The spray of the surf. The smell of barbeque. The crack of a baseball bat. The dazzling display of Fourth of July fireworks. For much of the nation, these are the sensory memories associated with summer. Or, at least that was the case before COVID-19 came along, after which most Americans were essentially given a “time out” and sent to their rooms.

And now that cabin fever has essentially started to outstrip viral fevers, states are slowly reopening. Whether summer will basically remain just a state of mind to a large extent will depend upon what state you’re in. A number of events and activities have been cancelled and facilities remain closed to varying degrees across the country. For the near term at least, precautions will still very much color the overall landscape and White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said social distancing would probably continue through the summer. So is summer canceled, postponed, or merely reimagined—and how can families recast old traditions or create new ones to ensure a positive, healthy, and uplifting summer? Here, we offer some thoughts.

Kids can still sing around the campfire

Camp is a big part of life for the more than 11 million children and adults who attend about 7,000 overnight and 5,000 day camps in the U.S., according to the American Camp Association (ACA). For many families, camping is a tradition that goes back generations and campers maintain a strong “10 for 2” mentality, where they look forward all school year for the two months that a full camp season lasts. According to its website, the ACA “continues to be optimistic that there will be camp this summer, in one form or another.”

Jay Jacobs—owner of three sleep-away camps in New York and Pennsylvania, and three-day camps on Long Island—is opening as planned but it won’t exactly be business as usual. “Children need to be in camp and outdoors now more than ever,” says Jacobs, and he maintains, camp will provide a safer, more protected environment than what they will experience at home, particularly for those who live in the tri-state New York City region, one of the nation’s hardest-hit areas in terms of COVID-19 cases.  

“We are going to test and fever-check campers and staff from the time they meet at the buses to the time they arrive at camp and then regularly throughout the season,” he explains. “Another plus to being in a closed, rural environment is that children will be less likely to contract the virus or spread it to parents and vulnerable grandparents.” Both sleepaway and day camps will be sanitized on a frequent basis. His day campers will be limited to smaller groups and they will receive both rapid testing and contact tracing if necessary.  For a recommendation to a camp that will be open this summer, try a free referral service such as Camp Specialists.

Camp Home 

Of course, millions of children who are too young for camp or opt to stay at home will have no shortage of challenges, both from health and supervisory standpoints.

“Guess who their summer camp counselor will be this summer? Me!” says Andrea Spahr, Wilmington Trust’s Relationship Marketing Manager for Family Wealth, and mom to a 14-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son. “We are planning on filling our days with backyard water slides, bike riding with their friends, hanging out at neighbors’ pools, playing yard games, and going on hikes. My friends and I will rely on one another to share in the entertaining of one another’s children based on whatever fun activities they have at their houses.”

She is almost wistful about the kind of summer it promises to be—one that makes her nostalgic for summers of long ago. “It’s going to be very reminiscent of the kind of summer in the 1980s that I experienced as a child, with one main difference—we are not stay-at-home moms like our mothers were. We’re also going to be forced to become less hovering, even though it is a characteristic of parents in my generation. My kids will not be contained all day at the YMCA, being watched by counselors whom I pay to give me peace of mind. When I need to take work calls and can’t get away to take them on ‘field trips,’ I’ll be letting them go a little further, a little longer, in the neighborhood, while of course requiring that they check in and making sure they’re back home safely by sundown.”

Those with younger children hope to turn their back yards into Disney World, a “kid oasis complete with sandbox, swing set, kiddie pool, water table, giant outdoor chalkboard, and more,” says Wilmington Trust Content Marketing Consultant Karen Shallcross, mother of three- and five-year old daughters.

No matter their ages, sanitizer is the new sunscreen and parents will need to remain just as vigilant with the former as they have long been with the latter. It’s difficult for children who remain home to stay socially distant—and isn’t the strong suit for young ones who yearn to play and tumble—whether it’s at a neighbor’s house or a local playground. The goal is to do your best under the circumstances at this time of making lemonade out of lemons.

Oh, the places you can go—almost everywhere

According to a survey conducted by a personal finance website, ValuePenguin, nearly half of Americans (48%) have opted to cancel their summer travel plans—which normally would include the beach, resort areas, water parks, and more.  Says Shallcross, “Our end-of-school-year, long weekend celebration at the beach in June isn’t happening. I’m trying to be as optimistic as possible and keep a glimmer of hope alive that we can at least do our beach vacation in late August but unless the numbers go down drastically, the risk isn’t worth it. But making sure we do our part in keeping grandparents and others who are high risk safe is way more important.”

Those who traditionally make extended trips abroad or elsewhere may need to ditch those expectations, due to limited air travel and other restrictions. Perhaps consider a variation on that theme and move the locale from land to sea. Socially distant but rich with adventure, taking to the seas with your own vessel might be a perfect solution for extended family time that’s both exciting and peaceful. Meanwhile, armchair traveler families can see the world and via more virtual escape routes than can fill one’s imagination—and you won’t have to hear, “Are we there yet?”  Just a few of ideas are:

Free museum tours for children of all ages. Combine history, culture, and 65,000 cool artifacts like gunpowder and explosives with a visit to the Hagley Museum, which celebrates early American industrial innovation. Sure to impress little ones (and big kids, too), Hagley from Home is a one-stop resource for visitors to learn, create, and explore safely from home. It includes 360-degree photos, behind-the-scenes videos with a Hagley Historian, video field trips, and virtual Science Saturdays.

Or perhaps walk through the majestic mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, such as Hammersmith Farm, Jackie Kennedy’s childhood home and site of her wedding reception after marrying President John Kennedy. There’s also the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum in Florida. The seaport dates back to 1589 with the first wooden watchtower built by the Spanish. You’ll find these excursions and many more visual splendors at www.savingplaces.org. And you can even take a virtual hop across the pond to the well-renowned Louvre Museum to check out the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo.

Take in a visit to the zoo and have other adventures. Zoos may be closed for in-person visits but many of them livestream animal interactions. The Bronx Zoo, for example, recently had a live penguin chick Question and Answer session, and took children to Madagascar a few weeks ago on a safari that featured a variety of African animals. At WeAreTeachers.com, there are scores of ideas for fun trips and activities for kindergarteners to fifth graders—such as “slime in space,” dairy farms, aquariums, farms, planetariums, volcanoes, and national parks.

There is no shortage of ideas for fun and frolic: picnics, nature walks, Zoom family nights with grandparents and other relatives or friends, your own “Amazing Race” scavenger hunt featuring clues that take children from the yard to the basement—with, of course, prizes! Then there are drive-ins (the only real socially distant movie “theaters”); online cooking or baking and arts and crafts classes.

What about parents who work and can’t be “counselors”? If the usual babysitter options are not currently available, reach out to neighbors, schools, or community centers to hire a teenager as a “junior counselor.” With many planned-for summer jobs no longer available, there will likely be local older children who are interested in earning income in a role they hadn’t anticipated. Be sure to take precautions like fever checks, masks, sanitizers, or whatever is warranted.  

The chance of a lifetime

You could look at all you cannot do this summer but perhaps you would be better served to consider how the next few months—whether your children are in camp or you summer in place—could offer tremendous opportunities to make memories that last a lifetime. With school out of session, there’s a chance to emphasize the spiritual and have family meditation or yoga classes, expand religious education beyond Sundays, and take advantage of the opportunity to show appreciation; for example, make “thank you” presents for first responders and food bank staffers in your area. 

Children are resilient and adaptable, and take their cues from their parents in being able to pivot from their original game plan to plan B. As 12-year-old Emma Poser puts it, “I was looking forward to being a camp leader for the first time, but now I will be happy for the chance to see a couple of my friends and go swimming.” Out of the mouths of babes.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as an offer or solicitation for the sale of any financial product or service. It is not designed or intended to provide financial, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice since such advice always requires consideration of individual circumstances. If professional advice is needed, the services of a professional advisor should be sought. The opinions, estimates and projections constitute the judgment of Wilmington Trust and are subject to change without notice.