Summer is a time when kids of all ages rejoice at the end of a school cycle and the beginning of newly found freedom. After all, when school is in session, you know you are obviously there to learn and do homework and who would want to learn in the summer?
The YMCA Summer Day Camp program provides a fun, learning atmosphere in which kids from ages five to 12 come to learn, develop character and make new friends, without really knowing they’re, well, learning. From science projects to sports, children from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds come together for a hands-on learning experience where learning is often camouflaged through fun activities, instead of traditional classroom lessons.
“Our main focus is to sustain [learning],” says Jill Goyette, Director of Youth Development. “We don’t want them to feel like they’re at school, but we want them to learn.”
The YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City is taking their summer 2015 mantra, “Raising the B.A.R,” to heart by encouraging Belonging, Achievement and Relationships. However, one of their main goals is to close the learning opportunity gap for children from lower income families who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford summer camp. That is why the YMCA Annual Campaign provided $371,531.00 in financial assistance to 1,025 youth who attended Day and Overnight Camps in 2014.
“We really want to give all children the opportunity to achieve,” Goyette says.
Five days a week, across the Oklahoma City metro, more than 2,360 eager-to-learn youths color coordinate their camp T-shirts to represent YMCA’s four core values: honesty, caring, respect and responsibility. Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of YMCA Summer Day Camp is the way the staff helps the kids achieve certain goals. Tammy Coffee, Youth and Family Director for the Edward L. Gaylord Downtown YMCA, believes setting goals and developing the skills to achieve those is one of the most important parts of camp.
“We ask the children, ‘What is a skill you would like to learn this summer?’” says Coffee. “It’s purposeful in that they have to practice that particular skill for a week or two weeks so they progress in those skills.”
Throughout the summer, the kids who attend the Summer Day Camp program are taught to nurture values such as character building, healthy eating and nature appreciation. However, in this current world filled with video games and social media, it’s a wonder kids remember how to play outside. Technology has connected people in a way many never thought possible, yet can result in the exact opposite.
“That’s the first thing parents learn about us. We are a non-tech camp,” Coffee says. “There’s no cell phones allowed; no iPads. There is none of that.”
The YMCA recognizes technology dependency and is working to tackle what some in the education profession describe as “nature deficit disorder.” Instead of communicating with one another on smart phones, the kids take field trips to the Myriad Gardens to enjoy playing and learning about nature together.
“It’s about getting kids away from their electronics and getting them back to the original social network,” Goyette shares. “The original social network is not what we now know as a social network. The original social network is meeting friends and having face-to-face conversations.”
The second (and often quickly learned) Summer Day Camp rule is that healthy eating is essential. This year’s YMCA food partner, the Regional Food Bank, has agreed to provide only healthy eating and drinking options for day campers. No sugary drinks or sodas are provided by the YMCA, and they’ve even gone the extra mile to ensure kids are learning to appreciate the importance of drinking water. Fruit infused water dispensers sit on the small tables inside the gym area for easy access to campers who do sports activities.
“One day we’ll do peach and another we’ll do orange,” Goyette says. “It helps get kids accustomed to drinking water so we put pieces of fruit in our water here.”
Another option campers can take advantage of is Camp Classen, an overnight camp in Davis, Oklahoma. There’s canoeing, hiking, archery and a plethora opportunities to connect with nature and make lasting friendships. With about 930 campers attending Camp Classen this summer, it’s easy to understand how much YMCA encourages exploring the outdoors.
“At day camp we do some amazing things,” Goyette says. “But overnight camp is just a different experience and it’s an amazing experience as well.”
Regardless of whether your child wants to do a summer-long program or just get involved in week-to-week activities, the YMCA allows different enrollment periods for busy, summer schedules. Whatever skills a “Y camper” chooses to cultivate, one thing is certain: they will explore the outdoors, build self-esteem, develop skills and meet new friends from across the metro. In addition to the child program, teen camps are also available at the Earlywine Park, North Side and Edmond locations.
To learn more about YMCA summer camps, visit ymcaokc.org
Written by Jessica Valentine