Parents' Guide to Camps and COVID-19

Quarantine measures' effects on kids' programs

For the foreseeable future, it seems there will be no break from the COVID-19 virus, and no lasting resolution to the crisis. With that in mind, offers below an overview of updates, both on our website and from elsewhere online. We’re here to help families make the best out of quarantine, and keep children and teens as well-engaged in learning as possible.

    In this guide:

    Ontario's closing of all overnight camps

    “This is obviously a difficult day for all of us who love camps,” wrote the Ontario Camps Association in a note to its members on May 19. The government of Ontario announced in a press conference that overnight camps will not be allowed to operate for the duration of the 2020 season, with further decisions yet to be made about day camps. For all, this will be the first summer without camp in session since they were founded. For most, that’s decades. For some, it’s literally approaching a century or more. 

    What families are facing

    There’s a broad range of opinion and, certainly, we’ll hear all of it in the coming days. It’s important to remember that, well, it’s complicated, with more factors than most of us are aware. That doesn't diminish the disappointment. Many parents were seeing it as a welcome and long-awaited respite from what has been an extremely difficult time. For campers and staff, it would have been a chance to be normal again, or at least something like it. For all, the thought of a summer without camp is hard to bear. 

    The irony is that camps are the antithesis of social distancing.

    What camps know, however, is that opening safely, in a way that could offer a quality camper experience, was at best far more easily said than done. “The irony is that camps are the antithesis of social distancing,” said Mark Diamond, vice-president of the Ontario Camps Association and co-director and co-owner of Camp Manitou, as reported in The Star. “You feel such guilt in pulling away a summer that is so necessary, and then you go, ‘but this could be my own kid, would I really send them to camp?’”

    Overnight camps—which the initial notice from the Ford government was principally about—operate for the most part in rural areas. If they all were to operate at capacity, in Ontario alone it would mean in excess of 400,000 campers arriving in successive waves to communities with very little health-care infrastructure, and which could be overwhelmed in an instant. Add to that the staff, the food deliveries, the parents dropping off and picking up, the maintenance staff. Consider the bussing companies, tasked with getting campers safely up and back in busses that weren’t built with distancing in mind. It’s a lot of people moving around in vulnerable ways within a particularly vulnerable part of our world. 

    What camps are facing

    For overnight camps in Ontario at least, the difficult decision has been made for them, and they won’t be operating. Which means that they face the biggest challenge of all: fiscal survival. Margins are thin with little cash reserve. Operating costs are huge, and the time to offset them is the summer. Moreover, many of the costs are met prior to the summer even starting. Not only are camps going to lose revenue, they have already conceivably spent the fees that they received from registrations in anticipation of the 2020 season. Once the shock of a summer without camp settles in, parent’s thoughts will understandably turn to refunds. The fact is, however, that much of the money is no longer there. Finding a way to provide refunds, for some camps, will mean literally the end of camp, not just this year, but forever. For some, sadly, that’s an outcome that has already been realised. 

    85 per cent of the Canadian Camping Association's members are non-profits, Stephane Richard, president of the association, told CTV. Those camps will only be able to go ahead this year if they receive enough donations and registration fees. "Some day camps have pulled back due to the fact that they feel that they cannot operate better and cannot do it in a financially secure manner," he added, with the pandemic bringing some camps to a "financial breaking point."

    What you can do

    Camp is important for what it is, and for what it means in our lives. It’s not like a cruise or a trip to Disneyworld, where you go once (or, ok, maybe twice). Camp is, truly, for life. It’s a relationship between people, and across generations, who share the values, the traditions, and the priorities that each camp embodies. A summer without it will be hard, but a life without it, we’d venture, would be much, much harder. 

    That’s why it’s important to consider how we all respond.

    • First, camps need our support—staff have given their time and talents to preparing for a summer that, ultimately, won't happen.
    • Second, they need our understanding, this by considering our options when it comes to reimbursement.

    Instead of asking for a refund, parents could consider the following:

    • Accepting  a credit toward future programs
    • Better yet, offer 2020 fees as a donation to help support the life and longevity of the camp itself

    This latter suggestion will help ensure that, come 2021, there’s a camp to go back to. You'll also be supporting small business, which has suffered badly in this crisis.

    Not all families have that kind of flexibility, and camps will understand that, too. But this is a moment like the one that ends the holiday movie It’s a Wonderful Life. There’s a run on the bank, and while George Bailey is understanding, the community is, too. Because they know it’s not about a moment, but life, and in the end they save the little ol’ savings and loan. For us, now, for real, it’s time to think in those terms. Because the alternative, frankly, is unthinkable. 

    Virtual kids' camps and programs

    Learning and growing online, during social isolation

    Virtual kids’ camp is an ideal way to keep your child engaged, with structured learning and activities. Online programs are not simply more screen time, but provide kids with unique opportunities to make projects, investigate ideas, and explore the world.

    Discover virtual camps

    Online and distance learning schools

    Find the top schools with online and distance learning programs and classes

    Online and distance learning at private schools is practical for a variety of reasons. In some cases, online learning allows students to complete extra credits outside of class time. In other cases, students can indulge in independent study and advance through their programs faster. Some private school students use online and distance learning options to complete coursework over the summer. Many online and at-home learning programs have been augmented to support learners, including those not currently enrolled at the school.

    Find out about distance learning

    Facing a summer without camp

    While we support measures to combat this pandemic to keep children safe, we also know that hearts break with every closure, and with every reduction in programming. There will be missed first experiences, and missed first jobs. Young people won’t have the chance to connect with others,  many of whom they haven’t seen since last summer. Those things are part of the story, and we’d like to share them.

    What will you be missing this summer? Let us know by mentioning @ourkidsnet on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, using the hashtag #missingcamp. Or you can email [email protected].


    Are summer camps running in 2020?

    It’s a more complicated question than it sounds. Unless the provincial government requires otherwise, camps are free to operate at their own discretion, assuming they meet distancing protocols. In provinces where they are allowed to operate, some camps may choose to shutter themselves, based on their own assessments. Others may offer some sessions for a part of the summer, or to offer cabins to families, extending their family camp programs. Still others may choose to offer all sessions, simply adopting rigorous disinfecting and distancing protocols. In provinces where camps are allowed to open, it's important to contact the camp directly to see how much, or how little, of their programming is being offered this summer season.


    Summer Camp closures by province 2020




    Approved to open as of June 1, in chorts of 10 people (incl. staff and children).

    Find camps.

    British Columbia


    Open. Find camps.



    Planning to open. Find camps.



    Planning to open. Find camps.




    Some municipalities running modified city-run camps**. Private camps will operate in July and August. Find camps

    PEI, new brunswick, newfoundland

    Planning to open

    Planning to open. Find camps.


    Closed, except "those that cater to special needs" 

    Planning to open, beginning June 22. Find camps.



    Planning to open. Find camps.

    * above table last updated June 11, 2020.

     **For example, Toronto initially cancelled, then relaunched with a modified CampTOOttawa also cancelled, then revised plans with modified camps. Kitchener cancelled city camps in May. London camps appear to be running. Consult local municipal websites

    If my camp doesn't run, do I get a refund?

    Camps are extremely vulnerable, given high overhead costs and the short season within which they operate. We encourage families to first consider other options, such as requesting a credit for next season, or offering fees as a donation. Many camps will provide a credit for your use for the next season or another program.  If you're in a secure financial situation, donating the fees back to the camp would be hugely appreciated during this difficult time and help ensure that the camp can stay solvent. Some camps may also allow you to put any fees toward a different program, such as a family camp session or a year-round program, such as those offered at March Break. For families unable to consider those options, camps will understand and should work with you to process a refund as needed. 

    If they do operate, what will camp look like this summer?

    Part of the value of camp comes from the proximity that campers and staff share, whether it’s in a cabin group, or working together around a shared project. Camp without those kinds of groups, and that proximity, will be a very different experience. Campers may be asked to isolate for two weeks prior to arriving on site. Canoe trips won’t be programmed. Distancing protocols will be strictly maintained. Camp staff, though, are adept, able to find a way to make the camp experience as vibrant, personal, and growth oriented as possible. For any programs mounted, the camper experience will be atypical, yet rewarding nonetheless. 

    Sources and further reading

    "B.C. summer camps for kids during COVID-19 pandemic." Meera Bains, May 17, 2020

    "Can my kids go to overnight camp?" Brooklyn Neustaeter. May 20, 2020

    "COVID-19 guidance for day camps." Government of Alberta | Updated: May 18, 2020.

    "Quebec day camps to open across the province." Basem Boshra. CTV News Montreal. May 21, 2020.

    "Day camps say they need financial help to open." Katherine Wilton. Montreal Gazette. May 27, 2020

    "City cancels day camps amid uncertainty." Ryan Patrick Jones · CBC News Ottawa · Posted: Jun 01, 2020.

    "Summer camps banned across the west." Western Investor. June 1, 2020.

    "COVID-19 Guidance: Summer Day Camps." Ontario Ministry of Health. June 1, 2020.

    "Summer camps in Ottawa, Gatineau and eastern Ontario." Josh Pringle. CTV News. June 7, 2020.

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