Summer camps, programs keep local youths sharp

The summer camp curriculum at Kids R Kids in Crystal Lake doesn’t quite compare with the rigidness of a school curriculum – it’s more like learning in disguise.

Kids go to places such as the zoo, Medieval Times and Star 105.5 – field trips fit into a camp learning schedule that’s relaxed, yet still emphasizes keeping the wheels turning while school is out.

“I think it’s important to continue their mental growth throughout the summer because it will make it easier when you come back in the fall,” said Ed Kulach, owner of Kids R Kids. “It expands their minds, their creativity, their imagination.”

From summer camps to reading programs to parks courses, McHenry County is packed with opportunities to keep children mentally active over the summer.

Students who take the same tests at the beginning of the school year score lower than they did a few months earlier, according to research reports compiled by the National Summer Learning Association.

The research shows students can lose about two months of grade-level equivalency on math skills and, depending on economic class, face similar diminishing reading skills.

Kids R Kids offers a peewee camp for kids ages 2 to 4, JV camp for kids ages 5 to 8 and varsity for kids 9 to 12.

“We do follow a curriculum throughout the summer,” Kulach said. “It’s a little bit scaled back, but we do target our field trips for what’s going on in the curriculum that week.”

In Woodstock, the Challenger Learning Center offers similar chances for kids to stay engaged.

The center, which during the school year caters to youngsters arriving by the busload, converts to a schedule of weekly camps in the summer.

“Star Voyagers” is a camp for first- through third-graders to train like astronauts and learn about the solar system. Others, such as “Mars Mania” and “Extreme Battle Bots,” are geared toward older children.

“They don’t realize how much they’re really learning because they’re having such a great time,” said Chantel Madson, the center’s director.

Some camps are built in “levels,” for students to come back and advance through the years.

“Rocketry Camp – Level I” teaches second- through fifth-graders the basics about flight and rockets, and campers build and launch water-, air- and engine-powered rockets. During Level II, for fifth- through ninth-graders, campers gain a deeper understanding of Newton’s laws of motion and eventually build and launch their own advanced engine-powered rockets.

“It almost seems like a magical thing that happens here because kids are constantly learning that they can do things that they thought maybe they couldn’t do before,” Madson said.

But summer camps aren’t the only way to keep children engaged. Most local libraries provide incentives for students to read throughout the summer.

The Crystal Lake Public Library annually has about 2,000 kids sign up for its summer reading program. For every 300 minutes children spend reading, they can earn a prize.

The library also offers computer programming and JavaScript courses for students in fifth through 12th grades, teaching students a skill they don’t often learn in class, said Lauren Rosenthal, head of youth services for the Crystal Lake Public Library.

“It’s a great way to keep mentally sharp and pick up a new skill,” Rosenthal said.

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