For working parents who rely on summer camps for childcare during summer break, not sending their children to summer camp is simply not an option for them.
Stephenie Walker, managing editor of Rocket City Mom, a Huntsville-based internet media company that helps parents and new families to the city, find and share information about Huntsville and the surrounding area, said the number one question parents and families are asking in the wake of an unprecedented spring disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, is whether summer camps are going to happen this year.
“Anyone who has followed our seasonal activity guides released every spring, summer, winter and fall for the past 10 years knows we usually cover musical events, festivals, movies, camps, et cetera,” said Walker on a teleconference call with the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce. “But this is an unusual summer and many of those things are closed due to the pandemic.”
In fact, while the Summer Teen Volunteer Programs across the city have been mostly cancelled, there are still several arts and education-related camps, some of them virtual, still active.
In the sports and fitness camp arena, Row Huntsville Watersports camps and the Rocket City Swim League camps are still on; the popular YMCA Camp Cha-La-Kee overnight camping and Burritt Nature rangers Day Camp is taking reservations; and some Vacation Bible School camps are still active.
The CyberProtex “Get Into the Game” introduction to cyber security camp for ages 11 to 15 is on, as are Huntsville STEAM Works and Huntsville City Schools’ virtual camps. Space Camp and Robotics Camp are tentatively starting up in late June, and the new Rocket City Trash Pandas may not have started their long awaited minor league baseball season, but they are moving forward with their Day Camp at Toyota Field.
“We are excited the Trash Pandas are giving the community what they have asked for and we expect some very creative ideas to be coming out of that organization this summer,” said Walker.
“Overall, we had to pivot from business-based events and come up with a guide that covers the limited number of summer activities still out there, while offering parents creative alternatives that will prevent boredom and get kids away from their device screens. Essentially we needed to come up with something that would help parents and families survive Summer 2020.”
While brainstorming with her business partner and founder of Rocket City Mom, Jennifer Breuer, they recalled the many times they heard parents reminisce during normal times about the days of their own childhood summers when they entertained themselves by riding bikes, climbing trees, running and jumping and playing Fort or King of the Hill.
“This is that summer!” Walker said.
From that concept, they pulled together a summer activity guide that can be found on the homepage of their website at RocketCityMom.com.
“We have tried to offer multiple recommendations for every day of those 60 days until school starts back, and you will find some events that can be done from home or online, while others are real life events away from home, but still in compliance with CDC guidelines for safe social distancing,” Walker said.
Four months into the blog project, Jennifer met Stephenie Walker. Walker has lived in Madison County most of her life and knew the community having worked at the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library and being involved in community projects.
The two had a simpatico perspective on things – Breuer knew what new Huntsville moms needed and Walker knew what was available. They began collaborating and, today, RocketCityMom.com provides a perspective and detailed information about Huntsville and Madison happenings, as well as where new families to the area can find products, services and activities.
“This year we put together all the different activities you can do while safely social distancing, from water parks, splashpads, swimming pools and swimming lessons, to hiking, camping, horseback riding, disc golf and visiting waterfalls, parks and playgrounds,” she said.
Some of the highlights from the guide include Creek Stomping. It is free and open to the public and Rocket City Mom provides a guide with plenty of tips on how to do it right.
You start with a creek such as the Indian Creek Greenway, the Alum Hollow Trail on Green Mountain, the Hays Nature Preserve, or the Mill Creek Greenway in Madison to name a few; and then you go stomp around it. You can wear a pair of rainboots, duck shoes, water shoes, sandals, or just go barefoot. Popular sidelines include skipping stones, building dams with rocks and sticks, searching for crawdads, and netting small fish.
The guide also recommends provisions for this activity like plenty of bug repellent, sunscreen, a net, a side of dry clothes and plenty of towels.
“The Land Trust takes care of a lot of the outdoor spaces where you can enjoy these activities so we always advise visitors to leave our outdoor spaces in better condition than how you found them,” Walker said. “Pick up your trash and make sure you don’t disrupt the ecosystem. Teaching children this is in itself an educational experience.”
While Point Mallard is currently closed, splashpads at Bicentennial Park, Everybody Can Play on Drake Avenue, and Hogan YMCA are open.
“It’s a great way to go out and cool down and it doesn’t cost a thing,” said Walker.
There is a Civil Rights driving tour that is very timely and will help put what the country’s going through today into its proper context.
The Huntsville-Madison County Public Library’s annual Summer Reading program is still happening in a slightly different way. Parents and their kids can go by and pick up their summer reading packets and in it are reading logs. The library is giving out prizes to kids who meet their goals and those goals are customizable to every child’s reading level.
“Summer reading is something to do and your child will be much better equipped with less ground to recover when school starts back in August if they keep reading all summer long,” said Walker. “It is easier to get some kids to read than others, but if you talk to your local librarian, they are very clever and have many ways to get even the most reluctant readers to pick up a couple of books.”
Furthermore, almost all the area’s farmer’s markets and Community-supported Agriculture are open and dozens of area orchards, U-Picks, and roadside stands are open throughout the summer, providing a tantalizing experience for kids and families.
Finally, Rocket City Mom has introduced a new category of fun this summer. The Summer Bucket List is a printable checklist of 61 days of items designed to get bored kids thinking about socially distant things they can do like catching fireflies, building a kinetic sand castle, organizing a water balloon Olympics, or making a themed dinner for their family.
“We felt we needed to provide a good mix of things you can do at home, and out in the community. This way we are providing our readers what they are looking for. That’s what we do best,” said Walker. “Give working parents and their families an event calendar of things to do together.
“Hopefully, everyone can find what they are looking for this summer.”