As the first week of this year's Hyattsville municipal summer camp program gets underway today, camp counselors will come prepared with a set of newly imparted tools designed to make summer camp a more inclusive experience for the kids.
Last week, seventeen camp counselors, including acting city Recreation and Arts Director Abby Sandel, gathered at Magruder Park for a two day training session to learn the basics of group management, camp leadership, and the science of playtime. The goal is to create a camp experience that's fun for those who may not be as fleet of foot as their peers. This is the first time in the three year history of the current summer camp program that such a training has been held.
Leading the training is Eben Dower. He's a senior national trainer with Playworks, a nonprofit organization which trains schools and youth outreach programs "to manage a healthy and inclusive playground."
Essentially, he's a recess consultant. And it's clear he loves his job.
Dower brimmed with enthusiasm as he led camp counselors through a discussion about learning styles. In fact, he brimmed with enthusiasm throughout the training. A session with Dower is a bit like being talked to as though you were a school-age youngster, but that's exactly the point. He's incorporating the leadership style which he's teaching into his presentation.
And thank God, too, because the material would be dreadfully boring otherwise. The training combines the nuances of early childhood education with a rigorously academic approach to the act of play.
Nole'a Hamlin, a recently graduated high school student, has worked with the Hyattsville summer camp program for the last three years. She said that the previous two years were very unstructured and that she looks forward to applying the skills learned during training in this year's camp sessions.
Take the sport of kickball, a seemingly time-tested camp pastime. But for some kids, especially younger ones, the game of kickball can be tedious exercise.
"if you dissect it in terms of respect and inclusion, there's a lot of waiting in traditional kickball, and there's a lot of pressure on that kicker," said Dower in an interview. "There's a lot of room for a negatice experince, for things to go wrong with some kids and go right for the kids that it works for.
A possible solution? Crazy kickball. It's no holds barred, rapid fire kickball. Four balls are in play at all times. Kickers go one after another after another, and the rotation gets moved through quickly. While chaotic, it provides an opportunity for camp counselors to introduce the kids to the building blocks of the sport.
"From there, we can build to traditional kickball," said Dower. "But if you don't have them at that step, you don't have all the kids with you."