Brain Teasers By Heather Hower
Beyond summer school: these camps engage the mind and the spirit of even the youngest camper.
Summer break is the idyllic time when kids can run, play, hang out and put a brake on learning. Only that isn’t really true. Without some sort of education taking place, kids can lose progress they made over the academic year. All those hours of spelling words down the drain!
This isn’t a new phenomenon by any stretch: Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer (White, 1906; Heyns, 1978; Entwisle & Alexander 1992; Cooper, 1996; Downey et al, 2004).
STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math, is the latest educational catch phrase and is plastered everywhere.
Getting and keeping kids interested in science and math can be challenging, but with some of the coolest camps around, kids will be immersed in learning without evenrealizing it. No worksheets and times tables here – these camps will stem the summer slide, but more importantly, they might even light a passion for science within. Read on because we’ve found the perfect combination of learning and leisure with Eagle County’s plethora of camps.
Get Dirty, Learn Clean Eating
There’s a real food revolution going on if you haven’t noticed. Get kids growing their meals and before long they’re asking to make dinner, try spinach, help compost and even weed the garden. The Youth Foundation’s Sowing Seeds summer camps are an extension of the school year program, which is the highest altitude public gardening program in the world. The summer camps let kids get their hands dirty – literally – while learning about nutrition, gardening and healthy cooking.
“Everyone should know where their food comes from, how to garden and how to grow their own food,” says Sandy Story, the program director.
Sowing Seeds works with all ages of children from the Garden Sprouts, ages 4 to 6, right up through 11 to 14 year olds as Garden-to-Table Chefs. The Garden-to-Table program is new this year and will have tweens and teens creating their own lunch masterpieces with renowned chef Kelly Liken, using fruits, vegetables and herbs harvested from the Sowing Seeds gardens and greenhouse.
“We have a lot of unique things growing in all of the gardens, anything from brussel sprouts to watermelon and everything in between,” Sandy quips. Younger kids get to sample fruits and veggies they may otherwise wrinkle their nose at. Harvesting sweet strawberries, pulling carrots and sampling snap peas takes place throughout the day, interjected with yoga and water time.
There’s even a rumor fairies come to visit at night, leaving behind trinkets in each campers lovingly created fairy house.
Sowing Seeds camps take place at Brush Creek, Eagle Valley and Edwards Elementary Schools throughout the summer. www.vvf.org
Definitely NOT Summer School
Camp Deep End is based out of the Eagle County Charter Academy in Edwards. While it’s at the school, it is not summer school, Joey Peplinksi, the director and teacher, is quick to point out.
“We focus on what interests the kids the most. We keep them engaged,” he says of his five-day per week program. Last year he had a group of boys who were way into baseball. So Joey hid math-building skills deep within baseball stats. Girls were obsessed with the movie Frozen. They teamed up to come up with different endings to the movie: Language arts at its best.
The camp day starts at 8 with circle time, getting to know one another and then morphs into reading comprehension. The campers spend an hour and half each day synthesizing thoughts and making connections. Groups are formed based on individual levels, Joey says where they spend an hour doing math – again disguised as fun.
“We keep it game based. It’s definitely not school. There are no work sheets,” Joey says. “I try to keep it fun and interactive. As a teacher, I design camp around getting away from losing everything over the summer.”
Afternoons are devoted to adventures, whether going to Freedom Park or Singletree in Edwards,catching the bus to Nottingham Lake, EagleVail or Beaver Creek. They get outside to run, play and be kids. Kids can come to camp every day, or just a few times a week.
Camps run from 8 till 5:30 with only eight kids per session. www.campdeepend.com
STEM-ming the Summer Slide
Walking Mountains Science Center is a natural resource unto itself. What once was a tiny venture based in Red Cliff is now a thriving center in Avon. With changing programs geared towards children of all ages, it’s a go-to for many parents, something kids are thrilled about.
The educators at Walking Mountains have some serious summer fun planned with its new STEM Discovery programs. Children in fifth and sixth grades will dabble in bio mimicry.
“We will be exploring how engineers have used nature’s ingenuity to create some of their greatest designs and sustainable solutions,” says Beth Markham, youth programs director. “We’ll look at trains inspired by bird beaks, wind turbines that resemble whale’s fins. These students will engineer their own inventions.”
For the seventh and eight graders, Beth is super excited about the underwater robotic camp. What kid wouldn’t want to participate in becoming an aquatic biologist for the week? The first few days the kids will design, create and build their own aquatic robots that can, as the name implies, go in the water. Then the kids will go to different locations in the Eagle River Watershed, and using their robots, they will collect water samples and analyze the water quality.
The last in the STEM Discovery triad is Design, Create, Discover, where kids look at machines and the way things work.
It will be heavily focused on engineering marvels from bridges to generating energy. Campers will use the laws of physics to harness their creative power to address building and design challenges.
“This program is all about looking at machines and the way things work,” Beth enthuses. “We’ll look at the big green bridge in Red Cliff, how bicycles can be used to generate energy. They’ll be building a few different items.” www.walkingmountains.org
Mad Scientists at Work
Kids love to make potions – the messier the better. And if it doesn’t have to be at your house? Even better! Enter the Vail Recreation District’s Mad Scientist camp that takes place on select Fridays throughout the summer. Each week has a special focus allowing kids to gain an understanding through testing, observing and manipulating.
“Many children have more fun when they have a project to focus on. This camp gives children social opportunities in a non-threatening environment,” says Chad Young, director of youth services at the Vail Recreation District.
Kids are able to spend a full day exploring one topic, allowing them to get more in-depth. Topics include magnetism, solar power, electric motors and rockets. “We give guidance, but there is also the freedom to explore and experiment,” Chad adds. “We teach the scientific method, or portions thereof, in a playful way.”
Although it is play-based, the kids get pretty creative and determined in their study.
“We had fun building magnetic accelerators and simple electric motors last year. I was amazed by one little girl who made electric motors – she does not always get to be the super-star in a school setting, and she relished that role here.”
Mad Scientists is open to kids ages 7 to 12. www.vailrec.com
The Other Kind of Learning Ute Springs Experiential Learning Center takes on learning in a different way – a way to build character through outdoor play and exploration.
These camps, for kids from ages 7 right through high school, develop and foster leadership and team building skills while teaching social/emotional skills and providing tools for personal growth. Definitely not a place to sit still, campers explore Vail Mountain, Piney Lake, Mountain Valley Horse Rescue and learn how to work together solving problems, mastering tasks and taking on chores.
Children are given the chance to take on challenges that might seem intimidating, but as their peers cheer the mon, offer assistance and they all gain trust in each other, they are able to succeed.
“While the Ute Springs Experiential Learning Center camps do have a component of academics incorporated within each program, our true focus is on allow kids the space to develop foundational social-emotional skills such as self and social awareness, and leadership, relationship and responsible decision making skills,” Amy Ben-Horin, executive director, says.
“Research shows that the aspects of camp that we integrate (being outdoors, journaling, semi-structured free time and movement/exercise) at Ute Springs are keys to learning, as well as establishing the skills that allow us to make and keep friends, understand our personal strengths and challenges and work within a community to accomplish certain goals.”
In one short week last year, my young friend helped clean a horse stall, made dinner, did her first sleepover and made seven new friends. Every afternoon the kids write about their experiences, remembering what made them feel good and what they want to work on in the future. www.utespringselc.org
Camps fill up quickly, so make your summer plan and get your kids’ brain working.