Summer fun can include school

August 08, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

The youngsters crack the eggs, whip them together and pour them into an electric frying pan, but not before adding green food coloring.

Green eggs? Well, of course. Green eggs -- and ham. They've just read Dr. Seuss.

Across the room, another group is baking biscuits. They've just read "The Little Red Hen," who baked bread from wheat she grew and harvested without any help from her recalcitrant friends.

A bunch of kids whipping up ham, eggs and biscuits. It's hard to believe this summer fun is about language, and about learning.

"It's learning, but they really don't know that it's learning," Lois Balzer says as she oversees the youngsters stirring the green eggs and ham.

Ms. Balzer is one of several teachers in Camp Slide -- Summer Learners Involved in Developmental Experiences. The new program has about 120 five- to eight-year-olds from five Baltimore County elementary schools that qualify for Chapter 1 aid.

Schools are designated "Chapter 1" -- and receive money for extra services -- because of the number of needy students, gauged by how many are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. The county has 47 "Chapter 1" schools; 33 submitted proposals for the summer program, but there was only enough federal money for five this year.

The money pays for field trips, materials, two meals a day, transportation for children who do not live within walking distance and teacher salaries for the four-week program. Many JTC teachers put in far more hours than they are being paid for, their principals say.

Each program has about 24 youngsters eligible for Chapter 1 aid and three teachers. Parents are invited to attend one day a week and join in the day's activities.

Some of the schools took children on a first-come, first-served basis; others selected children they thought could use the enrichment. The program runs five hours a day, three days a week.

Ms. Balzer is at Chadwick Elementary School, near Catonsville. There the camp theme is "Animal Explorers." Each week begins with a field trip to a different habitat: a farm, a zoo, an aquarium, a pet store.

Across the county at Glenmar Elementary School, children are immersed in only one habitat -- the rain forest -- but in many related activities. Not only are they reading, writing and thinking about rain forests, but they are spending part of their days in a replica of one, created in an extra classroom out of chicken wire, tissue paper and their teachers' fertile imaginations.

There, inside a large tree trunk, the youngsters can curl up and read.

On particularly hot days, the room, which is not air-conditioned, even feels like a rain forest, teachers say.

But that hasn't sapped the enthusiasm of Glenmar's youngsters.

On a recent morning they were making masks similar to those used by the tribes that inhabited the rain forests. Three youngsters had painted black polka dots across the tops of their masks, indicating, they said, that they were cousins.

"Are you cousins?" asked a visitor.

"No, but some people think we look alike," they said, giggling.

Then, with the help of teacher Iris Piekarz, they launched into a discussion of the foods they had tasted from the layers of the rain forest: bananas from the canopy, cocoa from the understory and ginger bread using the ginger found on the forest floor.

"These kids are learning everything about the rain forest," said Glenmar Principal Deborah Anthony.

The rain forest and the curriculum are based on a children's book, "The Great Kapok Tree" by Lynn Cherry. The youngsters will read that book and many others that add to their knowledge of geography, science, music and art, as it pertains to the rain forest.

They're even donating their allowances to buy a little corner of a rain forest, so it won't be destroyed, said Judy Farrall, one of the Glenmar teachers.

The other SLIDE programs are at Hebbville, Sussex and Sandy Plains elementary schools. Although each school's camp program is different, they have things in common.

"The focus is oral and written language development, but [taught] in nontraditional ways," says Karen Murray, a Chapter 1 resource teacher and SLIDE coordinator. "We wanted it to be things that you never have time to try during the school year."

The emphasis is also on hands-on activities, such as cooking and building.

While the children bake, paint and delve into nature, their teachers explore a new teaching method, multi-age grouping. They are working with children of different ages -- in this case 5-, 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds -- and developmental stages at the same time.

All of the youngsters take part in all of the activities, but at their own level and pace. Some of the children in the SLIDE program are reading; some must be read to. The developmental differences are evident in the children's drawings of a rain forest, says Karen Ghassemieh, the rain forest's creator. Some are quite sophisticated and detailed; others simple and even crude.

Occasionally, the older students become instructors.

For instance, while her group prepared the green eggs and ham, Ms. Balzer noticed the older children saying to the littler ones, "You crack an egg this way."

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