Common Ground: School’s out for summer camping

This summer is a bit different from those in the past.

Typically, my three children go to bed well after 10 p.m. and then wake up late.

Not this year. I’ve been working as a summer camp assistant for an area rural school this month.

As my children have quickly come to realize, rising early to join the other campers — especially with mommy second in charge — is no cakewalk. But the experience has taught them to share, be patient and to help the younger campers.

Our mornings begin at 5:45 a.m., and, yes, there is a lot of grunting, groaning and mumbling in my home.

“Mommy. Do we have to wake up so early?”

“Yes,” I tell my oldest daughter, who is 11. “And I will need you to lead the craft project today.”

Before camp, we’d scrambled through the house collecting googly eyes, beads, paper bags and scraps of material from some of last year’s projects.

We had a small, yet wide mix of campers from ages 5 to 12, so we also picked projects using donated supplies from other teachers’ classrooms.

I’m not exactly sure why the hot glue gun seemed to appeal to the campers more than the projects themselves, but they loved touching the warm glue on the fabric and saying, “Ouch. That’s hot.”

Working beside a school teacher of 17 years taught me a lot about patience, firmness and running a class.

During the first hour of camp, the teacher took care of some administrative business while I entertained the campers. Some played board games or watched a movie. Others, including my children, decided to jump rope and do the limbo in the classroom using plastic chain links.

When the teacher entered the classroom, that changed. With a firm command, she said, “Everyone sit down and listen up.”

She read off a daily schedule with assigned times to read, do math bingo, play games, watch movies and take field trips.

That measure of discipline and taking charge of the classroom helped set the stage for a successful camp experience.

Our youngest camper, a 5-year-old, was helpful and well-mannered. He jumped out of his desk to help fellow campers pick up fallen papers or pencils and if an errand had to be run, small or not, he volunteered.

Another camper, a 7-year-old boy who loved eating raisins and wearing ninja shirts, often reminded campers that height didn’t matter. “I might be short, but I’m strong,” he’d say. He also sang a lollipop tune that entertained some campers.

“Lolli, lolli, lolli … POP!” I heard him tell my 7-year-old daughter, who frowned. “I made you blink.”

Then he sang it to a 5-year- old camper, who giggled.

Camp ended last week, and I am much more appreciative of the hard work it takes for counselors and teachers to lead summer enrichment programs.

They devote a lot of attention to their campers, offering engaging and challenging activities that youngsters might not otherwise get to experience.

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at chantewriter@hotmail.com.