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Sabine Bruyere, 21, special needs and inclusion leader for the VanDusen nature camps, said a lot of thought and research went into planning how to run a summer camp for the kids, whose ages range from 5 to 10.

“This year is a little different. We are doing things from a distance — and we had to figure out how to comfort a child from six feet away,” Bruyere said.

Sabine Bruyere leading the
Sabine Bruyere leading the “pond peering” activity. Francis Georgian/PNG

Even the first-day separation anxiety is different: It’s hard to convince a child you are dropping them off because you need to go to work, when they know full well you are working at home.

“It’s very, very tricky,” said Bruyere.

Distraction is key: “I will have some tissues on hand and say lets catch those tears. I crouch down six feet away and I try to coax them over to our table where we have stickers and they can decorate their name tags.”

And, there is a lot of pond peering, one of the most popular and calming activities. “At our cypress pond, the children get to lie down on a bridge and scoop a bucket of water and collect little organisms like mosquito larvae or water boatmen. There are turtles and carp — it’s a really beautiful place to be.”

It didn’t take long for kids to adapt — and the Vancouver Botanical Gardens Association adapted their programming, too. In previous summers, camps spent some time outdoors, but had a home base inside the main building. Now the camps are fully outside unless there is a torrential downpour.

Although the camps are about nature — bogs, bugs, plants and the science of growing your own dinner — they are, because of the pandemic, also very much about human beings and about life.

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