I stand by the lower entrance of the Hillman Theater as Day Camp Discovery counselors lead their campers to the front rows. As each group files in, the air is charged with mystery and anticipation; none of the campers know what they are about to see. As with all Day Camp Discovery events, Matt Weiss will start things off with his incredible humor and enthusiasm. However, Matt is nowhere to be seen. After a few minutes of nothing happening, the campers start to shout “WE WANT MATT, WE WANT MATT!” with impressive volume. Their united voices shake the very stage and bring smiles to each and every member of the staff. The campers chant for a full five minutes before their demands are met. The second he comes into view, sprinting out from stage left, the campers welcome Matt with excited cheers worthy of Springsteen himself. He quickly reveals the first surprise of that morning when he asks the Day campers to shout “We want Ren! We want Ren!” as Camp Ren makes its appearance. Curiosity peaks. With everyone seated, Matt proceeds to tell an epic tale of our struggle with the unbearable heat. He finishes with, “And the air cooled around us, and we found ourselves where we are now, our attention riveted to the stage before us. The lights began to fade, and if we listened closely, we could hear a rustling backstage. Who knows what it will reveal... Do you want to know?” Needless to say, the audience wants to know. Matt throws him arms into the air, and lets loose a guttural yell, “THEN HERE’S THE SHOWWWWWWW!!!” Over the next 30 minutes, a series of beloved kids’ movie characters, such as Shrek and Lightning McQueen, perform skits explaining why their team is the best.
Campers are assigned colors, and it is explained that campers will earn points for their team through a series of competitions. The team with the most points by the end of the week wins. There is no question, today marks the start a massive battle between four factions: Red, Yellow, Blue, and Green. This means war!
-Eric Rabe '12
on Thursday July 26, 2012 at 11:21AM
The quad is damp. Soggy even. There’s a patch in the middle that stubbornly refuses to return to its natural state from the swamp it’s become, and yet... we’re still running all over it, sailing massive balloons over it, throwing frisbees from one end to the other because this is camp, and we have fun here, by gum. No wet grass could possibly dissuade us; no soaked socks could prove deterrent enough. The rain of yesterday is still with us, and we have another storm predicted for later today, but for now we’re laughing at clouds, so dark up above. The sun’s in our hearts, and we’re ready to make use of the little time we have.
Mr. Brunner has produced a peculiar toy that closely resembles the largest trash bag in the world. He fills it with air, ties off one end, and lays it out on the quad in the sunlight. It sits there like a fantastic slug. Curious children peer at it, poke at it, lift it to no avail. It’s the most boring thing I’ve ever seen. And then, as if by magic, it twitches. The sun pouring down on it is heating the air inside to the point where it could act as a hot-air balloon. The kids yell and jump back.
It gives another lugubrious roll, and then sheds its lethargy and takes wing. Bruce, the science squad’s counselor, holds tight to the kite string restraining it. It stretches upward, rearing up as a leviathan from the deep, and dances in the sunlight slowly and elegantly. For such an ungainly design, it’s surprisingly beautiful.
I’m told in passing by one of the counselors that there’s a mandatory meeting at four-thirty, the subject of which is a secret. Then I find out from Eric that it’s concerning a color war for the last few days of camp, a great division of the camp and an epic struggle to claim the cup of victory. In Arts and Crafts, a thirteen-year-old named Malik is artfully crafting a bowl from clay, taking great care in its construction. He maneuvers the clay gently into precisely the shape he wants, then carries it over to the kiln to be fired. This massive oven reaches temperatures of more than 1,300 degrees, so he gives it to the supervisor to place inside. She lays it carefully onto three pegs which will allow air to circulate underneath, and it’s ready to go for a few hours before being revealed as a new piece of original art.
When I leave the BVAC, it’s begun to sprinkle, and by the time I get to Rowe, it’s turned into an all-out downpour. For now, the fun is back indoors. The balloon has been folded and put away. There’s no more chalk on the staircase. But each camper knows that tomorrow is another day, and perhaps Mother Nature will be a little more co-operative once she’s had a good night’s sleep.
It’s remarkable how easily new things take shape here at the camp. A huge garbage bag can turn into a magical balloon, a talented thirteen-year-old can produce detailed, intricate art, and a color war, difficult to organize, even more so to pull off, can be done flawlessly, interestingly, and with a great deal of fun for all involved. A new idea can take flight here at camp, soar into the sunlight and fly as tall and proud as a massive garbage bag balloon, defying logic and earthly restraint.
-Henry Klein ‘11
on Friday July 20, 2012 at 12:40PM
The rain has come, and with it a chorus of disappointed voices asking if Outdoor Adventure is closed. It is, but we’ve come up with a myriad distractions to keep the campers entertained against the monsoon outside. For some reason, one of these is waffle-making. A group of campers is turning out waffles like nobody’s business, and it’s hard to find anyone who’ll turn one down. Each is perfectly golden brown thanks to the supervision of one of the more patient counselors, and each the four I tried are delectable. It started off as just a project for film, but it devolved into an eating contest almost immediately. It’s remarkable how many of these kids can put away more than I can.
In Spotlight, the course of the class hasn’t changed much; filming has gone inside, and the younger kids are watching a movie, but Miranda and Alex remain hopeful for the eventual return to outside.
Bagpipes sound their droning calls over campus, an inescapable noise that irks some but reminds me of my native Scotland. Okay, not really, but there are bagpipes all over, and many of the campers ask if they can play them. A few even claim knowledge of this arcane instrument, but I can’t lend them much credence. Mostly the kids just stare, quietly impressed. They make for an attentive audience. It’s a sight to see, the campers who at any other time would be running wild over the quad for a frisbee or for the joy of the chase, suddenly caught rapturous by the music floating over campus.
When the storm finally hits, with a crash of lightning startling anyone foolish enough to be caught in the rain, the PA system kicks on with the first warning I’ve heard since the first week of orientation. Mr. Chottiner’s calm but urgent voice ushers us inside, and I find myself carried along with a squad of six-year-olds, the Porcupines.
We huddle in the gym, waiting out nature’s fury, but we’re not waiting long before one of the counselors proposes a game to keep our minds off the monsoon just a door away. He produces a bag of balls, and almost instantly any tears have dried, any fears have evaporated, and the gym is once more a place of fun rather than a mere shelter against the rain and thunder.After a while, the storm abates, and we’re left with only the afternoon meeting to get through before dismissal. A camper darts out of his group to present his fun fact of the day, a few announcements are made, and then we’re free to leave.
It’s been a long and at times stressful day; the unprecedented call of Mr. Chottiner into the gym was worrisome but ultimately just fine. And the campers responded perfectly, the counselors took good care of them, and all was, in the end, well. All was well.
Henry Klein ‘11
on Friday July 20, 2012 at 12:33PM
Matt Weiss, the history-teaching, wise-cracking, frisbee-playing part-time philosopher Shady Side had the good sense to hire for the summer, needs my help. Eric and I have been setting up three mini-pitches on the softball field, straightening cones, lengthening endzones, and now that we're finished, the campers are just starting to arrive. Mr. Weiss explains the rules briefly, and we're off and running.
Well, Eric and I are running. Through a consistently dynamic and evolving playing field, the game ideally remains fast-paced and exciting. However, the campers are feeling a tad recalcitrant, it seems, and plod along the field unenthusiastically. One of my teammates, Alex, is a little more excited than the others, however, and shows talent. A long pass soars toward him as he cuts agressively across the field, darting away from his defender and outstripping the competition entirely for a touchdown.
Alex, having caught the touchdown pass, is eligible by ancient frisbee tradition to throw the kickoff pass, or "pull" to the other team. He can't be more than twelve, but he hauls off and launches a long, drifting throw that falls impressively to the ground only a few feet from the opposing team. He's confident, too; he jumps to block a disc aimed for Eric, who towers at least a foot and a half over him. There's another Alexander on my team, and he appears to be learning from Alex I's example. Soon, the whole team is playing hard, sprinting up the turf, diving for tough catches, and winning points like pros.
Up on the quad, disc golf is proving popular, with seven or eight golfers eyeing the distant goal and selecting the proper disc for the throw. A girl named Ariana shows a preternatural prowess for this sport, sinking her throws flawlessly. I give it a try, and she impatiently corrects my form while showing me up at the same time.
Golf is a lot more difficult, I find, than Ultimate. The discs seem to fly differently, they don't sit in your hand the same way, and they come in three or four different sizes and weights. Eric is skeptical as well. But in the hands of the more talented campers, the discs obey their handler perfectly, floating to a gentle stop mere feet from the goal. Bryan, the brother of one of my Ultimate teammates, is just as good as Ariana, and I nearly blush at being so outclassed by a twelve-year-old. He eyes the target and lets rip a mighty backhand, which arcs elegantly upward before swinging back down in a perfect poem of motion, a fugue which ends as it began, at rest and unassuming.
I meet Weiss trudging back from the far field, a mesh bag of frisbees slung casually over one shoulder. We talk for a bit about bikes and zone defense, and we almost manage to get through a conversation without spotting a potential open pass. Weiss effortlessly tosses a perfect forehand to a kid neither of us know, just to see his joy at the catch. He grabs it one-handed and proudly holds it high for all to see. He throws it back to Weiss with a wave, and we both wave back, smiling. I have to leave and write; Weiss has more frisbee to teach. We part ways happy, knowing we're about to do what we love.
-Henry Klein '11
on Wednesday July 18, 2012 at 03:24PM
Tonight is a special night, I know. Parents just like you, if you're a parent and reading this blog, will come into camp for one night just to see what it's like. We've been preparing for a few hours now, and everyone wants to ensure that their specialty is perfect. While Mr. Matia and Mr. Brunner busily straighten up the science table, Carrie, the Arts and Crafts director, arranges a group of llamas. The food comes steaming out of the dining hall to be set up on the quad, and we're ready for the shindig to begin.
It takes a few minutes after the official starting time to see the parents arrive; no one wants to be there first. But soon enough we have a decent sized crowd milling around, poking at the meatballs, inspecting the tables, with children hanging onto the hems of their dresses and the tails of their suits.
The science table is showing off a disturbingly extensive collection of human bones and an equally disturbing robot, which appears to be entirely autonomous. It buzzes around our feet, wheeling about face to charge toward another towering pair of legs. The kids are fascinated at its apparent intelligence, and Mr Brunner capitalizes on the moment to inform them that if they take his science course, they too can create a robot which will follow his every command. They share a stunned glance before turning to their parents with expectant faces.
Over in Arts, the llamas are winning over a number of converts who previously felt that Arts was too sissy for them. But the flawless construction of the tiny animals, the seamless edges and attention to detail, convince the skeptics that perhaps Art isn't all that bad after all.
In the corner of the quad there's a bag of balls of all sizes, and they're sorted through and examined carefully by all newcoming kids. After they pass inspection, they're thrown all over with little regard to sportsmanship or personal safety. Eric and I take it upon ourselves to protect the rest of the adults and shift the game (such as it is) farther from the huddled masses and over to an unoccupied area. I brought a bunch of grapes with me, and we amaze the kids by throwing them in the air and catching them in our mouths. Then it's onto tag, and Eric and I exhaust ourselves avoiding the seemingly tireless children bound and determined to tackle us to the ground.
We excuse ourselves eventually and make our way back to the parents. We chat for a little, but it's soon time to be off, and we drive away happy with the knowledge that we've made a night made for parents fun for their progeny as well.
-Henry Klein '11
on Wednesday July 18, 2012 at 03:24PM
I'm back again at FunFest, back with as many happy children as I've ever seen in one place before. FunFest is bustling, with more than four dozen kids bowling, playing laser tag, and racing virtual motorcycles in the arcade. Every camper gets ten tokens for use in the machines, and most look carefully for the best way to maximize the ticket exchange rate. None are quite as successful as Woo Jin, who catches a lucky break on the jackpot machine and watches, agog with wonder, as more than a thousand tickets spew out of a tiny slot. He piles them atop his head and dashes around bellowing of his great good luck to any who will listen.
The bowling alley is predictably loud, as twenty or more kids push, chuck, toss, and gently roll balls an eighth of their weight down a modified lane with bumpers rather than gutters. The balls wobble crazily down the stretch of wood before impressively decimating the pins waiting at the end. Shrieks and laughter accompany every noisy collision, with extra yells following any strikes.
Laser tag is just as fiercely competitive as it was last time, with counselors getting pumped up with the campers. Each match is a bloodbath, with the scores climbing higher than I've seen them before. The scores seem somewhat lopsided, and I wonder out loud if one side has a definite advantage over another, but the kids are having too much fun to really care.
Pizza is brought out, with plenty of punch to wash it down. Though the campers are voracious, the pizzas keep coming, and everyone has their fill. After the short interlude, it's back to the arcade, and back to winning as many tickets as can be found. I have more campers than I can count come up to me in a fruitless search for more tokens, but to no avail. I don't even have a bag for myself.
Finally it's time to return to Shady Side, and the campers climb aboard with many a winsome backward glance. But they couldn't have had any more fun today without a powernap. It's been a long day of nonstop fun, and the bus quiets soon after we leave, with the babble of conversation turning into a near silence as one by one the campers succumb to sleep.
-Henry Klein '11
on Wednesday July 18, 2012 at 01:57PM
In my first series post since Orientation so many weeks ago, I'll be writing about the far-off, mystical, magical land known as FunFest, a game emporium located convienently nearby, and an absolute paradise for children. I haven't been there in ages, but the atmosphere of excitement in the bus is palpable and contagious. All the kids are anxious to get there, and the bus rings with the chorus of every parent's favorite car-time song, "The Are We There Yet Blues".
We arrive and pile off the bus in a clump. It's a tense few minutes as we check we have everyone before finally allowing them to rush in, but we make it through with as few plaintive pleas for more immediate fun as is possible. The kids go in and, though they're practically bouncing off the walls in anticipation, listen carefully to their counselors' instructions before dashing off into the depths of the arcade.
Laser tag is a big draw. FunFest has a course designed for kids, with plenty of hiding spots from which to snipe the competition. The comically oversized vests and guns hamper the campers about as much as a piece of twine could hope to restrain an elephant. They're determined to let nothing get in the way of their fun. Battles are hard-fought and hard-won, but the illusion of dramatic conflict is marred slightly by the piping, insistent voices: "I got you!" "No, you didn't!" It's dangerous to be a jounalist in the midst of combat, though, so I excuse myself to the well-lit exterior.
Out in the light, I can see that the arcade games are packed too, but thanks to careful planning and strategic counselor placement, there aren't any lines at the more popular stands. One counselor is coaching a camper on her skee-ball technique, and it seems to be paying off; on her very next shot, she nails a fifty pointer no problem. She pumps a tiny fist in celebration. Lights flash as a stream of tickets shoot out of a slot. If she collects enough over the course of the day, she can exchange them for prizes ranging from a balsa-wood toy airplane to a giant stuffed alligator. I see her eyeing a six foot pink and purple feather boa.
By the time we have to leave, everyone has either run out all their energy in the laser tag arena or is wrestling their prizes onto the bus. It's a fairly quiet ride back then, with the campers cooperating admirably. We disembark and sigh collectively, then turn our minds to the fun we'll have tomorrow.
-Henry Klein '11
on Wednesday July 11, 2012 at 02:10PM
The fellows at camp are remarkable. Tirelessly helpful, endlessly enthusiastic, and as understanding to the needs of a child as a parent, they assist any counselor who needs help at any time during the day. One such fellow is my friend Miranda, who I met in my first week of camp and who quickly became my closest camp friend. She uncomplainingly assists with both Spotlight in the Hillman Center and with Arts and Crafts in the BVAC, and at Chottiner's suggestion, I've decided to take a day in the life of a fellow, and am thusly following Miranda through an average day of Spotlight.
Our day begins bright and early at nine, when the first group of campers comes through the doors of the Kountz theater and Alex and Miranda marshal them into a semblance of an ordered circle. We begin with stretching, including kissing your own knee, silly walks to stretch our legs, and mouth and voice warmups which lead to some interesting vocalizations. Then the fun begins. Three large boxes are brought out, and hats and scarves of every color and style are passed around. A fashion show complete with music is organized, with each camper imagining a character to portray and then strutting down the catwalk in the mindset of their persona. We see zombies, firemen, fairies, cowgirls, and even rappers all join in, and when all have had a chance to strike as daring a pose as they like, it's time to select a winner.
Miranda and I have both tied scarves as neckties about our throats, and adjust them as snobbily as we possibly can. In English accents, we introduce ourselves as Sir Albert Windsor and Ms. Gertrude McMuffin, and through careful consideration and much consultation, we have arrived at a conclusion. A sweet young girl named Zoe is our selection, and her spectacular jump in her flowing skirt attests to her excitement at winning. We clean up the scarves, and then it's time for Act II.
Singing In The Rain has always been one of my favorite musicals, and Alex and Miranda are teaching the campers a slightly altered version of the title track. It's got everything a kid needs; loud singing, exaggerated pantomime to accompany the music, and best of all, an ending which involves sticking out your tongue. The whole camp will be taught this song and dance at the end of the daily meeting, so each group that passes through Spotlight today will have at least a passing familiarity with it.
The day passes far too quickly, with each meeting going by in roughly the same manner as the first, and then it's time for the all-camp meeting. The Spotlight groups line up in front of the camp and perform the skit flawlessly, and everyone joins in for the final verse. Even the counselors catch on and sing along. It's been a long day, but by the looks on the singing faces around me, I can see why Miranda came back for her second year. It's a joy to see so many happy kids in one place. It's a privilege to have helped make them happy.
-Henry Klein '11
on Tuesday July 10, 2012 at 03:32PM
Arts and Crafts is very busy today. And why shouldn't they be? Creating an entire ecosystem is hard work. And by the looks of the table in the middle of the art building, a massive oaken fixture as broad as a door and twice as tall, that's just what they're doing. It's littered with sparkles, popsicle sticks, glue bottles, feathers, glitter, and even what appear to be scales of some sort. Day Campers are creating sea monsters of every shape and size, some of them are genuinely ferocious, while others look like something you'd find in the aquarium section of a pet shop.
Older campers are using felt and popsicle sticks to make tiny alpacas and llamas, which they send galloping over the cluttered table. They have a remarkable amount of care put into their production; I look closely at several, eagerly offered up by proud campers, but couldn't find a single stitch or seam on any. Malcolm, a reserved child with glasses and a curly mop of hair, explains the process. "You gotta boil them, and that loosens the felt up so it can stick to itself." He shows me two pieces of felt, one red, one blue, that have adhered inextricably to each other.
The last group of campers busily glues their golf-tee fangs into the gaping mouths of the snake puppets they've made. Eric and I get to watch a performance. Drawing on the Hopi snake legends and using the traditional Hopi story-telling method, the kids wind their sinuous puppets around the impromptu stage, hissing and giggling at the same time. The group divides up parts, and then the play commences. The children act well, giving each character a different voice and a particular charm.
Eric and I are watching raptly with half the group, while the other half performs. A girl named Molly is sitting next to me, and she smiles shyly. "Do you like snakes?" she asks hopefully. "Why yes I do. What do you think?" She considers. "I like the friendly snakes who don't bite. And the big ones who you can still pick up." I agree with her. The ones you can pick up are the best.
The performance ends, and Eric and I applaud. Everyone got a chance to act, thanks to an intermission that involved a switch-over of parts. Molly the snake-lover got up and played the Spider Grandmother, and a grand job she did, too. All the campers get to take their snakes home with them, and they're pleased as punch about it. "I worked so hard on mine," Carlo tells me. "I can't wait to show my mom." I hope she likes it, Carlo. Nice work.
-Henry Klein '11
on Tuesday July 10, 2012 at 02:51PM
Dear reader, it is my inestimable pleasure today to announce the day I've been awaiting as eagerly as a child for Santa; the rockets launched. At eleven in the morning, Eric and I made the trek down to the middle field, the one deemed safest for such activities, and joined Mr. Brunner's protégés for the great moment. They strode confidently across the field past the Day Camp spectators, men of the hour and proudly aware of the awestruck looks on the younger kids' faces.
Mr. Brunner spent the first few minutes explaining the safety procedures for the launch to the group. They're surprisingly attentive, but I think that's just because they know that unless they humor him, the launch will be delayed even further. As he wraps it up, I can see them getting antsy, and when he asks for questions, there's not a hand to be seen. These kids are champing at the bit.
The first rocket is a single-stage creation with elaborate fins. Ray, the proud architect, places the safety key into its slot, asks the Day Campers for a countdown, and they shrilly oblige. "Three, two, ONE!" they pipe, and the missile shoots upward with a puff of smoke and a satisfying roar. It climbs nearly twelve hundred feet before elegantly releasing its clutch of streamers with a puff. As it falls back to earth, Ray races over to catch it. He's only off by a few feet, but it doesn't matter. The care he put into its creation pays off, and it lands on the grass intact, needing nothing more than a new engine to take off again good as new.
One after the other, the other rocket engineers prepare and fire their projects, each and every one leaping impatiently into the sky, ejecting its tuft of colors at the peak of its flight, and drifting back to the waiting arms of its maker to be readied and fired again at his leisure. Each aspiring Von Braun collects his rocket covetously and holds it as carefully as a proud father would hold his child. They've been working for two weeks to craft these cylinders of magic, and the fact that they all fly even better than was expected pleases the older children and amazes the younger kids.
After the launch, I talk with some of the kids about it. "This is the best part of the summer," says one. "I don't know how to make a rocket by myself. This is the only chance I get." He gazes wistfully at the sky, and sighs. "I wanted to make a really big one, I mean one that goes higher than all the others put together. Mr. Brunner says next year. I can't wait." Neither can I.
-Henry Klein '11
on Friday July 6, 2012 at 03:10PM