Summer camps that feature softball, soccer or swimming are a dime a dozen. But a specialty camp at Piney Orchard Elementary in Odenton is teaching children something novel this week: good manners.
"Nice manners say `nice child,'" said Peggy Turnblacer, a director for the Tadpole Dreams Good Manners Camp. "It gives them an edge."
Working in one of the school's science classrooms, the camp's children decorated the handles of their spoons and forks with colorful putty before donning blindfolds to see if they could set the correct utensils in their proper places on a simulated dinner table.
Nine children, ages 7-11, are enrolled in the four-day program.
"We always kept it small," said Turnblacer. "We've never had more than 15 [students] at a time, and at least two teachers so the kids get maximum attention."
At snack time, the children took their seats, carefully arranging their napkins on their laps - something else they had learned at camp. Nine-year-old Marjorie Waller took a moment to place her stuffed toy lamb on the table beside her.
After all, everyone knows it's rude to exclude a friend from eating with you just because he's made of synthetic fibers.
"I'm a teddy bear lover," Marjorie whispered as Turnblacer reviewed table manners with the other children. "I have, like, 50 at my house."
For the most part, the young diners remembered their lessons, but Turnblacer remained vigilant.
"Always keep your elbows off the table," she admonished as another teacher, Julie Bacot, helped serve cupcakes and pretzels. Pairs of little elbows rapidly disappeared.
As Bacot deposited an icing-laden cupcake dangerously close to the lamb's drooping, white-and-pink ear, Marjorie readjusted her stuffed compatriot into a less offending position.
"I strongly believe in children starting etiquette early in their lives," said Bacot. Her two sons, 9-year-old Johnny and 7-year-old Michael, were both participants.
"They get to learn manners in a very fun environment of games, activities and prizes that keeps them interested," she said.
The campers admit they were surprised by how much fun they had, given the program's mission.
"At first I thought it was going to be boring, but it was really fun," said 8-year-old Laura Cleaver of Fort Meade.
Laura's mother, Karen, is a nurse practitioner at the military installation.
"I wanted to enroll the kids mostly to counteract what I see in TV shows and cartoons," Karen Cleaver said. "It seems to me a lot of kids' movies show children behaving badly."
Marjorie's mother, Jamie, said her daughter was not particularly prone to misbehave, but she liked the idea of a manners camp reinforcing her efforts to instill etiquette at home.
"I just wanted her to be a nice young lady," she said. "Sometimes children listen to other people better than they do to you."
Turnblacer, an eighth-grade English teacher at Corkran Middle School in Glen Burnie, developed the program's fun-focused philosophy and its comprehensive curriculum of correctness with longtime friend and fellow teacher Denise Rosson.
"Our own children were our inspiration," Turnblacer said.
Ten years ago, she and Rosson began jointly teaching good manners at the Severna Park Community Center before starting a Web site, www.tadpole dreams.org, this spring. The site exists to sell their literature, which includes their curriculum and detailed teaching guides. Parents and educators have purchased their material, and Severn School in Severna Park has incorporated it into classes, Turnblacer said.
Though Turnblacer and Rosson don't intend to continue teaching the course, they said the county Department of Recreation and Parks was likely to continue the program next summer with different teachers and staff.
The camp costs $90 per child and is offered through the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks. It will be offered again at the South County Recreation Center in Harwood next week, from Monday to Thursday.
"I have a full-time job, but my heart is in this program," Turnblacer said. "As a teacher, I know this program works ... it's a way to teach kids respect."