Summer Camp Reflections: That’s a Wrap!

Summer Camp Reflections: That’s a Wrap!

Our team moved into Summer 2020 with uncertainty. What would LDS’ first year of summer camps look like amid a global pandemic? Despite the additional challenges that COVID-19 brought, we (Camp Co-Directors Mel and Sarah) were determined to serve as many children as possible while keeping health and safety at the forefront of our decisions. 

With changing public health conditions and recommendations, we navigated what has become our new collective normal. We kept a positive attitude and approached potential problems with an opportunity mindset for ourselves and the summer camp team.

This opportunity mindset was tested as we moved to reduce the number of instructors and campers in our learning spaces. With safety in mind, LDS limited our capacity levels to a maximum of six students at camp each week, down from the twelve we had initially planned. Instead of letting this become a barrier, we extended the number of weeks we hosted camp to increase attendance. Our team then focused all our efforts into making each week memorable, exciting, and educational for each student.  

Sarah was the Co-Director and led all operations and communications. “Overall, it was a challenging summer for Mel and me,” Sarah explains. “It stretched our limits at times, but—at the end of each week—hearing parents’ and campers’ positive feedback kept us going to keep improving and refining our program to provide the best possible experience during this difficult time.”  

Each week we had a variety of children from different backgrounds and levels of need. With the limited number of campers, our team took this as an opportunity to take customization to the next level. Our RISE and Tell camp adapted reading and writing goals to meet the needs of every child. This camp explored various forms of storytelling, from autobiography to graphic novel to poetry. 

One benefit of having smaller groups of campers was that we were able to adapt the activities to meet the student at their level while still teaching them new skills and exposing them to new genres of writing. Mel and Sarah worked as a team to deliver the best possible experience weekly. With Mel being the lead Co-Director and the lead on learning support and program educational delivery, she helped to support camp leaders with the unique learning and behaviour needs of each student.  

Mel, Sarah, and the LDS team would like to thank our families for their support and trust, and for sending their children to summer camps with us! As well, we’d like to thank our funders who helped make summer camps attainable for all families, regardless of how their financial situations may have changed since March. We are excited to see our LDS community grow and to invite some friendly faces back to LDS for our Fall 1:1 Program. 

—Mel and Sarah   

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Melissa Henderson is our Learning Support Manager. Mel completed a B.A. in Speech Sciences at UBC and has a passion for linguistics and education. With prior experience in remedial instruction and administration within remedial therapy organizations, she has seen the difference that proper support and quality instruction can make in the lives of students with learning disabilities.  

Sarah Vopni, our Community Manager, brings a background in communications, project management, and global development. Her passion is supporting individuals and organizations to live authentically and in collaboration with others. Most recently, Sarah completed a post-graduate certificate in public relations with a strong focus on internal and external communications. 

Summer Camp Reflections: Freaking Out About Science!

Summer Camp Reflections: Freaking Out About Science!

Lindsay Underdown, an LDS Summer Camp Coordinator, designed the schedule and led activities for RISE and Solve, LDS’s science camp. Lindsay has a degree in Science and has taught a science camp before. She says her position with LDS brings together her three passions: science, working with kids, and working with people with learning disabilities. 

“The design of the camp is to encourage kids to develop their curiosity, to be enthusiastic about science so that it’s not a scary thing,” Lindsay explains. 

“If they are curious, they want to learn. So the camp helps develop that curiosity in science and the natural world. We deliver lessons on a broad range of scientific topics, everything from earth science to chemistry to engineering, so they have…a broad foundation of knowledge. They also work on those critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills.” 

On the first day of camp, students got an introduction to science and the scientific process, as well as problem-solving skills. “They start to grow their crystals, we talk about collecting data through observations and creating a hypothesis. So they have a sheet and they do their crystal hypothesis of what they think it’ll look on Friday, and every day we collect observations of it and pair our results with our hypothesis to do a simple experiment that they’re excited about—’cause it’s crystals!”

The students also did an Adventure Room where students worked together to solve a series of puzzles to get the next clue. “We call it an Adventure Room rather than an Escape Room because they’re not trapped and we don’t want to freak anyone out!”

“It wasn’t in the original plan, but working with kids you sort of learn, ‘oh, they’re interested in this, we need to address this, and adapt as we go.’ So Monday, we also talked about viruses and COVID-19. What is a virus? How can we protect ourselves?” 

The instructors provided scientific understanding “without freaking them out! Which I think we’ve done a pretty good job of!” Lindsay tells me. “What does handwashing actually do? Why do we need to do it for 20 seconds? What is the purpose? Instead of just having arbitrary rules, it gives them an understanding of why.”

On Tuesday, kids also got a chance to build their own solar oven with a box, reflective piece, cellophane, and black paper to trap heat. On Wednesday, they tested it by making S’mores (a pretty great test, if you ask me!). Thursday was Ecology Day and kids learned about the different types of trees and why certain trees grow in BC. Friday was all about engineering. 

Every day is full of fun experiments. From making lava lamps to using chemistry to fill balloons, kids get a whole week to freak out about science. 

Lindsay’s teaching philosophy includes inquisitive learning, discussions, and activities. “Sometimes they’ll ask questions that are not a part of the lesson plan, not something I scheduled, but are great questions and they are genuinely curious about it. Last week, I started the day with, ‘Tell me something you know about science and something you’re curious about or want to know about.’ 

“And one of them said, ‘I know there are spiders that are as big as a dinner plate.’ …And the other kids said, ‘Those aren’t real!’ So we pulled up pictures and we talked about it. 

“We talked about venomous versus poisonous animals. We ended up spending about 40 minutes and they talked about snakes and spiders and that wasn’t even Ecology Day! It just happened! That’s what I want to see because if they are curious they are going to want to learn. …As long as they go home with a positive understanding of science and little more familiarity with the concepts—that’s what I hope for. ” 

“I feel like I can relate” to the students, Lindsay says. “I’m dyslexic and have ADHD.” 

Lindsay wants the kids to know about her learning differences: “I’m very open about that and I’ll joke about it, ‘Oh, that’s just me being dyslexic!’ when I misspell something on the whiteboard.” 

“Make it OK to ask for help,” she says. “Normalize learning disabilities, learning differences, neurodiversity—because a lot of the time I think kids don’t have that representation of someone who is succeeding and doing well with a learning disability. I think that’s important”

Lindsay shares a conversation she had with one of her students when she mentioned her dyslexia: 

“Oh, yeah, spelling is really hard. I have dyslexia, so sometimes..I need some help,” Lindsay said. 

One of the girls looked at Lindsay and said, “Oh! That’s what I have too!” 

“Yeah, that’s OK, some of us do,” Lindsay said.

“Oh! OK,” the girl said. 

“She didn’t say much,” Lindsay explains, “but she was thinking. You could see the wheels turning. And I thought, ‘This is good. This is important.’” 

“Sometimes kids feel a stigma around it, or they feel embarrassed, and building up that confidence about who they are, and who they are is great! And it doesn’t matter what learning difference or disability or neurodiversity you have, you can still do great things!

“I want them to feel good about themselves and who they are. And if I can have any part of that by providing representation, I want to! I want to help build them up so they go home with a positive self-image and a positive idea of science.”

Summer Camp Reflections: A Day in the Life of an LDS Summer Camp Amateur Author

Summer Camp Reflections: A Day in the Life of an LDS Summer Camp Amateur Author

As the Communications Manager, I am assigned the fun and interesting task of interviewing staff about their work. With my background in creative writing, I am particularly eager to learn more about the RISE and Tell Summer Camp, which focuses on writing and storytelling. 

Erin Roberts, Summer Camps Lead Instructor, is responsible for creating and delivering the curriculum for RISE and Tell and she sits down with me virtually to fill me in on her experience. “I’ve been working as a one-to-one instructor with LDS for two years now,” Erin tells me. “With my other work, I’ve done group facilitation. This was a nice merge of those two worlds.”

Erin is able to both lead group activities and work individually with kids, where she learns their fears around writing and how she can help break down those fears. “I just really enjoyed doing this over the summer—taking those two things that I love doing and having them go together.”

The camp’s curriculum is centred on a different writing genre each day:

Monday: Poetry
Tuesday: Biography and Autobiography
Wednesday: Writing for Media (storyboarding and screenwriting)
Thursday: Graphic Novels
Friday: Oral Story Telling with an Indigenous focus

On Monday, kids learned how to use their senses to describe their natural world and write about it in a poem. 

On Tuesday, “One camper wrote this amazing zine as an autobiography and it had all the details he needed. And he was one who said, ‘I don’t want to do this. I can’t write. I can’t do it.’ And then he wrote the most!” Another camper “made a zine every day on a different topic! It’s been great to see her find a way to express herself and what she’s interested in.”

“Wednesday was movies, so talking about stories from a plot perspective: rising action, climax, falling action, resolution—those mechanics of a story—but thinking about it from a movie perspective to, kind of, sneak in that lesson,” Erin says, laughing. 

Erin used the Disney movie Frozen as an example: “‘What happens in the beginning? What is that called?’ I try to find ways to make it accessible to all learners—because they are all at different stages—and then we can adapt. One camper got so into it that she wrote two pages of a movie story and plotted it all out and cast it and everything!”

“That’s so great!” I say, “I did an MFA in Creative Writing and when I took Intro to Creative Writing, they actually used the movie Wall-E as an example of all the perfect elements of a three-act structure of a movie.”

“I’ll have to remember that for next year!” Erin says.

On Thursday, the kids worked on graphic novels. They presented their stories, beaming with pride. Erin explains: “I wanted to have them showing their work and taking pride in their work. We talked about the different ways a graphic novel tells a story…or, how can we tell a story without any words? Here’s a sequence of three things happening—what’s the story and how do we know?”

“They basically got a mini-MFA!” I interject. “This is all stuff I went over in my MFA! These kids are ready for graduate school!”

Friday focused on oral storytelling. Erin brought in some improve games to show how a storyteller uses their voice and their body to make their story more interesting and exciting. She included perspectives on Indigenous storytelling to weave in themes that might get missed in school. 

“Structuring the camp with a different theme every day is more accessible and engaging…. I live by the mantra, Be Who You Needed When You Were Younger, and this is the kind of camp that I would’ve loved when I was younger.”

“My son has a learning disability,” I tell Erin. “He was always so creative, and to this day he is always creating, so I think finding each kid’s strengths can really make them feel successful.”

“And showing them the strengths they already had, but didn’t know.” 

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Instructor Erin Roberts comes to LDS with a background in childcare, support work, and youth education. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice from UBC. In addition to tutoring at LDS, she is a program leader for youth education programs.

Communications and Fundraising Manager Sierra Gemma brings 10 years of experience in communications and writing to LDS, in particular in support of grants and fundraising. She has a BA in History and Sociology and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia.

RISE Summer Camps Series: Reflections on the emotional investment of our camp counsellors

RISE Summer Camps Series: Reflections on the emotional investment of our camp counsellors

This summer has been challenging and rewarding. For the first time, LDS offered RISE Summer Camps specially designed for kids with learning differences. We chatted with Matt Tikkanen to find out what the Summer Camp experience has been like from an instructor perspective.

Matt is an Educational Summer Program Coordinator and, along with other staff and instructors, he works with children in the small, safe, and specialized groups attending the LDS Summer Camps. Matt has a Bachelor of Arts from Capilano University, but it isn’t his academic background that helps him connect so well with his students; it’s the fact that Matt has a learning disability too. It doesn’t hurt that Matt is also friendly, fun, and quick to smile.

Matt says what he finds so special about the LDS Summer Camps is the 1-to-1 time that instructors have with the kids. As an instructor, “you have to be on the entire time,” Matt explains, laughing. But it’s exactly that intensive engagement that has such an impact on campers. 

“In terms of what we’re able to do,” Matt says, “is help kids with the academic side, but also feeling good about yourself when you leave camp. Our role as instructors includes trying to figure out how we individually support the children to succeed for themselves.” 

There are challenges to this work. “What I found emotionally tough is that you’re working with kids and you really see yourself within that kid. It can be hard not to because you think, ‘I know what it’s like to struggle in school!’ That’s been…difficult.” 

That said, the rewards outweigh the challenges. “The rewarding part of working with kids that have learning differences,” Matt explains, is when the students “walk out of camp and think to themselves, ‘Wow, I do feel really good about myself and I can accomplish whatever I set out to accomplish!’”

“That great thing about LDS is it can help children and their parents get an understanding of what it’s like having a learning disability and it’s OK, it’s not the end of the world, it’s not ‘the worst thing ever!’” Matt says, imitating the intonation of a tween. “Within the camps, you can help kids feel good about themselves and that they can be successful and, hopefully, you can help them transfer that into the academic setting.”

Another rewarding aspect is watching the kids work together. Matt gave an example of one cohort who worked really well together during an Escape Room adventure. Despite their individual learning differences, “they were all communicating and listening and hearing other people’s ideas and talking about what they wanted to do. The reason they succeeded was that they worked really well as a team. It was great to see.” 

Overall, Matt says, “It’s been a really fun experience. It’s been cool. Wait, don’t say, ‘It’s been cool!’” he says, laughing again. “It’s been really rewarding. I’ve taken more out of it than I thought I would.”

If you’d like to learn more about our camp programs, please visit our RISE Summer Camp or our RISE Spring and Pro-D Camp program pages.