Boys & Girls Club offers summer fun

March 2, 2012

Summertime... Used to be, decades ago, once school was out for the year, kids headed outside for the summer, congregating in one neighbor's yard then another, riding bikes, roller skating on the sidewalk, cavorting in the hose or sprinkler, inventing clubs or games of make-believe, or playing games of baseball, stick ball or kick-the-can. You didn't go home until Mother called or the street lights came on.

Was it technology that changed all that, so that kids have to be pushed outside, protesting, "It's too hot!" Or have they lost the magic of imagination, so that left to their own devices they stick to devices — television, video games and computers?

Society has changed, too. In many families, there's no adult at home all day to supervise the children. And, sadly, some neighborhoods just aren't good places for kids to be roaming free by themselves. Even in ideal circumstances, today's kids just get bored in the summer.

A positive alternative to summer boredom and couch-potatoes-in-the making — in the form of Summer Fun Club — is offered by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware. Under the watchful eye of licensed and qualified child-care personnel, children can have fun-filled, character-building experiences with kids their own age in a safe environment. They participate in sports, arts and cultural activities, all the while building self-esteem and developing positive values. 

They are provided a healthy lunch and snacks, along with nutrition education. They go on field trips to places nearby or sites they might not otherwise ever visit, such as the National Zoo in Washington, Port Discovery in Baltimore, Crystal Cave in Kutztown, Pa., or the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. In-state favorite sites include Cape Henlopen, Killen's Pond, Trap Pond, Xbos Fun Center in Smyrna, the aeronautical museum at Dover Air Force Base and Jungle Jim's Water Park in Rehoboth, and Delaware beaches, of course.

One 11-year-old girl wrote: "The Boys & Girls Club has made my life complete. The club has been there when I needed it. I was bored and had nothing to do when I was not there. I joined the extra programs like Smoke Stompers, drama, dance and brain games. I have lots of fun doing this. When I was not at Boys & Girls Club it was like having a hole in my life. I have lots of fun here and I love it!"

A boy begged, "Please let me volunteer. This is my home away from home and I want to help little kids like you guys helped me!"

Volunteers can be adults from the community or former club members of appropriate age. Ryan, a member for nine years, is a talented artist who returns to share his talents with the children. Troy, a club member for eight years and once "Youth of the Year" volunteers every day and stays until all the kids leave, even if his mother has to wait in the car. He likes to be the tour guide to show off "his" facility to visitors.

Visitors will find brightly colored, open spaces for all sorts of activities. Club members, grouped by age, rotate through different areas to work on core activities — technology, art, athletics and physical education, science, arts and crafts, and regular education. Yes, school is out, but the clubs manage to educate without making the kids feel like it's regular school. Library field trips or bookmobiles keep the children reading. Brain games encourage critical thinking. Spelling bees and geography games challenge their memory. 

Most clubs have weekly themes. A "Wild, Wild West" week might include a field trip to Frontier Town and play outside with water guns. "Wild and Crazy Animals" could be preparation for a trip to a zoo. A week on cooking might include subtle lessons on healthy eating along with preparation of good-tasting foods, perhaps some harvested fresh from an on-site garden.

Taking advantage of interest in the Summer Olympics, two clubs have already decided to focus each week on a different country, with food, decor following the theme, and a little foreign language included where possible. Parlez vous francaise? 

Some clubs have swimming pools or share pool facilities; others visit the beach or have water fun with blow-up pools or slides. Swimming is a favorite activity, even among 5-year-olds like JaTarra and Mia. Both also enjoy the field trips, but Mia said she also enjoys just "playing with friends."

Eleven-year-old Shayna, who has attended Summer Fun Club every summer since she was 5, said "the best part about Summer Fun Club is the friends and the counselors. A lot of the friends I go to Summer Fun Club with go to my school," she commented. Her favorite things to do are to go outside, swim, play football, work in the art room, participate in tournaments in the game room and conduct "cool science experiments" in the learning center. Her favorite science experiments are making goo and edible play dough. She also likes the pool tournaments, foosball and ping pong in the game room, as well as free swim and swimming with her family in the afternoon. Her favorite filed trips have been to the museum, Clementon Park and White Water Mountain.

If Shayna had to sum up her summer in one sentence, she'd write: "Summer Fun Club is super fun and I want to go there over and over every year."

Sign up for Summer Fun Club has already begun. Space is limited in some clubs, so parents are advised to register early. Ages, hours and number of weeks vary by club. For more information on Summer Fun Clubs, visit www.bgclubs.org. 

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