A Day at Camp Explore

by Erika Solberg

Amy Zacapa connects a string to other campers in Language Arts. Photo by Jesse Knifley

Camp Opening

It’s the first day at the 2018 edition of Camp Explore at The Center for Gifted Studies. 29 campers who have finished first through third grade sit in a college lecture room. Whether their hair is in a tight pony tail or a short summer cut, whether their legs swing under the desks or hold still, or whether there are gaps in their smiles or scabs on their knees, all the campers have something in common: they are ready to have fun learning.

Camp director Julie Roberts Boggess begins by sharing one of her favorite stories, Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell and illustrated by David Catrow, displaying the picture book on screens at the front of the room and reading it to the students.

The book tells the story of tiny, croaky-voiced, buck-toothed Molly Lou whose grandma teaches her to stand tall no matter what: “Believe in yourself and the world will believe in you too.” This advice serves Molly Lou well when she starts a new school, and one odious classmate, Ronald Durkin, keeps making fun of her. No matter what he says, however, Molly Lou stands tall, and soon changes the perspectives of all her classmates, including Ronald.

The idea of change is one that campers are exploring all week across the disciplines of art, language arts, clowning, acting, and science. Each class will take a different approach, but the common theme will allow students to make connections across the different fields.



Alex Paganelli begins his project in Art. Photo by Jesse Knifley.

In Morgan Conwell’s art class, the students’ first task is to listen to the David Bowie song “Changes” and think about what words and phrases stick out. After, campers give such answers as “face the strange” and “try to be a different man.”

Next, Morgan holds up a sheet of hot-pink posterboard — which contrasts nicely with the neon green pompoms in her dangly earrings — and explains that they will change it into a portfolio for the work they create that week. The students crowd around to get their supplies: neon posterboard, tape that comes in bright colors and fun patterns like cheetah print, multicolored Sharpies, and thick paint sticks.

Some eager voices ask questions and announce their plans, while others work quietly, concentrating on folding the posterboard in half.  The students then tape three sides and decorate the resulting envelope. Designs vary: there are smiley faces, rainbows, stylized hearts, Mario Brothers-inspired scenes, and wavy oceans, as well as an exploding truck, a shark, a helicopter, and a collection of dinosaurs — Ty Nourse of Russellville explains that they are, specifically, a brachiosaurus, a baby t-rex, a pterodactyl, a pliosaurus, and an ankylosaurus.


Language Arts

In a classroom where the windowsills and tables are lined with picture books, Mary Evans explains to her students that each day in Language Arts they will read a story and choose from a range of activities related to it; any activity that the students do not finish may be continued the next day if they choose.

Mary Evans explains how campers will build connections with each other as the week progresses. Photo by Jesse Knifley

On the board she lists Big Ideas related to change that she wants them to think about: change leads to more change, change can be positive or negative, and change is inevitable.

They next do a getting-to-know-you game while sitting in a circle on the floor. The first person states something he or she can do, holds onto the end of a skein of yarn, and tosses the skein to a classmate. The next person then states something he or she can do, holds onto some of the yarn, and tosses the skein to another classmate. By the end, each camper is connected to all the others in a beautiful orange web. Mary points out, “We’ll be connected in different ways by the end of the week. Think about how every time you make a new friend, you change.”

The book Mary shares with them today is Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Lassen. The main character, Annabelle, finds a never-ending supply of yarn and uses it to knit sweaters and other objects to change her cold, dreary town into a friendly, colorful one.

After discussing the story, Mary offers several activities to the students: write your own yarn/story, make a poster about something you’d like to change, write about or draw something you have found and what you did with it, or make a card decorated with yarn. Many choose the last option, gluing purple, orange, or forest green yarn on blue, green, or red paper and lighting up the classroom with as much color as Annabelle’s town.



Nick Wilkins shows campers some of the different types of clowns. Photo by Michael Blackshire.

Nick Wilkins, also known as Broadway the Clown, brings decades of experience in clowning and teaching to Camp Explore. On the first class day, the students talk about where they have seen clowns and the names of some famous ones. They also learn the three types of clowns: white face, auguste, and character. Nick tells them they need to know the types so they can decide what kind of clown they will change themselves into on the last day of class, complete with makeup and costume. The campers respond to this news with wide eyes, whoops, and grins.

Learning how to balance feathers. Photo by Michael Blackshire.

Later, it’s time to balance peacock feathers. Nick tells them to start by trying to balance the feather on the palm of one hand. Once that maneuver is perfected, they can try using just the tip of a finger or to pop the feather from one hand to another. “All you have to do is move with it,” he instructs them. Some kids get the hang of balancing immediately, while others take a little longer. “We don’t say, ‘I can’t do it,’” he reminds them. “You just say, ‘I haven’t learned it yet.’”

Some campers show off their attempts for buddies, while other choose remote corners of the room to help stay focused. One student tries balancing the feather on her chin, and others hum the traditional circus song. Soon the room is filled with words of victory and encouragement:

“I’m a natural professional!”

“I’m doing it!”

“We’ve got good balancers in here!”

“Good try!

”I can do it with my palm!”

“Nice job!”

“We’ve got clowns in here!”



For acting class, the whole camp gathers with Julie Roberts Boggess. First they work on tongue twisters to practice enunciation. In groups of three, they choose a twister from the list Julie has given them and say it together ten times for the class.

Kohen Coffee of Alvaton is especially successful as he twists his tongue around “two totally tired toads,” and the class laughs over one group’s excellent performance of “Is this a zither?” Julie gives them some tips on the tougher ones, like “unique New York” and “toy boat,” and encourages them to ask their family members to give it a try.

After, they play the game Night at the Museum, which helps them learn to hold a pose as well as shape their bodies in creative ways. Some campers become snakes, their arms twisting in the air, while another transforms into a gopher with buck teeth and little paws. Amy Zacapa of Bowling Green looks just like a small bear. Each student tries to shift poses when the student playing the museum guard is not watching. Those who get caught moving are out, but the campers take their loss in good spirits and enjoy watching the antics of the classmates who remain until just one, the winner, is left.



Allison Bemiss shows student observations during Science. Photo by Michael Blackshire.

Science begins with teacher Allison Bemiss leading the class in singing along to a jazzy version of “Baa Baa Black Sheep” in front of a huge poster of a farm. Don’t let the pre-school feel fool you, though, because today the simple nursery rhyme will lead the students into a study of the complex concept of chromatography.

First, in a video, a black sheep explains to the class her problem: the farmer wants different colors of wool, not just black, and he is skeptical when she tells him that she hides other colors in her black wool. It will be up to the students to find the evidence to convince the farmer.

All the student have folders with today’s challenge card. They will make a scientific prediction about what will happen  — the sheep’s black wool does or does not hide other colors — and what tool they are choosing to use — along with a black marker, a coffee filter, and a small plastic tub, they can choose from a pipette or a spray bottle. (Allison purposely plans activities with commonly found objects and sends home directions so students can redo the experiments with their families.) The campers are excited when they hear they will be wearing white lab coats that they can take home at the end of the week.

“Put your scientist eyes on and see what happens,” Allison tells them as she goes over the directions. She also gives them today’s Curiosity Catch Phrase: “This reminds me of ….” Allison asks them not only to use it but to listen for others saying it too.

Finally, Allison introduces the concept of chromatography through a short video that explains it is the process of taking colors apart. She has the class bring their hands together and then pull them apart while saying the word “chromatography” in order to help them remember it.

Observing chromatography. Photo by Michael Blackshire.

When the scientific work begins, students fill out their planning sheet, then use a black magic marker to draw a sheep on a flattened coffee filter. Next, they spray or drop water on the shape. Immediately, they can see colors separate themselves out around the edges. Allison and her assistants ask the campers questions like “How many colors do you see?” and “Why are the colors changing?” Campers bend over their work and exclaim at their discoveries. Some add more water, some press the filters down, and others share their findings with a friend. In less than an hour, these campers have changed into scientists.

We can’t wait to see the other ways the campers will change this week!