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For over a year now, millions of Americans have been isolated from things they are familiar with. Children, especially, have found it hard to be without friends and teachers. With vaccination numbers going up and COVID-19 cases going down, children will likely get a chance to finally reconnect with their friends this summer.

Gina Cuffari, owner of Snapology of Cleveland in Beachwood, and Mark Nestor, camp director at Hawken Sports Camp in Lyndhurst, said they are eager to have children reunite with each other when their camps start.

The average day at Snapology this summer will be similar to years past, except with smaller groups and indoor mask mandates. Most days will consist of LEGO building, learning through play, and robotics, STEAM and themed lessons taught by experienced teachers.

“Everything has changed for our kids this past year,” Cuffari said. “Kids are resilient though, and they seem to understand why they have had to limit social interaction. While many benefited from more time with family, some children have been isolated from friends. For some kids, this summer will be the first time they have interacted outside of a virtual environment in quite a while.”

Hawken School has been open for the entire school year. Nestor said they saw a significant impact back in the fall when students first came back after having been away for five months. He predicts this summer will be similar in that kids will be happy to be back with each other.

“Even with masks, you could see joy in kids’ faces, and that there was real loss during the time apart,” Nestor said. “And so with summer camp, it’s really a chance for kids from different schools that usually see each other in the summer to reconnect. And I would imagine we’ll see similar reactions that we saw back in the fall from the school year.”

Although Nestor said Hawken will have to implement COVID-safe protocols, they are trying to use them to their advantage. He said the smaller group sizes will likely be conducive to positive social relationships.

He added the camp will reintegrate children into social situations by using typical icebreaker activities to get started, and then transitioning to more intentional activities. For example, campers in the girls’ day camp will put together a talent show act, while the boys’ camp side will have mystery themes that encourage the boys to work together.

Cuffari said Snapology will do similar activities for their campers.

“While some aspects of our team approach has been modified due to COVID precautions, kids are still able to collaborate and share their creations in our programs,” Cuffari said. “Snapology programs can help ease children back into social routines by allowing independent activities that are shared with the group. Some children will experience anxiety or fear about returning to an in-person setting, and we are prepared to help children adjust and have fun while feeling safe. Children will be encouraged to share their LEGO builds and showcase their creations in a safe way.”

Cuffari said there are many benefits that come from children being in a social routine with their peers.

“Communication is one of the most important,” she said. “Children learn to listen to others, problem-solve, and to collaborate when playing and working with other children. Reflection, self-awareness, and conflict resolution are also important benefits to social interactions with others.”

Nestor said this pandemic has exposed just how important it is for children to socialize with other children in-person, despite how good some virtual programs may be.

“I think we knew this already, but what the pandemic has really shown us is human connection is a basic human need,” he said. “Without it, kids really struggle. We heard from so many parents about kids really being down and seeing changes in behaviors at home. And when they got back in school, so much of that was waived. And the virtual platform, while it’s a necessary tool, it doesn’t replace in-person human interaction.”

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