By Shazia Juma-Ross

The children’s after school and holiday activities industry has been growing rapidly in recent years – now alongside sport and art classes, you can book your children into business camp, architecture workshops or mindfulness. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the industry, with children (and adults!) staying at home more than ever.

Along with schools, all face-to-face activities were forced to close during lockdown. Now that restrictions have eased in most states and territories, many are starting to reopen, but parents are still wary about sending their kids to group activities with children from various communities.

Shazia Juma-Ross, CEO and Co-founder of children’s activities company Skills and Thrills says, “Parents, kids and activities providers all had to adapt to online and distance based offerings during the lockdown period. What we are now seeing is that people are in different stages of comfort with their kids. Some parents are looking forward to having them out of the house and allowing them to return to their favourite holiday camps, while others are still concerned about the COVID-19 risks.”

With no end currently in sight for the coronavirus crisis, where does this leave parents?

Shazia Juma-Ross is the CEO and Co-founder of Skills and Thrills, and former global COO at Macquarie.

The impact of COVID-19 and the shift to online

Most extracurricular activities were forced shut when the pandemic hit, which was a huge blow for the providers. Many of these activities are run by small businesses and closing up shop meant an immediate hit to their revenues. To ensure they could continue operating, companies began shifting to online workshops. So whether kids are interested in fitness, drama, coding or animals, the classes can now be livestreamed and done at home. These online offerings have allowed providers who were struggling when the shutdown began to be able to stay afloat. They also provided parents with a way to entertain and engage their kids while they tried to productively work from home.

Across a lot of Australia, kids who usually spend their school holidays or after school at dance groups or chess classes can now go back to their “normal” lessons, but many are choosing not to. Uncertainty around coronavirus cases is translating to uncertainty among parents. Many activities providers have seen a drop in bookings for face to face workshops since restrictions were lifted, as parents still grapple with whether they should continue to keep their children home or not.

The children’s after school and holiday activities industry now had business camp, architecture workshops or mindfulness on the menu.

What is the new normal?

In response, we’re seeing alternative solutions pop-up, both here and around the globe. In Australia, Skills and Thrills is offering a new ‘middle ground’ solution – in addition to traditional school holiday camps and online interactive camps, they have worked with activity providers to create ‘home camps.’ This involves a small group of trusted friends getting together at one family’s home for a full day, private camp run by professional instructors. The children take turns going to each other’s home, so the parents can all take a break, and the groups are small enough to remain safe.

In the US, parents are using a similar solution for distance learning while schools are closed. Communities are creating ‘homeschooling pods’ to help support each other. Children visit each other at home in small groups to complete their school work for the day. This ensures that they are still interacting with other kids rather than just sitting in front of a computer all day, and means parents can take turns with supervision. Businesses are also now offering these pods as a service – they provide a professional teacher or tutor to teach the kids in groups, with parents splitting the cost amongst themselves.

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Throughout this pandemic we have seen countless innovations, with organisations continually transforming and finding new ways to operate. The children’s activities industry is no exception. The landscape has already changed dramatically in only a few months and we can expect to keep seeing new solutions created to support parents as we move through this crisis.