Fresh Air, Frequent Handwashing & Mindfulness

SHREWSBURY, NJ – Alongside the usual swimming, making friends and exploring nature, children at local YMCA summer camps are social distancing, sharpening their reading skills and exercising mindfulness – not your normal outdoor day camp activities.

But then again, there is nothing typical about summer camp during a pandemic.

When Governor Murphy gave the green light for New Jersey day camps to reopen on July 6, the YMCA of Greater Monmouth quickly adjusted its camp operations  to meet COVID-19 safety protocols and created new program elements to support children’s mental health and academic, social and emotional learning.

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“We wanted to preserve the traditions and experiences that make camp unique while focusing on helping children build resilience and step back into a social setting after being cooped up for months in the shutdown,” said Y President and CEO Laurie Goganzer.

“The Y is pleased to provide families across greater Monmouth County a supportive, nurturing and safe camp environment where children can learn, grow and thrive,” Goganzer said.

The Y opened two of its summer day camps on July 6 – Camp Zehnder in Wall Township and Freehold Day Camp at the Freehold Family YMCA. A third, Freehold Borough Summer Camp, started July 20.

As part of the emphasis on mental health and social and emotional learning, YMCA licensed counselors trained and prepared camp counselors for recognizing COVID-related stress and anxieties and teaching campers how to cope. Additionally, the Y adapted social-emotional learning curriculum used in its before and after school care programs for the camp environment.

Jennifer Dunn, chief operations officer for the Y, said sprinkled throughout the day, campers have opportunities for self-reflection and mindful moments, along with small-group activities led by clinicians from the organization’s Counseling & Social Services team.

“One of the greatest benefits of camp is the relationship-building that happens when kids are making new friends and spending time together within small groups, exploring nature, swimming and trying new things,” Dunn said, adding that parents are especially interested in their children “interacting with other kids away from screens.”

Reading and writing are also part of the daily experience at Y camps this summer to help children practice their literacy and comprehension skills in an effort to prevent the “COVID slide” or learning loss, Dunn said.

Literacy will be a special focus at the Y’s Freehold Borough camp, a six-week program, July 20-Aug. 28, for children ages 6-13 at the Freehold Borough YMCA Community Center. Supported by a $16,000 grant from United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, the literacy program is designed to build reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills.

To provide a safe and healthy summer camp environment, Dunn said extensive protective measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Camp Association have been implemented. Camp counselors and staff have also been trained to identify and reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19. 

Health and safety precautions at Y camps in addition to social distancing, which the Y refers to as “physical” distancing, include:

>        Daily health screenings and temperature checks by registered nurses or health directors

>        Staggered drop-off and pick-up times

>        Camp groups of no more than 20 that stay together with the same camp counselors

>        Face coverings for staff and children when not with their assigned group and when physical distancing is difficult

>        Frequent handwashing

>        Hand sanitizing stations

>        Continuous facility cleaning throughout the day.


“Y Camp may look different this summer,” Dunn said. “But one thing that remains the same is our commitment to giving children a fun, safe, unforgettable summer.”

For information on YMCA camps or other programs and services, connect with the Y at www.ymcanj.org or on social media by following @ymcaGMC.

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Allan Dean

Allan Dean is editor, publisher, and founder of the Atlantic Highlands Herald. Published since 1999 and selected in 2000 by the Borough of Atlantic Highlands as one of their official newspapers, making...