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Six Weeks of Themed Summer Fun

August, 2009
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Nestled on the first floor of the China World Apartment North Lodge, a collection of spacious rooms houses one of the cozy campuses of The Children’s House Montessori Kindergarten. At this campus as well as the ones at Lufthansa and Yosemite Villas, children were enjoying a summer program under the sea. No, they were not literally underwater, but they did learn about underwater creatures and fabricated underwater scenes out of a tissue box during arts and crafts time! This and many other “sea-themed” activities were part of the first week of a six-week long summer day camp program held in July and August at the Children’s House Montessori campuses.camp-21

The Children’s House runs themed summer programs for kids every year. A couple of very large stuffed “Fuwa’s” adorn the main office of the China World Trade campus, remnants of the last two years’ theme—the Olympics. The theme was so well-received that it was used in the year leading up to and the year of the 2008 Olympics. This year the school decided to change gears by using several themes over the course of the summer.

Paula Zhou, Head of School, came up with this year’s six different child-friendly themes: Under the Sea, Cars, Boats, Planes &Trains, Our Universe, Kid’s Café, Down on the Farm, and Dinosaurs. Each week consisted of special activities, arts and crafts, song time, reading sessions, cooking class/snacks, lunch, and play time all planned around the theme. Children from all three campuses joined together most Fridays for the special outing that concluded each week’s theme.
The program is structured into one-week blocks so that children did not have to enroll for the entire six weeks of the program. “The first two weeks and the last two weeks are the most popular, due to people’s travel schedules,” says Paula.
For Meaghen Amor, her boys made selecting which week to enroll easy for her. “We had four weeks in Beijing to fill so I gave the kids the choice to choose which weeks they wanted to participate in,” she says. Her five-year-old son Geordie and two-and-a-half year old son Oliver decided to learn about the universe, cooking, and dinosaurs. 
Parents had a choice of a full day or half day program, with many of the younger students opting for the half day program. Meaghen sent her kids off in the morning and collected them for the afternoon. “It’s really hard to think of stuff to do day after day because of the heat, and sometimes the air is not good outside either, so half-day camp was a great option,” she says. After their morning with friends and teachers, they went home to enjoy time with mom and do their own activities.
The program accepted children as young as one-and-a-half years old and up to six years old with kids separated into two age groups for the summer programs. (During the year, The Children’s House breaks up the age groups differently, with children between one to six years old broken up into three age groups.)
Although having children of different ages is part of the Montessori approach to education, the school did not use Montessori materials during summer camp. “We do have children from outside and to introduce them to Montessori for one week is not fair…Children are still free to choose different things to do and the basis for Montessori is there but the materials are not,” explains Paula.
Summer classes included at least one lead teacher and several assistants. Paula is careful to make sure that students are as comfortable as they can be during the camps by having familiar and fully prepared teachers leading the summer program. “New teachers getting to know Beijing is a little bit too much for this age group,” she explains. All of the teachers who taught summer school are regular teachers at the school during the year as well.
Another reason that the summer camp employs regular teachers from the school year is because many campers, like Geordie and Oliver, are regular students at The Children’s House during the year and can be more comfortable seeing the same faces during the summer.
The first week of camp took place between July 6th and July 9th, allowing children to explore the world under the ocean. Children enrolled during the Under the Sea week learned about sea creatures by making a jelly fish tank, a fish aquarium and sand art pictures. Kids hovered intently over their edible hot dog octopus as they put their final touches to their creation. Kids ended the week on Friday by visiting real sea creatures and exploring ocean habitats at the Blue Zoo aquarium on a fun-filled field trip.
During the second week of camp children explored Cars, Boats, Planes &Trains. Boys and girls decorated a child-sized box car and made cookies shaped like traffic lights during cooking class. During art time, kids used cut-up sponges to create painted artwork fit for any refrigerator door. Teachers led the class in songs about cars and trains and read books about all kinds of vehicles. On the last day of the week the kids got to learn about the real thing when they visited the Aviation Museum.
On the third week kids were introduced to the solar system during the Our Universe week. Kids strung their own sunshine necklaces, created and feasted on a Saturn fruit salad, made telescopes, and crafted a universe in a jar during art class. Campers sang songs like “The Planets Revolve around the Sun” which used music to teach kids about the universe. The week ended with a visit to the Planetarium to learn about the stars and the planets.
The fourth week of camp found students immersed in menu-making and fashioning a chef’s uniform as part of the Kid’s Café theme. Students were treated to a supermarket trip to learn about picking and purchasing food. In cooking class, kids prepared salad, pizza, and dessert. The week was topped off with a visit to a local café to enjoy lunch and to see real chefs in action.
On the fifth week of camp, kids were engrossed in learning about farm life. The Down on the Farm theme gave students a chance to churn their own butter and bake pumpkin bread. During the week kids learned about planting seeds and created paper mache farm animals. The week ended with an outing to an actual farm where kids experienced a real working farm.
The last week of camp was dedicated to creatures of the prehistoric kind—Dinosaurs! Kids made “dinosaur eggs”, built an erupting volcano, and designed dinosaur t-shirts during art class. If you heard stomping around that week, it wasn’t due to temper tantrums, but instead due to a classroom full of children enjoying a good time during the “Dinosaur Stomp” song. Campers finished off the dinosaur-themed week by examining real dinosaur fossils at the Paleozoological Museum.
Meaghen was enthusiastic when asked whether she would consider camp again in the future for her kids. “My oldest son loved the topics. They completely captured his imagination. He came home spouting information about planets. He loved learning about dinosaurs as well and has a bit of a fixation with dinosaurs now!”
By Vicky Li Yip
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