Friday, August 4, 2017

Summer Camp - 5 Years Done

Camp. Done.

I’ve been working at this summer camp for five years. I started this gig the summer after Ollie was born and it’s been part of my life ever since. I’ve seen a lot of the same kids year after year and over time, this experience has helped me grow as an educator.

The way the camp is set up is that the campers have two sessions each morning and then they have afternoon activities. For example, a camper might have survival skills as their first session in the morning and then music for the second session. The campers have these classes four days a week, Monday through Thursday.

I’m one of the people who teach sessions in the morning, I see two groups of kids, put together by age groups for 50 minutes each. The size of these groups varies from as low as 7 or 8 to maybe 15, and the kids range from rising 1st graders to 6th graders. There are camp counselors who accompany these groups and often help out during the sessions.

I’ve played with a lot of different formats over the years, but I’ve settled on this sequences that works well. Kids come in, I invite them to sit on the carpet and I lead them in singing a camp song. Usually I do an add-on song like “Hole In The Bottom Of The Sea,” and go off script and stack up weird things on the log like dinosaurs and race cars. I love doing “She’ll Be Coming Around The Mountain,” and have her bring robots, lions, dump trucks, and magicians. The motions the kids come up with and their sound effect are often hilarious.

Song time is followed by drum circle. Depending on the kids' age, the activities on the drums vary. I make sure to weave in time for us to jam together, opportunities for students to be leaders, space for the them to explore, and activities that have encourage them to compose.

After drumming, we do story time. I read a picture book that has some kind of musical theme like The Drums Of Noto Hanto or Sing, Sophie! Often I’ll pick a book that relates to the next activity. After the book, there’s a variety of things we might do. We’ve taken drumsticks out the playground and explore making music by hitting monkey bars and slides. I’ll teach them how to play cup passing games, or we might play musical charades. I take a lot of the games and activities I do with my kids during the year and have fun with them with my camp kids. Because there is no set curriculum and I’m not trying to “teach them,” I can take the campers’ lead on their interest and focus more on simply having fun with music.

Kids can choose what weeks they want to go to camp so the kids I get week to week along with the variation in ages I get assigned requires a lot of flexibility. Instead of having one plan, I need to have five or six different directions I can take the session in case I have kids who I’ve seen earlier in the summer or if the children have a unique vibe that requires a different kind of activity. I love the challenge, it keeps me on my toes and gives me the chance to try different things while continuing to be responsive to the needs of the campers.

It’s camp and it’s kids and stuff happens. I had a kid get his head stuck, temporally, in a tambourine. This last summer I worked with a group of Chinese students who I waited ten minutes into the session to inform them that while I didn’t speak Mandarin Chinese, I understood much of what they were saying. They weren’t saying anything all that bad, but they did say a couple things they wouldn’t have said if they knew I understood. There’s been kids who think that I’m crazy, some who respond to me really well, but mostly, I get along with the campers just great and we have a good time.

Year 5 is in the books. I first took on this jog really as a gig, but it has proven to be more than that. It’s an important way I keep up my practice, it’s a privilege to work with these kids, and it’s provided important moments of reflection as I enjoy my time with these campers.

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