Local summer camps prepare for changes to keep camp-goers safe, socially distant

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It’s the time of year when parents are thinking about summer camps for their children, but camps are changing in the face of COVID-19.

Coleton Segars would normally be looking for camps to keep his young son Teddy occupied.

“It’s been challenging to try and find ways to fill the time rather than just staying inside,” Segars said.

But COVID-19 has many camps either closing or making changes. It’s what the Botanic Gardens faced for the first time this year.

“In order to keep social distancing, with children trying to keep a social distance of six feet and having kids and having our guest house, which is a smaller area, so we decided it would be safer for us to cancel our June camps,” said Kristen Zemaitis, Memphis Botanic Garden youth education program director .

But they came up with a way to keep children engaged with a garden on the go.

“In a way giving them a sense of the camp they would have here because we will have craft activities; we do have the lesson that goes along with it and how it relates to the botanic garden,” Zemaitis said.

Kindergarten through fifth-graders are armed with weekly packets.

“They will actually receive either seeds or a plant to be able to go home and start their own garden at home,” Zemaitis said.

It teaches them about different regions of the world and plants associated with those regions.

Several private schools and churches are moving forward with camps, but others are up in the air.

The YMCA’s website says it is cancelling its current day camp program and is still figuring out what the summer program will look like.

Dr. Steve Threlkeld with Baptist Hopsital said summer camps with crowds of children can present big problems.

“You are not gonna maintain social distance,” Dr. Threlkeld said. “They will be yelling and singing and screaming. They are gonna be touching each other.”

Some are worried after the recent outbreak of the childhood multi-system inflammatory illness.

“It’s not common like we see in older adults, but it does happen,” Dr. Threlkeld said.

The botanic garden’s 96 acres and only allowing 25% capacity as well as limiting camps to around 40 kids a week is how they are keeping things socially distant.

The popular children’s area My Big Backyard remains closed, but families can still explore urban gardens and use the summer camp garden to go to connect what they do at home.

The botanic garden is still deciding what the July camp will look like.

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