Friday, July 24, 2020

Summer recreation program for children still popular in Windham

A total of 115 children are participating in
the Summer Kids' Club recreation program
at three different locations this summer in Windham.
By Elizabeth Richards

Windham Parks and Recreation has continued to offer summer programming even in the face of the coronavirus pandemic through their Summer Kids’ Club and Summer Track programs.

Sarah Davenport, Recreation Coordinator for Windham Parks and Recreation, said the Summer Kids’ Club has a significantly different structure than the summer day camp program of prior years.

In late June, the program opened to students entering first grade through eighth grade.

There are three programs running concurrently, each with a maximum of 40 children.  A total of 115 kids are participating in the Summer Kids’ Club this summer in Windham.

Two of the three programs are housed in separate wings of Windham Middle School, with the third at Windham High School. 

Davenport said the school district has been very helpful in facilitating appropriate spaces, as well as new sanitizing and disinfecting procedures.“It’s been really great to work with them on that,” she said.

Within each program, kids are assigned to a group of 8 to 10 children with two or three counselors that they rotate through activities with and remain with for the entire summer.

“What’s great about that is the relationships that the kids get to build with each other and the counselors are maybe a little bit deeper and more meaningful than if you’re in a group of 50 kids and you’re changing activities all the time,” Davenport said.

Programming includes many traditional camp activities, such as arts and crafts, board games, and plenty of outdoor time. Though summer camp has always included a lot of outside time, Davenport said they’re being even more intentional about that now, incorporating more nature based and outdoors activities.

“Our oldest kids have really enjoyed being in the woods down near the high school cross country trails,” she said. “I’ve heard them talking about building forts, or trying to identify plants, and going on nature hikes and playing nature games in the woods, which is pretty great.”

In previous years, field trips happened twice a week to places like Funtown, the Maine Wildlife Park, and Seacoast Adventure Center.  This summer, field trips were not an option, because many places weren’t open initially, and because of transportation challenges. students going into middle school have begun participating in an outreach program with the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, going to the Black Brook Preserve to do both community service and educational programs.  This is the second summer that they’ve worked with the Land Trust, Davenport said.

“It’s great to continue that partnership even if it looks a little bit different than it has in the past,” she said.

Though certain aspects of the summer programs cost more this year, such as staffing and providing individual activity bags to children, not having the cost of field trips has balanced things out.

At the beginning of the program, kids were provided with age appropriate activity bags that included playdough and art supplies that are frequently touched and non-consumable. Consumable supplies that are only used once, like plastic lacing for bracelets or paint, are still shared. Once these supplies are removed from the common stock, they are not returned after use.

Davenport said they haven’t experienced major challenges, but they’ve had to become accustomed to the culture shift of what it looks like to provide a fun day for children while following social distancing, masking and other health protocols.  Children are not required to wear face coverings if they maintain six feet of space between themselves and others. She said those who find face coverings a challenge have become good at communicating around maintaining that distance.

Success depends on helping kids and staff understand the importance of why it’s necessary and that “we’re all taking care of each other,” Davenport said. program was provided clear guidance written specifically for day camps and summer recreation programs to help them set up the program, she said.  In addition to social distancing, masking, sanitizing and hygiene practices, drop off and pick up are curbside and all children and staff have temperature checks in the morning and are asked some basic screening questions.

“Parents have been really good about understanding if kids need to stay home because they’re showing some symptoms. They’ve been good about doing that and notifying us,” Davenport said.

The Summer Track program is a five-week, skills-based program this summer, which looks quite a bit different than it has in previous years.  There is no inter-team competition or travel involved this year.

“Kids are having the opportunity to try lots of track and some field events to develop their skills and compete against themselves,” Davenport said.

The program received such positive response that they ended up with two sessions to stay under the 50-person group maximum.

“We feel really fortunate and pleased that we were able to do this. I know that there are communities who, due to various restrictions in the facilities they were using, just weren’t able to offer any kind of a summer rec program,” Davenport said.  “I don’t think we really could have done it without the district being so open and willing to partner with us and without the staff. We have some really great counselors and some really great administrative and leadership staff who are committed to making this happen in a way that’s safe, and healthy, and fun.”

Windham Parks and Recreation is not accepting new registrations for summer programming at this point in the summer. <

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