ATLANTA — The teachers in an Atlanta summer day camp couldn’t have created a better “teachable moment.”
Just in time for National Summer Learning Day on June 20, they saw how well-designed, hands-on activities — and a focus on problem-solving — can give children the opening to think critically and apply what they’ve learned.
Programs with such activities also lessen the “summer slide,” the academic loss children can experience over the summer.
Turning Sun is a school that offers a summer program for children ages 2-10. Based on the Reggio Emilia method, it focuses on collaborative learning — and the summer program is no exception.
In mid-June, children at the East Lake location spent a week learning about engineering and how to move objects using pulleys, levers, wedges, screws, wheel and axles, and catapults.
On Monday, they built small catapults of popsicle sticks, rubber bands and plastic spoons. The finale at the end of the week was a large catapult that propelled balloons filled with a water-and-paint mixture to splash against a large canvas. Kids jumped on the catapult to send the balloons flying and create a big collaborative artwork.
On that morning, a child came running to a teacher in tears. Her doll had been snatched and thrown over an eight-foot fence.
The teachers could simply have walked around the house in search of the doll, said campus director Jennifer Sherrock.
“But they just presented the problem [to the children] as it was,” she said.
No one was home next door — in fact the residents had gone on vacation. Even if the teachers had been able to scale the fence, wouldn’t that be trespassing? And wasn’t there a dog in the yard?
A 7-year-old girl spoke up. She said she had an idea. She “decided to engineer her own tool,” Sherrock said.
Along with a 4-year-old girl, she ran to the materials closet, a treasure trove of arts and craft supplies and salvaged items. There they found bungee cords with curving hook-like ends. They turned the cords this way and that. Finally they hit upon a way to tie them together to create a three-pronged hook they could attach to a rope.
They asked the tallest teacher, Darren Buffington, a college junior working for the summer, to toss the hook over the fence to try to reel in the doll. After eight tries, he hooked the doll by its hair and returned it to its owner.
“We take a project-based approach to learning,” Sherrock said. This includes introducing real-world problems. It helps children develop critical thinking that they can apply to new situations.
Sherrock also advocates allowing plenty of time for kids to figure out solutions to problems.
Summer and out-of-school-time programs can offer opportunities that may not be available in classrooms during the school year.
“It’s so valuable to have that flexibility in the curriculum to allow teachable moments to happen,” she said.
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