On any normal weeknight before 2020, visitors to The Olympia Center would be struck by the diverse activities occurring under one roof. Wander the halls and you were likely to encounter a gi-clad martial artist or hula dancer in full regalia as the sounds of spoken Spanish and Mandarin drifted through open classroom doorways.

Budding biologists can explore wildlife and other forms of science through virtual classes this winter. Photo courtesy: Olympia Parks, Arts & Recreation

But this year has been short on normal weeknights and the staff at Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation have done a heroic job of adapting to ever-changing circumstances to continue providing services to the community. The newly released 2020-2021 Winter/Spring course catalog provides an array of options for the whole family with one key difference: almost all of them are virtual.

“We started by adding dozens of free virtual activities families could do together safely at home or in their neighborhoods,” says Veronica Gemmell, a program manager with the department. “From there, we evolved to safely adapt and operate our summer camps, providing much-needed childcare and socialization for local children. We’ve now added a whole slew of fee-based virtual programs and are offering full-day childcare, with scholarships for families who might otherwise not be able to participate.”

The course offerings include something for every age, from early childhood through teens and adults. Families can enroll their 2- to 3.5-year-old in Virtual Daddy/Mommy & Me Soccer or sign up for Virtual Preschool Story & Craft Hour with Preschool by the Bay Teacher Abbi Miguel. Other options include Tot Soccer (ages 3.5 to 4) and Virtual Pre-Soccer (ages 4 to 5).

Youth ages 6-12 can choose from multiple creative and artistic courses conducted remotely through the winter and spring. Photo courtesy: Olympia Parks, Arts & Recreation

For youth ages 6 to 12, the Winter/Spring catalog continues to provide an impressive number of virtual class experiences focused on science, technology, games, cooking, language and even spying. At Virtual Jedi Training Academy, they’ll play Star Wars games, build vehicles, create their own Jedi uniforms and lightsabers, and learn to draw Clone Wars characters. Virtual Hogwarts Academy is similarly theme-based, while Virtual Ninja Academy trains kids in how to create their own parkour obstacle course, along with basic martial arts skills and free-form movement.

The science-minded can choose classes to learn about animals’ natural habitats along with tips and tricks for spotting them in the wild, be introduced to scientific inquiry, or explore the science behind superpowers like x-ray vision, super strength and ultrasonic hearing, with examples from the real world.

For game and puzzle fans, four levels of chess courses are available along with Virtual Dungeons & Dragons and Virtual Spy Kids: Secret Agents! In still other courses, they can learn how to make their own app, speak Spanish, master basic cooking skills, improve at Minecraft, or enhance performing arts skills.

Throughout the summer, the department provided families with many safe and socially distanced camp options. Photo courtesy: Olympia Parks, Arts & Recreation

During winter and spring breaks, the department will offer a series of diverse in-person camps for kids, a continuation of their summer offerings. Parents have responded positively to the adaptation. “The Oly Parks and Rec team is amazing,” says one. “They deserve serious kudos for making summer so fun for the kids with all the camps. Overall, they did so great with social distancing and masks, and we were so happy to have them enjoying activities and socializing. We’re grateful to you for all the work that went into making the summer camps happen.”

Adults and teens will also have something to look forward to between virtual yoga, and in-person classes such as Afro folkloric drumming, belly dancing, ukulele, beginning Mandarin and a multitude of art classes. Those who want to get outdoors can join the Budd Inlet Kayak Trip in February (not virtual) and the theatrically inclined can sign up for Virtual Voice-Overs . . . Now is Your Time! to learn about how to begin using your voice for commercials and films.

Teens and adults might enjoy an in-person, guided kayak trip to Budd Bay in February. Photo courtesy: Olympia Parks, Arts & Recreation

Director Paul Simmons credits the entire staff with flexibility and commitment to making these modified course offerings possible. “They showed amazing resiliency,” he says. “Our Recreation staff safely hosted camps, activities and sports leagues following health guidance. Community innovation has been in full effect.”

To register, visit the City of Olympia’s website anytime or call 360.753.8380 (Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.). Scholarships are available for many of these programs, including childcare and camps. Payment plans are also available for some offerings. For more information on financial assistance, contact olympiaparks@ci.olympia.wa.us at least 14 days in advance of the first day of the program.


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