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Going to summer camp is a classic childhood experience, but for many children in 2020, COVID-19 means missing out on the fun. However, Arizona Science Center is making an effort to give kids this opportunity – just in an alternate format.

Beginning June 1, the center will be hosting a virtual version of their annual CAMP INNOVATION for children from second to ninth grade. These five-day camps will focus on teaching children a variety of STEM topics through hands-on activities.

Chief learning officer for Arizona Science Center Beth Nickel said the center focuses on translating traditional camp experiences to a virtual setting, making it “engaging for kids, where they’re learning and exploring and playing.”

The online camps will feature a 90-minute Zoom call every day with the instructor and fellow campers, additional activities for between sessions, a Facebook live event and an optional Zoom call at the end of the day open to the whole family.

Nickel said one of the keys to the camp’s success will be having smaller group sizes, with each session only having 12 spots.

“We were very intentional on the … maximum number of students who could sign up for each session,” Nickel said. “One-on-one communication and discussions and dialogue with the instructor as well as the other campers is key to keeping them engaged.”

Nickel said it was also important to have engaging and relevant material and incorporate “exploration and inquiry,” necessities of science learning.

The Arizona Science Center has already offered other online science programs for students this year.

“We started some virtual STEM clubs,” Nickel said. “We had hands-on activities where our instructors will engage with the individuals, will provide that personalization, … and that went really well.”

Nickel called the STEM clubs a “mini version” of what the virtual summer camps will look like.

In addition to the virtual option, Arizona Science Center will also be hosting an in-person version of CAMP INNOVATION in Phoenix. The group sizes will be very small, with only four groups, nine students on each group and six instructors in all, with no interaction between the groups to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Nickel said the decision to open an in-person session came out of keeping a close eye on American Camp Association and Centers for Disease Control guidelines and the need for educational summer childcare, especially as the lifting of Arizona’s stay-at-home order allows many parents to go back to work.

The in-person camps will run between June 15 and July 31 and are available for children from first to sixth grade. These sessions will include various preventative health guidelines, including practicing social distancing, checking temperatures and having anyone over 10 years old wear a face mask.

Both online and in-person camps are divided in terms of theme and grade level. For more information on the camps, visit the Arizona Science Center’s website at https://www.azscience.org/events-programs/camp-innovation.

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