I waved goodbye to my masked-up children from the edge of Madison Elementary’s outdoor play shed, after ticking boxes in a series of health questions that I felt grateful to reply “no” to. I had just dropped them off at SKIPP, Summer Kids in Parks Program, which is put on by the City of Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation Department free-of-charge. I walked back to my car, ALONE, I realized that this was the first time since March 12 that my children had been under the care of anyone else, and the fact that it was outside of our home now felt like a luxury.

Groups that are able to meet physical distancing and other health department requirements are able to reserve park shelters, The Harbor House, and rooms in The Olympia Center. Photo courtesy: City of Olympia

In addition, the program partners with the Olympia School District’s Free Summer Meals Program, and the children attending SKIPP are fed lunch at the start of playtime, 12:00 p.m. and then given a snack before departing at 3:00 p.m. That was one less lunch I had to make in the gravy train of meals I’d been slopping, and three blissful hours where I got to be an independent person, with no small children tugging at my skirt or asking me to do things. All the things. The District’s Summer Meals Program also provides free grab-and-go meals to any youth under 18, including lunch and breakfast for the following morning.

SKIPP is just one little drop in the bucket of summer offerings from Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation department. They offer a wide variety of both half and full day camps to match your camper’s interest and your family’s needs. Many sessions still have spaces available at the time of this writing, including the perennial favorite Olywahoo! camps and Adventure Kids Yoga Camp, where kids learn yoga in a park. Art and STEAM camps are still being offered, and the popular Bricks 4 Kidz camps in various themes still have spaces available.

The camps that are at maximum enrollment allow folks to sign up on a waiting list, and since summer plans are always so fluid, it’s a great idea to put your name down because there’s a good chance your number may be called. (Mine has been called. It actually works!)

The department has done a ton of work making camps and campers safe so children can still partake in the time-honored ritual that is summer camp. Things like reducing camp sizes, maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, doing health assessments, performing extra cleaning and sanitizing, providing each camper with their own materials, and more make holding camp possible this summer. After reading this document about the Department’s policies and procedures, it was evident that Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation Department had put a lot of thought and care into how to continue to run their storied camps this summer amidst a pandemic.

“I feel like camp is extra important this year, even aside from childcare needs.” says Penelope Goode, local parent and emergency room physician. “The emotional toll that closing schools took on our kids is probably under-recognized, so having outdoor activities to attend is so important right now. My son had a great time at the Oly Parks and Rec Soccer Camp again this year! I feel they are taking the need for hygiene seriously, with good practices in place.”

Paddleboard classes have returned for adults and teens and the City also offers a Paddlesports Camp for 11- to 14-year-olds. Photo courtesy; City of Olympia

As the department is able to meet the requirements, more and more offerings, in-person and virtual, are coming this summer. And not just kid’s camps. There are activities for all ages and abilities, indoors and out.

The return of outdoor recreation courses is exciting, especially because there are still openings available on their usually sold out kayaking trips and courses. No experience required, no gear necessary, just turn up and a socially-distanced instructor will get you out paddling on the glorious Salish Sea (Puget Sound) in no time.

Another exciting addition to outdoor recreation are the paddleboard courses. A paddleboard, a surfboard’s cousin, is a versatile way to get out on the water, standing up, kneeling, or sitting down. If you’re looking for a breath of fresh air (while your kids are at camp), sign up for a paddleboard course. They meet at Swantown Marina Boathouse and the beginner sessions are set in calm, protected and generally shallow waters.

Non-camp activities for kids include Junior Ranger Adventures, where kids earn a Junior Park Ranger badge and Kidz Love Soccer, a great way to introduce soccer skills for those that aren’t quite ready for team sports. And speaking of sports, keep an eye out for fall Adult Sports League information and registration in August.

Now that we are in Phase 3, with gatherings permitted of up to 50 people, the City has opened up their facility rentals again, too. “Groups that are able to meet physical distancing and other health department requirements are able to reserve park shelters, The Harbor House, and rooms in The Olympia Center,” says Anna Uyeda, the department’s marketing program specialist.

With the shift over the past few months to living a more virtual life, the Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation department innovated as well, and now offers a handful of virtual classes and courses. Virtual Yoga, Virtual Jazzercise, and even virtual magic trick instruction from local favorite, magician Jeff Evans are being offered up.

In addition to kayaking opportunities during day camp, Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation is now offering Kayak classes and trips for adults. Photo courtesy; City of Olympia

Some virtual programs require advance registration, while others are free and open to the public. You can find all of the info on the Department’s virtual offerings here, and keep a keen eye because new programs are being added every week.

In a summer like no other, these familiar programs bring comfort to our community. While we are physically apart, we still find ways to come together with the help of this fantastic community-centered programming.

Keep up to date on current Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation programs on the City of Olympia’s website and on Twitter at @olypard.

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