PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Parents have some difficult decisions about whether to enroll their children in summer camps this year. Many camps are already filling up after pent-up demand from kids who didn’t get to go to camp last summer.

Sisters Melissa Maher and Jamie King of Mt. Lebanon are hoping their kids’ summer also includes camp.

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“It’s important for kids to go to camp,” Maher says. “They missed so much socialization this past year with COVID and being home from school.”

King adds, “We need the care with both my husband and I working full time, but then also I look forward to them being able to do fun things.”

Parenting expert Dr. Debi Gilboa, or Dr. G, says parents should ask questions about COVID safety before signing up their kids for camp this summer, including:

Will the staff all be vaccinated?

Will the kids be in pods?

Where do the kids go if it rains?

What happens if someone is sick?

And will there be regular COVID precautions like masking and social distancing?

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Dr. G says, “This summer, we would like kids to be at least any two out of these three: outside, masked, more than 6 feet apart.”

Dr. G says for overnight camp, ask about testing and look at the COVID numbers in that community.

“There is some level of trust and some level of risk,” Dr. G says and adds about her own sons, “We’re taking that risk because I feel really confident in the camp that my kids will go to.”

Dr. G says that parents need to weigh the risks but also the benefits of camp, especially after a year cooped up.

“I cannot overstate the emotional skills, the resilience, the life skills, the communication, the interaction and boost to mental health and self-esteem that camp gives to kids,” Dr. G said.

As long as it’s safe, these parents are sending their kids again.

“Making new friends, having new experiences, general socialization, exercise, fresh air,” are some of the things Maher hopes her kids get from camp, and her sister says, “I think it’s important because they come up with very creative, fun activities for the kids that parents would never do.”

Many kids are head over heels for summer camp and are camps are bending over backwards to make it safe for kids this summer.

One more question Dr. G says to ask – what’s the cancellation policy, in case the COVID numbers go up or someone in your family is sick or exposed.

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Here’s a link to the American Camp Association which accredits camps and to Kidsburgh.org which has a camp guide to extra special day camps in our region.

Kristine Sorensen