A Longer School Year?

September 28, 2010

Camp Learning Outdoor Wonder

The issue of summer learning and “student achievement” has popped back up in the news. Yesterday, President Obama gave an interview and said he favored lengthening the school year (and of course, shortening the summer break from school). He suggested American kids were falling behind because other developed countries go to school more of the year—the assumption here being we all would be smarter and achieve more if we stayed in school for more classroom learning.

Apparently quoting his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, Mr. Obama also cited studies showing students “losing what they learned” after taking the summer off, with the effects being particularly significant for poorer children who don’t have opportunities to learn when away from school. “A longer school year makes sense,” he concluded. Here’s an article where you can read more and see the video.

Of course, it’s impossible to convey the full complexity of this issue in a 30-second answer, and while easily debatable, it’s clear that making a “longer school year” the centerpiece of education reform is a direct threat to the American tradition of summer camp. The American Camp Association was quick to say as much and question the President’s opinion. According to the ACA, children receive crucial educational benefits from their experiences at camp; they learn things they can’t learn at school, and if we are concerned with educating the “whole child” we shouldn’t extend classroom learning, but instead broaden the opportunities for all children to benefit from camps and other summer experiential programs.

Many questions are yet to be answered. Should we model our school calendar on the values and assumptions of other countries and cultures? Should we sacrifice the benefits of non-classroom learning that can occur in the summer for the enhanced academic/intellectual learning gained from more school time? Do we really value science knowledge over resilient self-esteem, and mathematics over caring, compassion and teamwork? Could the expense of extending the school year be better applied to fund summer camps and experiential outdoor programs?

In education reform, let’s not be too quick to adopt this kind of simple solution that carries too many negative consequences for our children. Instead, let’s be creative with the whole child in mind. Let’s start by recognizing “multiple intelligences,” and from there seek to encourage every child to explore all of their talents and hidden abilities. Let’s remember that education is so much more than what school provides.

Summer Camp Film Announced

September 22, 2010
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Camp Cabin Pressure Book Cover

Back in 2007 Josh Wolk, a writer for the magazine Entertainment Weekly, published a book about life at summer camp entitled, Cabin Pressure: One Man’s Desperate Attempt to Recapture His Youth as a Camp Counselor. To write the book, Wolk decided to go back to the same summer camp he attended as kid and be a cabin counselor, to spend a summer living with the kids, teaching activities, and eating in the dining hall. Part nostalgia trip and part a return to innocence (reliving boyhood memories before getting married and becoming “an adult”), the book is well written and is really funny. By introducing you to the campers in his cabin and the other staff members, the book helps readers understand camp from the inside. It shows the complex human relationships at play there, the funny and poignant moments happening all the time, and ultimately why so many people absolutely love camp.

Now, word is out that Derick Martini (best known for directing the 2008 film “Lymelife”) is going to film a movie based on Wolk’s book.  We’re not sure about the production schedule or the cast at this point, but we know that the film will be a comedy about summer camp.  Cool!

We’ll keep you posted and, meanwhile, look forward to seeing the film!

Fall Coloring Projects

September 17, 2010
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With fall weather sneaking up on us around here, it’s just about time to begin decorating for the season. Bring out the colorful leaf patterns, the pumpkins, the scarecrows, the apples. It got us thinking, and when we ran into this excellent web site for coloring projects, Twisty Noodle, we thought we’d pass it along. Go check it out! It’s free, and you can download and print tons of very cool coloring pages.

Maybe we’ll need a new box of markers?

Fall Pumpkin Coloring Project

Dance the 80s

September 15, 2010
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Camp Dance Idea

What do you do when you need a camp dance idea, something to mix things up a bit and get the girls excited? This past summer, one of our favorite dance nights was when we all flashed back to the 1980s. Through music, costumes, dance steps, even pop phrases, we went back in time and held our favorite retro decade dance party. Looking the part is half the fun, with baggy t-shirts hung from one shoulder, jazzercise tights and sweat bands, Ray-Ban sunglasses, and lots, and lots of really big hair. It was so fun to see the girls really get into it. Plus, for some reason, this girls knew a lot of 80s songs— 867-5309 Jenny, Mickey, I Want Candy, Lucky Star, etc. (Hmmm, now that I think about it, maybe they’ve been watching the TV show Glee…?). They also could bust out a bunch of dance moves from the 80s, like the Thriller dance for example. By the end of the night everyone was hot and sweaty, but also really enjoying themselves.

Oh, I forgot to mention that there weren’t any boys at the dance. This was an all Rockbrook, all girls dance, and probably even more fun because of it!

Improving Summer Learning

September 13, 2010
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Summer Learning Organization

We just learned about an organization dedicated to helping provide summer learning opportunities to children who otherwise don’t have access to summer programs. It’s called the National Summer Learning Association.  It aims to provide “tools, resources, and expertise to improve program quality, generate support, and increase youth access and participation,” and to offer “professional development, quality assessment and evaluation, best practices dissemination and collaboration, and strategic consulting to states, school districts, community organizations, and funders.”

This is great.  It’s addressing a public policy issue that deserves attention and support because not every child gets to spend his or her summer in an organized learning environment like a summer camp.  With “nothing to do,” no adult facilitation, and few resources, summers are too often literally wasted for some kids.  The National Summer Learning Association is working to reverse that. They are not necessarily advocating a year-round school calendar or suggesting universal summer school, but instead hope to support a wide range of learning opportunities and programs (yes, including camps) children can engage during the summer.

Go check out their web site and learn how you can help.

Summer Learning for Children

September 9, 2010
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There’s been another push recently, here in North Carolina and other places, to lengthen the school year by shortening the time students have off in the summer. Taking a look back at the history of schools in America, it’s interesting to see that this has been a long trend. During the pioneer days of this country children grew up on farms and helped their families with the seasonal work farming required. Most of their time was spent outside, working, and learning practical skills. This left only the winter months to supplement this “real” education with “book learning,” the kind of intellectual development we associate with school nowadays. It’s true; school used to only be 3 months of the year!

Summer Camp Learning KidsAs cities grew, Americans became less tied to summer agricultural work, and so the time available for school increased. This meant the school calendar was simply extended, back into the fall and forward into the spring. The agricultural origins of our traditional school calendar, with time off in the summer, was retained even as the need for its seasonality waned. The summer, of course, became a time when all kinds of non-classroom educational opportunities could therefore flourish. Summer camps, programs to “train the eye and hand,” outdoor work and travel became an important part of growing up in America. Leading educators, John Dewey for example, came out in favor of the learning that goes on in the summer, the importance of educating the whole child, encouraging creativity and building healthy “minds and bodies.” The importance of preserving the summer as time away from the classroom was long understood and valued.

As pressures to advance the educational system in America have increased, however, school system administrators have looked to the summer “vacation” as a means to increase classroom time, and theoretically by extension student achievement. US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put it this way when he called summer “an inexplicable, counterproductive anachronism that takes youths out of an educational setting for 2-3 months every year.” The argument here is that if we want children to learn as much as possible, they should be in school as much as possible.

Ugh. That argument, however, is based on a fundamentally flawed assumption, namely that classroom learning in school is more valuable than the education children receive over the summer. Current research has demonstrated, quite conclusively, just the opposite— that a summer camp experience, for example, provides tremendous benefits for children, unique gains far beyond what they could find at school.  These are huge benefits too… some of which, like confidence, communication and leadership, serve as pillars later life.  Shrinking the opportunity for children to attend summer programs and camps, in the name of academic achievement, is short-sighted and comes at a great cost.

It may be harder to measure the important life lessons gained over the summer, and it may currently be difficult to provide organized summer programs for all children, but the opportunity for crucial youth development outcomes is undeniably linked to time spent at summer camp.  Shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to promote that opportunity for our children?  Yes we should, and that means preserving the summer and resisting the temptation to lengthen the school year.

Horseback Riding Videos

September 6, 2010

Girl Horseback Riding Horse

Let’s say you love horseback riding, and you spent just about everyday at the Rockbrook Stables when you were at camp this summer. Certifiably “horse crazy” —that’s you! OK, but now that you’re back at home and not riding as much (if at all), what can you do to keep up with what you learned over the summer? Horseback riding at Rockbrook is great, but what can you do now that you’re back at school?

One thing you can do is watch the instructional horseback riding videos over on www.videojug.com. There are several really cool short videos about English horse riding with titles like How to Improve Your Classical Seat, How to Canter, and How to Tack a Horse. Several were filmed at Wimbleton Village Stables in London, and are very well done. Click on over and have a look at a few of these videos. You’ll really enjoy it!

P.S. Have you seen our Rockbrook Horseback Riding Video?

Stop Motion Video by Campers

September 1, 2010
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The girls in our photography class this summer had fun making short stop motion videos.  They would build something out of play-doh and take a series of photographs slightly moving each object in their scene.  Stringing these still photographs together creates the illusion of motion.  Add a little background music and you have a pretty cool video.  Here is a series of final productions from first session.  Take a look!