Kids, Stories, And The End Of Camp

The theme of the last two weeks of camp was Myths and Legends, it was a popular choice.

The moment I introduced the theme to the kids there was a LOT of squealing and jumping up and down, which then turned into a discussion about Greek myths, which then turned into a heated discussion about Percy Jackson….and Harry Potter…and Hogwarts, and we all know how that ended. It was the ultimate geek-off, and we enjoyed every minute of it.

Yes, I can solidly state that Myths and Legends week was a very good theme to pick.

We looked at creation myths from all over the world and the origins of fairy tales. We had great discussions about similarities between different myths, and how stories have been passed down through generations, and migrations. Of course, this meant I got to read the kids lots of stories, and they got to impress me with their own stories. I realized that this particular age group love to work around, and tell stories. Indeed, for a lot of kids it made a nice break from the many abstract projects and concepts we have been working on so far.

So we learned about the aboriginal dream time, and the rainbow serpent, and painted our own dreamings. We read about Minotaurs, Gorgons and the ancient Greek pantheon; we studied different mosaic techniques and made bean and lentil mosaics, all while listening to Percy Jackson on audio book. Then we made very unsuccessful jelly bean mosaics, because somehow the jelly beans kept mysteriously disappearing. We also read Native American, and Siberian myths about trickster Ravens and the creation of the sky, and made sky boxes and raven collages. We made illustrations, and books, talked about minimalism, and made a huge, upsetting mess during a Marc Chagall project.
The kids threw me a party at the end of the last week, complete with cards, chocolate, and a HUGE banner, and my heart swelled to ten times it’s size.

And now I’m left with a large banner, a lot of boxes to unpack, and an urge to read as many Percy Jackson books as I can get my hands on. Also, I keep throwing balls to other adults, in the hope that they will play with me. Yep, I miss recess badly.


Some more things I learned at camp

  • Saying “don’t shoot” to a kid with a water gun is a surefire way to get drenched.
  • The introduction of any kind of metallic paint/pen/pencil will make kids instantly more excited about a project.
  • Playing audio books in the class room is an excellent idea; everyone was so much more focused.
  • The most successful projects were the ones where kids learned about another time or culture. Putting art against a historical/cultural context always makes learning and understanding stronger.
  • Saying the word “poop” will always lighten any situation.
  • It’s good to have very different techniques and projects in each camp. Kids have different strengths and weaknesses, and you need to build success into everyone’s week.
  • Drop back during lunch times. Kids need their own space without a teacher around.
  • Never leave clean up until the last day of camp, get most of it done the day before. No one wants to spend the last day cleaning – it’s party time!!!
  • Wear outfits with pockets. Trust me, this is very important.
  • Pack extra silverware. Someone always forgets a spoon or fork.
  • Kids don’t care whether your throat is hoarse, if you started reading a story, you had better finish it (with all the voices).
  • Let the kids teach you something from time to time, they are amazing at it.
  • Go with the flow. If everyone looks tired stop the project, after all it’s not school.
  • When making jelly bean mosaics, buy twice as many jelly beans as you think you may need.

The Kids Need To Play More!

Okay, I’m back! It took a bit of recovering after the last two (very physical) weeks of summer camp, and a lot of chocolate and BBC consumption, and now I’m ready to share.

In the beginning…

I don’t know about you, but growing up in England in the 80’s I had a lot of free time. I spent a lot of time playing school yard games, and making up new games with friends and random kids that I bumped into everywhere I went (there were a lot more of those hanging around back then). Recesses were longer, my parents were too busy to hover over me, and I didn’t have many extra curricular activities apart from my dance classes (unless you count reading Indian comic books obsessively, and annoying the next door neighbor’s dog).
One thing I wish my nine year old and her friends had more of is this kind of unstructured time. Her recesses at school are pitifully short, and when she does have time to spare, she often can’t find other kids who are also free, I guess Fairfax County likes ’em busy.
So…. four years ago, I decided to run a summer art camp that has big chunks of unstructured play time built in, and lots of time outdoors. This has worked very well, the kids in my camps really bond and play together the way kids are supposed to, and their creativity outdoors pours into their art projects and vice versa.

However, this did not happen immediately.

At first, faced with longer breaks, and less adult intervention, many kids seemed confused and anxious. They kept coming up to me saying things like “Can you tell me what to do?” and “I’m bored” and even “when can we go back indoors?” after just ten minutes of being outside. They sat around looking miserable, and argued and complained a lot. I panicked internally, thinking that parents would start calling me up with complaints, but I stuck it out, nonetheless. I have noticed that after two days, a change takes place and the kids start playing together, organizing themselves into teams, and inventing new games and new rules for old games. Many of my kids return year after year, and it is very satisfying to see the way they play with each other.

Games Week

I took things a bit further a couple of weeks ago, and made Games the theme of the week. The kids played art games with dice that they made, created their own board games. They also made articulated shadow puppets, and put on their own show. During recess, I showed them games that I had played as a child, and they taught me some new games as well. The game everyone seemed to love the most was played with an old loop of elastic, and jumping contests were all the rage.

Some Games We Played And Made Up:

Red rover
Marco Polo
Cherry Bomb
Limbo/jumping contests
Sponge tag
Obstacle courses
Sack races
Touch football
The Orange Line
Torture Run
Wall Ball
Apples to Apples
Simon Says
Target Practice
Sharks and Minnows/Octopus
Froggy Murder
Sticky Sticky Grapes

Of course, I played a lot of games with them (perks of the job), but I learned to leave them alone as well , because that is when the real magic happens!

Please, please, make the kids play more, and see their creativity, teamwork, negotiation, problem solving, focus, and motor skills improve!

What I learned at Summer Camp – Part 2

Last week was my favorite week of Summer Camp so far. This is because the theme was Bauhaus.  I am obsessively in love with the Bauhaus art movement; it’s influences can be seen everywhere today, from IKEA furniture to the abc tv logo, and even Apple computers. Bauhaus stripped art down to it’s basic principles and focused on formal elements such as color, pattern and shape. Look, I’m starting to ramble already, see how much I love Bauhaus?? The kids also seemed to really get into the projects, and the theory behind them.

The big (and unsurprising) take away from all of this is…

The more passionate you are about a theme, the more excited the kids are going to be about it.
You may look a bit crazed, and they might play it cool and pretend to not be buying into your frenzied enthusiasm, but they are (well most of them are, some of them just think you are crazy), and the proof is in their work.

One obstacle that we hit on, is that so many of the Bauhaus projects relied on being able to paint/cut/draw ‘clean’ shapes. Motor skills vary greatly with elementary school age kids, and some kids found the painting tasks a little too challenging, so we took a step back and learnt some painting and drawing techniques for a while. The nice thing about summer camp is you can go at your own pace.

I tend to concentrate on process more than outcomes in my camps, which means that sometimes projects can change direction and take on a life of their own. The printmaking project was one of those projects that had more juice in it than expected, so we kept developing it further. I think that the two artists that the kids seemed to like the most were Josef Albers and Freidensreich Hundertwasser. Why?? Here is my big lesson of the week:

…Art Gossip!
Elementary students like to hear stories. They like to hear juicy little morsels of information about artists, that make them more human in their eyes (click on the links for cool kids’ books about the artists). They were delighted to hear that Hundertwasser, changed his name to mean ‘Free Kingdom Hundred Waters’ and recycled his own poop, and that Joseph Albers was a primary school teacher, and his father was a house painter. Tell them stories, put the art in context, laugh about it a bit, and make it more reachable and fun.

Next week is going to be all about Games. Art games, board games, shadow puppets, and old school yard games. I’ll let you know how it all goes!