Camping…virtually!

Young boy sitting at the computer for Camp...ish activities. He has made a camp sign to hang on his wall.

4-H Camp is one of the most treasured memories for many 4-H members…the campfires, camp songs, outdoor activities, and friendships made with youth from around the state create an experience remembered for a lifetime. 4-H professionals are just as passionate about camping, so when they learned that in-person events could not be held this summer due to COVID-19, “CAMP…ish” was born!

“Camp…ish,” Ohio’s first-ever, 4-H statewide virtual camp, was held June 9-11 for both 4-H and non-4-H members. Around 275 campers attended over the three-day period. The free event was held via Zoom, and each youth joined in the fun from a home computer. Camp...ish participants

Although CAMP…ish used computers for communication, it was not a sedentary experience! “Does anyone wanna see my dog?!” called out one young camper, scampering around in front of her screen during a spontaneous “pet show-and-tell” session. Campers could see and interact with other youth and their counselors while doing activities interspersed with rest and meal periods. Sessions ran live each day during three sessions. Co-directors Kayla Oberstadt, 4-H program manager, and Frances Nicol, 4-H educator in Madison County, led a team of over 25 4-H professionals from around the state to host activities.

Campers took to the outdoors to complete nature challenges, create art from natural materials and set-up obstacle courses in their backyards. Some kids climbed trees while others drew on the sidewalk. Parents or caregivers took photos of the youth during each activity, and the campers then downloaded the pictures to the camp website for sharing with the group.

Hayden up in a tree to drop his egg for the egg drop activity.Parents were enthusiastic about the program. “I was appreciative that 4-H gave kids an opportunity to do some fun activities and have a camp-like experience,” said Angie Thomas of Champaign County. “What a positive statement they made by thinking outside the box and creating positive activities out of what could have been a negative situation. Thanks for being such great role models for my daughter.”

“My boys did CAMP…ish and really had fun,” said parent Angie Holmes of Erie County. “They loved the egg drop activity and even climbed our tree to drop their egg!” 

CAMP…ish kicked off the first day with a virtual tour of a real 4-H camp (Canter’s Cave), video-taped in advance. Seeing the recreation field, dining area, bathrooms and other areas made the experience even more realistic, especially for first-time campers. Young boy making a craft using Popsicle sticks.

Traditional rituals such as saying the 4-H Pledge to open camp each morning were not forgotten. Additionally, campers created a tent-like feeling during one session by building and sitting inside homemade forts made from furniture and blankets. Making crafts by re-purposing items found around the campers’ homes was another favorite activity. Each day closed with singing camp songs and a reflection. 

Camper Savannah T., reported that “the STEM activities were my favorite!” She said seeing youth from other counties on her computer screen and listening to their comments was also fun. “The counselors were very nice and helpful. I really liked the experience and would do it again.”

Some parents reported virtual camping was superior to a traditional camp for children who experience homesickness or who have conditions such as anxiety. Additionally, as a free program, “CAMP…ish” brought camping to many youth who would otherwise never have the experience. Young girl sitting outside "roasting" a marshmallow over a crafted fire.

A parent whose child had been homesick at camp in the past – and was planning to wait several years before trying camp again – was grateful for the virtual camp. “We were thrilled when the Camp…ish opportunity came up, because our daughter could enjoy camp from the comfort of our home.”

CAMP…ish drew a wide audience from around the state, with:

  • 58 counties represented
  • 4 out-of-state participants (3 in NY, 1 in MO)
  • 42 youth who were not already 4-H members
  • 167 females and 95 males
  • Ages ranging from 8-15

Young girl making thank you cards for camp supporters.While in-person camps are planned next year, the 4-H Camping Design Team does not rule out the possibility of conducting more virtual state-wide camps in the future. “It has been amazing to see the creativity of our colleagues!” said Jamie McConnell, Muskingum County. 4-H educator. In addition, more than 12 counties conducted their own virtual county 4-H camps around the state.