps are opening and there are fewer spots available for the ones that do. Some camps have moved their programs online. Residential camps are not currently open, although one overnight excursion is currently allowed. In mid-June, the state will decide whether residence camps can open in July and August.


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