After-school programs, specialty classes and camps all over the country (really, all over the world) deserve an extended round of applause. The speed with which they responded to the sudden shifts in what life looks like after the entire country shutdown because of the COVID-19 virus was nothing but amazing.
These instructors, administrators and directors pivoted quickly, but after school programs and camps are about more than simply learning the materials.
This is a point that Audrey Monke in a post on the American Camp Association site:
“Children and adolescents require more than intellectual growth and physical health to become happy, successful adults. They also need to develop the social skills necessary for positive relationships with others. The importance of quality childhood friendships for well-being both during childhood and later in life has been clearly established, and many camp programs specifically focus on fostering those friendships, along with teaching, modeling, and practicing social skills.”
Monke is talking specifically about residential summer camps where kids go for a couple of weeks a year. The broader point though—that kids also learn socialization by spending time with their peers—is just as applicable to camps and programs that occur after school.
Among the benefits, according to Monke, of the opportunity to be around peers without the structure of classwork and other projects are:
- Getting a sense of belonging and social acceptance, and understanding their broader value to the community
- Opportunity to practice skills like cooperation, altruism and empathy
- Opportunity to practice conversation skills
So, if this opportunity to socialize is a critical part of childhood development, how do we give it to kids at a moment like this, when the opportunities to socialize are so limited? Go virtual.
Luckily, this generation of kids are comfortable with technology, and that’s going to be critical at a time like this when the key to continued socialization is to just do it. Here's how to give the kids the tools they need to virtually socialize:
There are several apps that allow you to plan out activities that will allow your younger children to still have fun and interact with their friends. As the chat app quickly became commoditized, several developers started adding new functionality to their programs. This functionality goes beyond filters and more toward coordination of activities.
Caribu - An app that is advertised as being for families, but there’s no reason that it can’t be used to keep a class or camp connected and the kids socializing. It takes video calling to another level by allowing participants to read stories together, draw and play games. Caribu’s biggest downside is that it isn’t free.
Messenger Kids - This app is a child-friendly version of the Messenger app from Facebook. This one differs in two ways. First, while the kids can control the app, it’s the parents who control the contact list. And, like Caribu, this app provides the opportunity to do more than just chat.
Middle School and High School Ages
The great thing about kids in this age range is that most of them are already comfortable with the idea of a video chat. They aren’t going to be distracted by seeing themselves on screen or thrown off by bad audio quality. They are also likely familiar with several of the video chat offerings we recommend.
Google Meets - This is a good option because it’s part of the Google suite of products, and most people already have the Google credentials to log-in. It also allows for large groups to get together over one call. There are tons of other really good video chat platforms, so don't feel like Google Meets is the only option. The features of each can be found here. There’s no suggested curriculum for these students. They are able to drive conversation on their own.
Netflix Party - Netflix Party seems like a small miracle. This app allows you to coordinate the watching of a Netflix program or movie together through a video chatting platform. Everyone logs into the app and goes to their Netflix party and the movie is started. An attached chat functionality allows the kids to be kids and make snarky comments about the movie.