- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

A few weeks ago, I wrote about creating a cooperative, family-based camp. We have just returned from that experience, so I wanted to share some of the lessons we learned.

Our camp was educational in nature, so a lot of our sessions focused on sharing information. We began immediately, with a PowerPoint lecture for the nearly 90 campers. A talent show followed that evening, with the youths demonstrating their musical, dance and poetic accomplishments. One young man, a member of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony, played a violin solo that had the audience demanding an encore. The flute, guitar and other instruments were played, and there was a lot of dancing.

On following days, we interspersed educational presentations with project sessions. The youths chose from nearly a dozen skill-building project areas: video, animation, music, songwriting, poetry, art, merchandising, gymnastics, break dance, hip-hop dance, music recording and the like. The project sessions included some skilled adults and youths to guide the learning, with a fair amount of hands-on experimentation.

Many of the parents gave presentations or led project sessions. One, a music teacher, contributed greatly to the various musical projects. Within a day, she had one rock-type band formed, another group writing and performing R&B; and rap songs, and a third band with a female lead and several backup singers.

Other parents gave presentations on ethics-based, consensus-driven community outreach, or on raising funds for nonprofit work, or even on building strong families. Each evening, we showcased the work of some individual campers: videos, animation or spontaneous performances.

The camp deliberately was engineered to be co-teaching in nature; young and old alike were sharing their expertise with others who wished to learn. By having parents at each session, either teaching or as learners, we eliminated the need for the traditional “counselor” role in most camps.

The maintenance and tasks of running the camp were also part of the learning experience. We all pitched in to prepare the dining room and to clear up after each meal. We also did the trash collections, cleaned the bathroom areas, and policed the heavily wooded camp for litter.

The entire camp participated in some field trips to nearby cities to practice newly acquired skills. One involved meeting the public to raise funds and to arrange for performance opportunities. Based on this outreach, we were able to perform for nearly 80 youths at an adjoining camp and on two different days in an indoor mall.

The new songs and dances created by the camp participants were incorporated into the public performances, to the enjoyment and education of the respective audiences. Many expressed their amazement that young people could be so committed to a positive purpose and could use their talents so effectively.

Completed projects were showcased before the closing of the camp, including videos, animation, songs, dances, spoken-word pieces and PowerPoint presentations. Several projects continued after the camp itself ended: recording the newly created songs and editing video footage from the camp.

Home-schooling leans heavily on the interaction of parents and children as cooperative partners in learning. This model, however, works in a larger scope, as well. Having seen the enormous effectiveness and skill attainment that comes from families cooperating in this camp situation, I see no reason why this could not be a model for a number of other learning situations.

While many camps charge several thousand dollars for intensive arts or academic camp experiences, we were able to pull this camp together for a bit over $200 per person. Not only is this extremely cost-effective, but it allows the entire family to reap the benefits of gaining new skills and creating new memories together.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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