The folks at Duluth’s Great Lakes Aquarium are unable to open up their doors for kids' day camp this summer due to COVID-19 restrictions, but they still had an idea.

What if they sent summer camp to the kids?

That’s the idea behind Summer Camp in Box, a hybrid virtual and real summer day camp experience for kids heading into grades K-5 and sponsored by the aquarium’s education outreach department.

“Our usual summer camp programming is canceled for the summer, but we still wanted to come up with something to offer kids while following the social separation guidelines’’ established to prevent the spread of COVID-19, said Emily Wartman, assistant education director at the aquarium.

Allison Iacone, communications director for the aquarium, noted that the facility is classified under the entertainment umbrella of the state’s phased COVID-19 reopening plan. That means the building itself will open no earlier than Phase IV, which likely means July or later.

Even then it’s not clear how, when and where groups of children will be allowed to gather together, or how many families would choose to participate as the pandemic wears on. It’s a problem youth camps are struggling with in many states where restrictions remain: How to get kids a traditional summer outdoor experience during a pandemic.

That makes the Summer Camp in a Box effort "all the more critical to our team’s efforts to fulfill our non-profit mission,’’ Iacone noted.

Last week, aquarium staff compiled boxes with everything the kids will need to have a summer camp learning experience at home and in their neighborhoods. There are video instructions each day on how to undertake that day's outdoor activities. There will be a video virtual meeting in the afternoon where students go online on Zoom to hear live seminars from experts on nature and science.

So far about 70 “campers” have signed up from 16 states. But there’s still room and time for many more campers to sign up.

“Most are from the Duluth area. But we’ve had interest from all over the country,’’ Wartman said.

The camp boxes will be dropped off to local campers and mailed to those farther away.

For campers in grades K-2, the week-long sessions start June 22, July 6, July 20, July 27, Aug. 10 and Aug. 24. For campers heading into grades 3-5, the week-long sessions start June 15 and 29 as well as July 13, Aug. 3 and Aug. 17.

The younger campers will start with camp sessions entitled “Stories of Superior,” everything from geology and ecology to how humans have interacted with the world’s largest freshwater lake. The summer’s later sessions are called “Our Wild Neighbors” and explore what wild critters live in habitats near home, including some up-close video sessions with animals from the aquarium.

Campers in grades 3-5 will have sessions on “Animal Superheroes,” exploring what “super powers” that some animals have to survive and thrive. Later summer sessions are entitled “Scientists at Home,” showing kids how you don’t need a fancy lab to do cool experiments at home

The cost of the program is $99 ($89 for aquarium members) for the first child in a home and $40 for a second. There is also a $20 shipping fee for boxes that must be mailed. Scholarships may be available.

For more information or to register for Summer Camp in a Box go to glaquarium.org/aquarium-at-home/summer-camp-in-a-box/ or call (218) 740-3474.

Supplies for Monday bags wait to be packed on Wednesday at Great Lakes Aquarium. Campers will create a paper airplane that must fly a measured distance between two paper landmarks. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Supplies for Monday bags wait to be packed on Wednesday at Great Lakes Aquarium. Campers will create a paper airplane that must fly a measured distance between two paper landmarks. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

4-H offers free virtual outdoor summer experience

Minnesota families and youth of all ages are invited to join a free 4-H learning experience throughout the summer of 2020.

Outdoor projects will be introduced on Mondays at 7 p.m. in live Zoom webinars with exciting guest speakers and youth-led instruction. Families will then receive activity guides to use during the week to dive deeper into the topics. Webinars will be recorded for families to view later.

Topics include hiking, how to become a better angler, outdoor skills and wilderness survival, birding, ATV safety, competitive shooting, animal tracking, outdoor careers and more. You can choose to attend as many of the sessions as you’d like.

You can register at umn.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_kaSkakPtREaCitiAUB1nUw or for more information, contact Nicole Kudrle, 4-H Extension Educator, at Vande422@umn.edu or (218) 404-6596.

YMCA Day Camp Kitchigami starts Monday

The Duluth YMCA has moved the location and is limiting the number of campers at each site but is moving ahead with Camp Kitchigami again this summer starting June 8 for kids age 6-12.

The camp will take place at the Y at the Woodland Community Center in Duluth and at the Y at the Essentia Wellness Center in Hermantown. Both locations offer on-site outdoor play spaces as well as nearby hiking trails full of endless exploration possibilities.

Week-long camp sessions will start each Monday for the next 12 weeks.

Go to duluthymca.org, email daycamp@duluthymca.org or call 218-722 - 4745, ext 133 for more information or to register.

Unfortunately the YMCA's Camp Miller on Sturgeon Lake will not open for normal overnight youth camping this summer due to COVID-19 restrictions. The camp's day camp and family camp options are still available.

Courage Kenny adaptive outdoor program goes virtual

Each summer the Courage Kenny Northland adaptive sports programs bring myriad outdoor activities to people with functional limitations — everything from sailing and kayaking to biking and waterskiing, yoga and rock climbing.

But not this summer, when COVID-19 prevents clients and instructors from coming together.

Eric Larson, supervisor of the sports and recreation for Courage-Kenny Northland, said the agency is trying virtual sessions on Zoom to bring programs to participants' homes.

“We’re trying to preserve two things: Our relationships with the people who have come to depend on our services but also keeping them engaged and active and in a group,’’ Larson said.

On Thursdays, for example, the program has moved its usual outdoor biking night indoors onto stationary bikes that were donated and dropped off to clients at their homes. It’s called Turn the Pedals now and participants can ride and watch instructors via Zoom conferencing, with cell phones attached to the handle bars.

Almost as good as being together.

“We’ve been getting them (stationary bikes) out to people ... They can set it up in their living room and get on and ride with us,’’ Larson said. “But really it’s about joining the group and doing something, anything. You have to do something every day for your physical health and mental health. It’s a way to keep people physically distant but not socially distant. For some people, this is all they have to be able to do that.”

For more information on Courage Kenny adaptive sports programs — including to volunteer or to participate — go to www.allinahealth.org/adaptivesports or email Elizabeth.albrecht2@allina.com or go to facebook.com/Couragekennynorthland.