In March, I had the most optimistic ambitions of working from home while “homeschooling” 3 young kids. After all, I had run a summer camp last year – how hard could it be to help my own family?
Plus, I knew we weren’t “on our own”. I’ll be forever grateful for our teachers who tried their best with online schooling. But it still wasn’t the same and when my 8 year old started saying she didn’t like school anymore… it broke my heart.
Other hopeful friends also told me about their nightmare stories. Stuff like how “things quickly got out of hand and descended into chaos and disaster!” And this was from a full-time stay-at-home parent! It’s been an evolving struggle of constantly juggling parenting, working from home, chores, spending actual quality time with my family…and don’t even get me started on personal care or even proper hygiene somedays! (Ok, most days.)
A new way to “Summer Camp”
So fast forward to late May when I finally accepted I’d have to cancel running my company LIOHAN’s in-person summer camps. I hesitated because I didn’t want to “let anyone down”. The thought of running an online virtual camp was entirely unappealing to me. How would I engage the kids well, make it fun and actually feel like a summer camp… all by myself?
Would the families even be willing to try after all their bad experiences with online learning? I was skeptical. Really, really, skeptical.
Then I was reminded that it takes a village to raise a child.
In uncertain times when we hear so much of “we’re all in this together,” I was lucky enough to be inspired by some other local small business owners to solve this problem together.
And I am so glad we did. This is a new program for all of us and I was blown away.
This is what we learned…
1. More Quality Family Time
With the kids fully engaged in something for long chunks of time, my husband and I were able to get some desperately needed “deep work” done. That’s right, I say we had more quality family time and I’m telling you about how we spent time apart.
But it’s nuanced. Because we have the necessary time to get our own things done without constant interruptions, we get our work done faster. Then it becomes possible to have “extra time” to spend together doing things besides, at least in my case, reminding my kids for the 10th time to “please pick up after yourself” or working through my mountains of housework so I can see clear counters and floors again.
Time apart = More time together
It may be one of life’s lesser known paradoxes but to all the working parents at home with their kids 24/7, I think you feel my pain in wanting more heart-to-heart time with your kids.
2. Structure in your schedule gives you freedom
Sometimes we think a schedule is going to restrict us when it can actually give us freedom. Freedom to have dedicated time to do the things we love instead of forgetting about them on the “some day, when I have time” list. On one hand, kids often thrive with some semblance of a regular routine. On the other hand, many kids love summer break because they’re “off” from the daily grind of school and extracurriculars.
But they do love summer camps when they’re done well. Part of the reason is because they get to fill their days with awesome fun and socializing with other kids.
One of my collaborating partners, Dr Liz of Kinetika, told me about how she loves giving her son access to our multidisciplinary summer program because it creates “whole days” for him. One of the funny things about memories is that, if every day is the same then, “in a blink of your eyes,” the summer is over. Instead, she finds that when she fills her day with a breadth of different activities – including time for physical movement, leisure and relaxing – she creates a memorable day.
3. Accessing high quality instructors with no commute time
To put together our summer camp, which we decided to call “Everything Under the Sun: STEAM, Fitness & Fun!” we brought together five unique local small-businesses who each focus on a different type of camp experience.
If this were in “real life”, it’s doubtful you’d want to spend the day chauffeuring your kids around just for variety. If you wanted them to learn from experts, they’d probably be enrolled in really “specialized” camps that only offer either music or sports or STEM or arts…and not all together. When I enroll my kids in specialized camps it’s because that’s how we find the qualified instructors to teach them new things.
Camp instructors also vary in experience and many summer programs hire young high school aged kids to lead other kids in simple group activities. There’s a lot to be said about the difference qualified instructors bring – especially those who teach summer camps because their main passion is working with kids.
You also want to make sure the camp’s instructors know how to teach online. It definitely brings unique challenges. With virtual camps run by experienced online educators like ours, you can instantly access super-qualified PhDs, professional artists, and education experts through a screen.
4. What surprised me the most was “the tech”
Let’s address the nightmare stories first. The “tech” really can be easy. It is possible to make things simple for parents – and kids – so with just one click, they’re connected and having fun.
That’s right: Fun. Not kids just staring at words on screens. Rather, kids actually socializing and experiencing teamwork over a video call. Enjoying idle chit-chat while creating art individually. Hearing enthusiastic shouts of encouragement during challenging dance routines!
What I failed to remember as a parent working from home is that just, because I’m too busy for my kids does not mean they can just entertain themselves without interacting with others. They thrive on attention. Kids blossom with positive reinforcement that instructors can provide when they’re struggling with an interesting space science problem.
Being with others helps them understand themselves better. Forming social bonds with people outside of our immediate family is healthy and a necessary part of life.
These are all wonderful things about summer camp that we all love and miss. And guess what? I was absolutely stunned when I saw it working with our online camp.
5. More shared experiences than in-person camps
Finally, one of the most precious surprising things I’ve noticed is how this whole experience has brought my family closer together.
During in-person school and camp, how many times have you asked your child: how was your day? And they’d just say something short or mysterious like “fine.” Sometimes my kids would tell me about their lunch but getting any more details was rare. Most often, they’d just shrug.
With online camp from our own house, things have been totally different!
They talk to me throughout the day and will often show me what they created or learned after a fun session. I get to see their excitement immediately!
I can pop into my kids’ fitness classes and get that overdue workout. I can hear their laughter and see their smiling faces when I go get a glass of water during their online time. Some of our clients confessed how they worked on their “more mindless tasks” during our Indus Space STEM lessons with Dr “B” Bhairavi just so they could listen in, too! The parents are re-discovering their joy of learning also.
Sometimes bonding is about shared experiences. Sometimes bonding comes from sharing stories about our own individual experiences.
So it seems there’s some happy magic that can come from joining an online summer camp from the comfort of your own home. Not only can a virtual camp work well but there are actually, dare I say, certain advantages over in-person camps like I wrote above. We’ve found a way to make the most of this difficult situation we’re in together.
None of us really wanted this. Certainly no one expected this to happen! And yet, it seems that when we pull together as a community – even a virtual one – incredible things do happen.
About LIOHAN & Friends
Crystal created LIOHAN to provide busy families with entertaining experiences for bonding, learning, and growing together.
She collaborated with several other GTA-based small businesses who share the common goal of bringing educational content to youth through fun, engaging, and thought provoking experiences. Our diverse group of instructors have teamed up to deliver a truly multi-disciplinary program – think STEM and physical activity, art and mindfulness.
Most of us met through local startup incubator programs at UTM (University of Toronto Mississauga) and Sheridan College. With the current impact of the COVID-19 pandemic limiting in-person interactions, we’ve developed a unique program to give families like yours a “different kind of summer camp” this year.