Thunder Bay

Small groups, no-contact sports: How city programs for kids are changing this summer

The City of Thunder Bay says much thought has gone into making sure this summer's camp and playground programming for children will be both fun, and safe.

Spots are filling up in modified city-run day camps and playground programs

Children taking part in Thunder Bay's summer programs won't be gathering so closely this year. Even within small groups, staff will try to maintain social distancing, said a city official. (City of Thunder Bay Children's Programs/Facebook)

The City of Thunder Bay says much thought has gone into making sure this summer's camp and playground programming for children will be both fun, and safe.

Registration is currently open for summer programs, which have been modified in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"It's been a lot of work, but it's been an opportunity to really get creative, and step outside of the box and try new things and our staff have been very flexible," said Kim Begin, the city's supervisor of aquatics, wellness, children and youth.

"They love working with children and are willing to do anything for participants to have a fun summer." 

One of the key differences this summer will be the way children and staff are grouped, Begin explained. 

For both the city's playground programs, and its summer camps, participants will be grouped into small "cohorts," of 10 people – eight children and two staff members. The high participant-to-staff ratio will help employees to maintain social distancing within the group, she said, but the groups will also stay apart from each other. 

"That group of 10 will do all of the activities together, have lunch together. All of their items and everything will be stored together the whole week and they won't intermingle with the other groups of 10," she said. 

Other changes include the need for a week-long registration for the free playgrounds program, which was previously a drop-in program. 

Some site changes

The number of sites the playground program is operating at has also been reduced. The programs will take place at six sites: the North McIntyre Community Centre, Oliver Road Community Centre, Volunteer Pool Community Centre, Vickers Park, West Thunder Community Centre and West Arthur Community Centre. Each site will accommodate two cohorts. 

The locations of summer day camp programs will also be different this year, Begin explained. The regular Chippewa Park location won't work this year, because the city would be unable to bus participants to the site while socially distancing. Consequently, those camps will be held at Delaney Arena this summer.

Similarly, the city's Kidventures camps were previously held at Prince Arthur's Landing, but the buildings didn't provide enough space to keep cohorts adequately separated. So those camps will now take place at the Current River Arena. 

While the number of children that can be accommodated hasn't changed for every program – and has even increased somewhat for a few – Begin said the changes do cap the number of children that can take part in the free playground programs.

"So broad strokes, some of our really busy sites could have had 40 to 50 participants per day, and now that brings the number down to 16 total per day," she explained, as each site can only have two cohorts at a time.

Staff will receive extra training

However, due to the restructuring, staffing numbers this summer should be about the same as in previous years, she said, adding that employees will also receive additional training related to COVID-19.  

"Screening tools, what to do when a participant has symptoms ... these are all part of the training process," she said. 

The choice of activities will also support social distancing, she said, and will include things like arts and crafts and no-contact sports.   

Begin said while many things have had to be changed, the city felt it was important to continue to offer the summer programs as a service.

"We heard through the daycares that there was a need for these types of activities, that daycares would not be able to accommodate all of the families who were requesting service. So that was a huge factor in our decision making to make sure that we were providing the service that our community needs," she stated.

For the playgrounds program, which runs from July 13 to August 28, Monday to Friday from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m., most of the weeks in July are already full.

"So that is a great response," Begin said. 

Summer camps, which require a fee and which run from July 13 to August 28, Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., still have openings for most weeks.

More information about the summer playground and camp programs can be found on the city's website.