“Summer,” I said, answering “What is your favorite season question” by my daughter Mia, who has asked me year after year. To be completely honest, I start with “I love every season” but she forces me to pick a favorite. It’s summer and I think it has a lot to do with how I have spent working during the summer months for 38 years. For nearly four decades I worked at the Little Folks Summer Camp, a small day camp for 2-to-5 year olds in Washington, D.C., and there will always be a special place in my heart for summer and spending it with young children.
While many of today’s camps for small children boast computer labs, violin lessons and opportunities to build your own canoe, the camp I worked at relied on the magic of sidewalk chalk, bubble wands and that old standby, the backyard hose!
Every summer began the same with 30 tiny pairs of hands planting seeds in little pots with the hope of a marigold or zucchini sprouting up come August. Day two, had those same hands slathering pine cones strung on twine, with “sun butter” and hung from trees in the local park. Seeing the faces of young children when they find barely a trace of the pine cones a week later is joyous indeed. What’s even better, is to later discover that a bird has put the twine to good use to build a nest We would spend several days a week in a local park, and there is an extraordinary transformation that happens when kids spend days in a meadow with few toys, but lots of time and space. What at first can be a bit intimidating to some, becomes a happy and familiar place where they do what comes naturally to them—they use their imaginations! Suddenly they are inventing games with the seedpods and the pebbles they collected. The jump rope is a snake or better yet a fire hose to put out the big fire only they can see. They are lying in the grass and looking at the clouds. And only with lots of time does a game like “Ball in the Tree” get invented.
Just like with the seasons, it is hard for me to pick a favorite day, but our Fourth of July celebration is especially joyous. Birthdays are always special with us, but America’s birthday really stands out. A boom box playing Stars and Stripes forever, kids marching around the meadow with homemade flags…what could be more perfect? Plus I personally believe kids are never too young to learn about the “March King,” John Phillip Sousa!
Water, especially in the heat and humidity of a city like Washington, becomes the key ingredient for summer fun. Our tiny outdoor space would be transformed into a miniature water park with the help of the hose, a kiddy pool and lots and lots of buckets.
By design, planning was kept to a minimum with one special project a day and then sitting back to let the summer unfold before us. I admit that my inspiration for this program was the long, lovely days of my own summers, which were filled with backyard talent shows, treasure hunts, lemonade stands, and bake sales. I know that the Little Folks camp is building those same kinds of memories. I try to make a special visit to the summer camp to attend the annual Pretzel and Lemonade Sale. This event is the culmination of a morning of children making “Cheesy Pretels.” Tickets are sold, everyone at the sale has a job and there is excitiment in the air as family and friends come to buy the baked delights. Not only is it a joy to witness, but I am able to catch up with several of my former nursery school students who are spending their summer working at the camp before heading off to college.
I was always especially touched by those phone calls and emails I would get each spring from former students, then in high school or college, who would want to come back to work at our summer camp. They would recount fond memories of their days at camp and would want to know if we still had the Treasure Hunt and end of camp Music and Art Fair. For a teacher, there is no greater reward than knowing that those early connections are lasting ones. It makes me feel as if I have planted my own seeds and like my young charges, I wait in anticipation to see what I have helped to grow.
Yes, I like summer best!