Summer Camp Offers a Break for Campers and Staff Alike


Julia Melo

(Photo by Julia Melo)

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, children (and people in general) already spent hours a day at their desks. This solitary lifestyle has grown through virtual and remote learning, streaming networks and endless video games, even videos of other people playing video games. But our brains are more active when we are able to be active ourselves.

Play, extracurricular activities and summer have always been seen as a “break.” In reality, these occasions can be the most active learning times for children.

When I started working for my family’s child-care business, Kids After Hours, I was 16, and it seemed like a fun place to work after school.

Our tagline, “It’s Always Time for Fun,” means we are a very fun place not only for children but for staff as well. It goes beyond simply having a good time.

This notion that breaks are superfluous misses the incredible mental-health benefits that come from play. When we first opened after the pandemic forced business closures, we could see the dramatic impacts social interactions, outdoor experiences and play had on children’s confidence. Over just a few days, we watched children go from reserved and isolating to establishing friendships, embracing openness and trying new experiences.

Hands-on experiences

Last year was my family’s first summer opening up Red Barn Ranch Camp. It was always my parent’s dream to open their own camp location, and it has been incredible to be a part of developing a camp from the ground up. We want to make the most of the summer “break” by creating amazing experiences for the children and staff in our program.

Through providing various activities such as swimming, maneuvering climbing walls, flying down zip lines, building friendships through sports teams and competitions, riding ATVs and go-karts, and creating art through multiple media, we can help all children find something that breaks them out of their shell and introduces them to something new.

Red Barn Ranch has been a passion project for my entire family. We have spent hours meticulously planning our facilities and programs. Every detail of Red Barn Ranch has been discussed and debated by my family to create the perfect summer-camp location. It’s important to my family that we create a camp that embodies fun, exploration and building social connections.

Camp allows children to reconnect with friends, themselves and nature. It gives them the opportunity to take what they learned throughout the school year, connect it to hands-on experiences and expand on their learning in ways they can’t in a classroom setting. As we have been developing our camp program, we have been incredibly mindful of creating experiences that can build communities among our campers.

From building confidence in our high ropes course, building friendships through our sports programs and going beyond cookie-cutter art projects, every aspect of camp has something children can take with them for the rest of their lives.

Summer camp is not a break from learning; it is learning. It’s a chance to have children turn off the screens of their virtual lives, go out, have hands-on experiences and make memories that will last long after the pools empty and they are back in their classrooms once again.

Julia Melo (M.ED) is the accreditation and curriculum director of Kids After Hours, a before- and after-school care program that operates in 26 locations through Maryland, and the program coordinator of Red Barn Ranch Camp. Learn more at: or call 301-933-6888.

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