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By Nicole Rosenthal

 

When was the last time your child made a new friend? Park Shore Country Day Camp has implemented plans to ensure that this summer will be as safe as it will be social. Camp friendship development is more important than ever. 

DIX HILLS, NY – Following an unprecedented year of quarantines, social distancing, and remote learning, hardly anything sounds more exhilarating than a summer full of activities, sports, trips, and making new friends. For the upcoming 2021 season, the program leaders behind Long Island’s Park Shore Country Day Camp are working tirelessly to ensure that the upcoming summer programs will allow children to make up for the social interaction and social learning lost to countless children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the Dix Hills-based day camp will be operating under the same meticulous pandemic safety guidelines it adhered to in 2020 – such as CDC-compliant social distancing rules, small cohorts, and sanitization – Education Director Dianne Vitucci avows that, with the return of special events and additional program activities, children and parents can look forward to the same exciting, adventurous and safe summer experience that the camp has provided for over 60 years.

“In 2020, we made every activity here 100 percent safe. What we did last year was create a sanitized bubble to ensure the safety of all our children, staff, and families, and we plan to continue that this year,” said Vitucci. “We have a fantastic calendar of events for this upcoming summer, we’re planning lots of special days. We want children to be part of the regular camp experience. They’re not even going to know that they’re under restrictions, the way that we’re going to operate this year.” 

“The general safety protocols that were followed last year will be enforced. This year, the new thing will be transportation to and from camp,” added Camp Director Bob Budah. “The idea of cohorts and taking temperatures, those things will stay the same.”

Long Island Summer Day Camp

Teen Travel, Cohort Size: A Return To Normalcy

In accordance with updated New York State guidelines, this year will see expanded cohort groups allowing for greater socialization between children. While preschool groups are set to remain capped at 15, kindergarten through fourth graders will see an average group size of 15 to 18. Travel groups will get to make trips in a cohort of up to 36.

Park Shore’s innovative travel programs, which were paused in 2020 amid health concerns, will also be resuming in 2021. Campers in grades five through nine will be getting on Coach buses and attending day and overnight trips to self-contained, socially distanced resorts where cohorts do not have to mingle with the general public. 

“We are specifically choosing not to go to amusement parks where we mingle with the general population,” Budah said. “We’re not going to hotels where the general population comes and goes. When you’re in a resort, you can have a block of rooms just for your group, as well as your own facilities and dining space.” 

“Last year, we had the Super Teens stay at the Park Shore campgrounds, although in normal years, they would travel all over the eastern seaboard,” Vitucci added. “But we made it so fun and engaging for them that they had a fantastic summer even though their summer looked totally different. They had a great time here on the grounds and were all willing to come back this year, even if they had to stay on the grounds with us.” 

Long Island Summer Day Camp

An Emphasis On Camp Friendships, Teamwork In 2021

With a successful 2020 summer season (reporting zero COVID-19 cases among campers) under their belt, the program leaders at Park Shore Country Day Camp are emboldened to provide children with all the tools and events to create lasting friendships and lifelong memories, including the addition of dance parties and field games in 2021.  

But even as special event activities – which have been reimagined for camper safety in 2021 – have already generated excitement from campers, the leaders at Park Shore assure that special events are just the icing on the cake for children. To Budah, the real spirit of camp is making camp friends, participating in fun activities, and making cherished memories, all of which were successfully completed in the 2020 season as Park Shore strictly followed every health and safety guideline.

“Last year, the children had a breath of fresh air and were able to socialize at camp in a limited capacity. The children were able to play on the playground, navigate situations and make decisions. The only thing that didn’t take place was the large, mass camp activities called special events where the entire camp got together,” said Budah. “But the socialization really took place, as it always does, in the camp group, which was in cohorts last summer. The cohorts might have contained fewer children than normal, but kids were still interacting. For the first time after many, many months of children not being able to see friends, they were able to come together and socialize.”

Budah and Vitucci certainly aren’t the only industry leaders to point to the importance of socialization among children during the summer months: Mental health experts have continuously testified the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant negative impact on child development. Heather Berlin, a cognitive neuroscientist and Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, asserts that socialization, especially among young children, is critical to development in several areas.

“Being able to play and socialize with children their own age is key for emotional development,” Berlin said. “The most significant aspect of children’s play is that it allows them to try out new roles and master difficult feelings, including learning conflict resolution from situations that arise spontaneously during play. Deprivation of socialization during these sensitive periods can precipitate or exacerbate mental health issues, including depression and anxiety.”

Vitucci, who also oversees the preschool and kindergarten programs at Park Shore during the school year, argues that socialization and hands-on learning with peers are paramount to the academic success of a child – a phenomenon that she has witnessed first-hand. 

“Socialization and friendships are everything,” Vitucci said. “If you don’t have that, learning and academics won’t be easy. You need to establish that foundation, emotional and social needs are the foundation. That’s the groundwork of everything.” 

“When we use the tagline ‘memories for a lifetime, friendships for a lifetime,’ we mean that. Camp is an environment where children make friends and they stay friends for a long time,” Budah added. “Children make new friends at camp because they mingle with children from other school districts and other neighborhoods. It’s all part of the learning process of how they cope with other children, how they solve problems.

“At Park Shore, we will continue to offer a safe environment in 2021 where children can learn and add to their skill development, socialize with friends, have new experiences, and put a smile on their parents’ faces because they had a fun, safe and happy summer.”

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