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.”