Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lessons from camp

My first week of camp for primarily 6-7 year-olds was great! It looked like the kids had a really great time. And I learned so much! First, that it's a lot of hard work. Every night (around 10-12 pm) I spent probably a couple hours planning the following day (I did do some homework starting several months ago, but I had to make several adjustments due to group interests, group dynamics, etc.). I'd wake up around 6 am to shower, have a quickie breakfast of yogurt and maple syrup, and begin prepping activities and cleaning up the house. I wouldn't finish that until 9 am, when camp is supposed to begin. The kids would trickle in, so I couldn't do my originally scheduled activities...eventually, it became a free drawing time at our large, extended dining table until I had a critical mass. It was a good time for me to chat with the kids and get to know them better. Then, we'd have "couch time" (formerly known as "circle time") and sing a couple songs in Chinese (a greeting song and a washing hands song, for use before lunch). [These kids were really good singers! They loved learning the meaning of each word. This is an ideal age for teaching foreign language!] This would be followed by storytime (biggest hits: Traction Man by Mini Grey and What Time is It, Mr. Crocodile? by Judy Sierra). Depending on the energy (or appetite) at the time, we might play music games or have a snack of organic fruit and nuts. Afterwards, we'd usually go to the playground across the street and they would play on the monkey bars or climb the jungle gyms. One day, they flew the paper airplanes they had folded and decorated. Sometimes, we played circle games, did a relay race, or played a tag game. The kids also made several catapults out of Kapla blocks.

Depending on how much time we spent at the playground, we might do an art activity or go straight into lunch. After lunch, the kids had some free time to play with toys or ride our horse swing in the backyard. They learned how to take turns in a civil manner (each kid could stay on for a count to 50). If things started to sour, i.e. the energy wasn't positive anymore, we would go into another activity -- sometimes hip hop dance, sometimes another arts and crafts activity. Twice, the kids made fresh lemonade from the Meyer lemons they picked themselves, and they also helped make Belgian waffles, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and French chocolate cake, all from scratch. For many of them, it was the first time they were allowed to operate a mixer on their own. It was so exciting for them.

It was free time until their treats had baked and cooled a little (only a little!). Then it was time to enjoy the fruits of their labor. One afternoon treat they especially enjoyed was the fresh pineapple. I cut it in front of them and passed around the spiky trimmings for them to examine (and taste). I was lucky that the pineapple had reached the perfect ripeness that day. The kids just gobbled it up and asked for seconds and thirds.

I learned that there needs to be a nice balance between free time and structured time. Earlier in the week, I think I erred on too much structured time. I put pressure on myself to ensure that the kids were either learning or creating. I had forgotten that kids sometimes just need to play. Free time always had to be closely monitored because sometimes there were clashes -- the more dominant ones interacted negatively with the more sensitive ones which resulted in hurt feelings and sometimes tears. For example, a child may be excluded from a game or a child may not follow the game's rules and subsequently be spoken harshly to. I had to incorporate some activities for the kids to learn more about each other and how to really listen -- hopefully, resulting in some growth in the empathy department. In one activity, the kids paired up, spent some time getting to know each other better, and then introduced their partner with name, favorite color, favorite camp activity, and something they're proud of. In another activity, I paired up the children again, who took turns with the blindfold. Their partner had to guide them verbally through an "obstacle course" until they reached a posted U.S. map. The partner had to guide verbally again so that the child could "land"/adhere their self-decorated cut-out airplane to the map (and not "crash" in the water).

The last 10 minutes of camp, I was a little bit more lax with the free time monitoring since the children were playing their own made-up game in the backyard and looked like they were finally coming together as one cohesive team. I checked on them every couple of minutes while cleaning up our last activity, but still we had an incident. One child didn't follow the rules and was "punished" by two leaders of the game by having her pants pulled down. Fortunately, the poor child was not distraught in any way. But Maylin was. (The previous week, Maylin expressed her relief that she wouldn't have to return to traditional school and be a witness to children being bullied and humiliated. She herself was a frequent victim in preschool while we were in Paris. I didn't learn how frequent it was and how much it bothered her until her recent tearful confession.) My lesson learned is to never leave them unattended, even when it looks like things are going well with the children. Looks can be deceiving.

Another lesson learned is transitioning from one activity into another. When the kids are waiting for something to begin (and are getting antsy), it's best to keep them occupied and entertained. Two games that are perfect for this age are "I Spy" and "20 Questions." The adult can initiate it, and the children can finish it up on their own while the adult finishes setting up the next activity.

I also learned that it's time to stop playing a game of chance (in our case, homemade bingo) when the same person keeps winning time and again (even after switching cards). Everyone else gets pretty jealous (temporary tattoo and sticker prizes involved) and feels it is an unfair game. The last couple days of camp, I stopped giving out the tattoos and stickers altogether, and then energy was much better. Less focus on "stuff" is always good.

I learned which arts and crafts activities work better. Anything that doesn't require drawing is pretty safe. We had some tears when a child got frustrated with his own drawing. I could relate because Maylin was the same way. When a very visual child can see the end product in his/her head but cannot execute it, it can be very upsetting. I tried to teach the child to "practice" on a scrap sheet before drawing the final version. The most successful project was the paintings done with foam dot brushes. The children mixed their own colors of tempera paints and then used brushes of varying diameters and colors to make their paintings. Another favorite was the bleeding tissue paper watercolor paintings. Bleeding tissue paper is an excellent and inexpensive product that releases watercolor paint when water is brushed over it. Tear and place the pieces of tissue paper on the paper first for best results. One child had a really special painting that Maylin and I tried to recreate.

We also did v-fold pop-ups and tissue paper flower bouquets which had amazing results, but required more adult assistance. My least successful project was the bean mosaic on homemade salt dough. Some looked pretty cool with designs using red lentils, gray-green French lentils, and shiny black beans. The main problem was the salt in the dough. One child had cuts on his hands -- so you can imagine. "My hands hurt!" Kids shouldn't feel pain during a craft activity. Yikes.

For this particular group, the hip hop dance wasn't something that most of the kids wanted to do. They were actually pretty good, and I really had fun teaching the routine (half borrowed, half original). It's too bad we didn't get a chance to show off to the parents -- but we had early pick-ups, babysitter pick-ups, and late pick-ups. I have to let the parents know in advance next time if we're going to have a performance. I should have at least videotaped it.

My tag-teaming parent volunteers were great and I wouldn't have been able to do camp successfully without them. I think I still need to learn how to utilize them better. I need to learn how to delegate instead of trying to do everything myself.

Well, it's been a great learning experience, and I'm looking forward to my last week of camp which is in August. It'll be a new group of kids so I'll have new dynamics and personalities to work with. I like the challenge of adjusting to those dynamics and personalities, and energy levels at a given moment, and individual and group interests. Quite a juggling act but it energizes me! Though I planned so many activities, I think my best time was when I could just sit down and chat with the kids and make them laugh with my silliness.

Photos to come.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Camp Armitage day 1 and 2

The weather has been perfect for a kids' camp at our house. This is the first time I've done this -- pretty much a grand experiment of mine. I like working with kids, and there was definitely a need for a quality camp with varied activities. We have 7-8 kids (including Maylin) doing these day 1 and 2 activities: hip hop dance, singing, storytime, outdoor games at the playground across the street, trips to the park, baking (chocolate chip cookies so far), art projects (bean mosaic, bleeding tissue watercolor painting, clay, origami), indoor games (bingo), and face painting. I also prepare 2 snacks a day, with the kids bringing their own lunch. I have a parent helping at all times, so that's been really great. It's exhausting, but fun and challenging. I have to come up with some team-building activities now as personalities begin to clash and alliances begin to be formed. I need to do some homework tonight. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Still tweaking my chocolate chip cookies

I realize now that my recipes are not set in stone. They can always be improved upon. My soft whole wheat chocolate chip cookies were actually a bit gritty and hard. Now that I've substituted whole wheat pastry flour for regular whole wheat (and even white whole wheat flour), my world is a little brighter. What awesome stuff! It's the best healthy substitute for all-purpose flour. I've also changed the baking time and temperature to achieve the perfect look for my cookies. Still playing around with the amounts for vanilla and salt -- almost there!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Creature of habit/low-fat chocolate cake recipe

Darn! I just said I should ease up on the baking, but I can't help it -- I gave in and baked something sweet. But here's the compromise -- it was LOW-FAT chocolate cake. And it was a really small cake. Teeny-tiny. You'd probably have to triple it to fill an 8-in. square pan. The cake was delicious, moist, and perfectly chocolate-y -- and guess what? No butter, no oil, no shortening. The secret? Chopped dates! Here's the recipe if you want it. Great for that chocolate craving without going overboard. I put my batter in an 8 in. square pan to save time (no time to grease 12 tiny cupcake receptacles). The cake was really flat, but since I was just doing it for us, it didn't matter. I'll triple it for friends and extended family.

Loving life

Hey, everybody. I actually have a few free moments to just sit and think. Things have been going great. We're all looking forward to summer vacation, especially Maylin. She cried last night, not wanting to go to school today. She had a tummyache, too. We are both affected physically by stress. I explained to her that it was normal and gave her all my symptoms of stress -- nausea, slight temperature, gastrointestinal problems, etc. Fortunately, by morning, she was not as bothered and I was able to get her to school. I wanted to stay for their school's assembly, thinking that we'd be able to catch the children's book author visit (but I heard it was later in the morning, not opportune for me), and ended up leaving early because Maylin didn't want me to stay. I might have mentioned this before. She usually doesn't want me to stay in the mornings to read with her in class like some of the other parents do because she's afraid she's going to get really upset later, not wanting me to go at all. Maylin's very much attached to me and is very clear about it.

Remember all the bread-baking I was doing -- all those sweets I was making? I really need to slow it down. You know that phrase, "You are what you eat"? Well, there's a wad of dough kind of hanging down the front of my mid-section. It's time for it to go. John has been very good and has been willing to watch the kids four times a week while I go to my hip hop classes. The exercise is covered, but my tummy is not easily satiated these days -- it's used to the onslaught of regular treats. I'm trying not to suffer through carb withdrawal -- I permitted myself some low carb toast, brown rice, and today -- uh hem, two pieces of Valrohna chocolate. The nutrition fact label said one piece was worth 240 calories! Ouch! I had to read it more carefully. It turns out each square was actually worth about 75 calories. Their one "piece" serving size was pretty hefty.

Gotta go pick up Maylin (and wake up Stefan from his nap -- darn!). This won't be a problem next year since we're homeschooling!!!

See ya!