Organizing the summer camp has been the first major activity taken up by me for ILP. I knew it was going to be difficult to do it for a stretch of 5 weeks, 6 days a week, 3 hours daily. I didn’t exactly know how it will work out but I knew that the best way was to just get started. I prepared an excel sheet with the dates and three one hour slots for each day. I published it to the group asking volunteers to choose the slots and days they wish to take up. Also, I suggested few topics to the group after looking at all the activities that my friends at Deloitte do and the ILP Bangalore chapter does. Even as I was working on preparing the schedule, I had to make sure that enough children will turn up for the event. Here Neha and Malathi did a great job of ensuring that communication happened with the parents and schools. We figured out that the approximate number could be between 25 and 30.

The first week was the difficult one. I had to figure out and adjust quickly to the timings and the attendance. I knew that we didn’t have many days for the camp and that the mood for rest of the camp will depend on the first week. We started the week tentatively with many slots still not filled up. But I made it point to have something or the other going on at any cost. There were no computers and that was a problem for the first few days and thanks to Kalpana we had computers in place just when we completed teaching kids about the basics of computers. Slowly things picked up pace and by accommodating all the volunteers who showed interest, there was enough pool for all the days. Once the momentum got set it was relatively easy. There were many challenges in the process like arranging for transportation for children coming from 3 or 4 different schools. There was a small lean patch when Neha was on leave and parents were not willing to send their kids. But the persistence paid off and I am glad that the summer camp has been a success.

I have always been interested in the education and learning process in kids. From reading books and articles about education and children and from doing voluntary teaching for some time, I had developed some ideas about how to go about teaching and dealing with kids. The experience of summer camp gave me a chance to experiment with few new ideas and to test some recommended practices. Here are few of them :

  • Many of these kids learn many bad habits like manipulative behavior and abusive language. These might have some survival value in the conditions they live but are very destructive in the long run. So, it becomes very important to constantly make positive reinforcements about good behavior and be appreciative of good manners. Also, it is very important to let them know our aversion towards bad manners and be strongly discouraging about such behavior.
  • As the attention span of the kids is very small, I found that we should be very active and always one step ahead in terms of thinking to capture their attention. We simply can’t afford to be boring. One technique I found useful is to make their names a part of the content I taught them and to constantly use them. I liked the concept of assigning the names of planets or the names of different forms of energies to kids and it really worked with them. We also need to keep asking questions which will catch them off guard, those which will surprise them and make them imagine. It really helps to do weird things sometimes 🙂
  • Kids(or for that matter everyone else :))learn when they are having fun. And we cannot teach them by being strict. If they can’t understand something it is not their fault. All kids are equally talented and brilliant. It is just that they are talented in different ways. I found that each kid has ability in a different area. For example, Mahesh was very good at replicating things – be it drawing, paper craft or painting. But he would be extremely bored of the physical exercises. Similarly, Durga was very good at dancing and bad at almost everything else :). Raju was good at visual puzzles and block building. He cannot be managed or controlled by being tough. The only way I could deal with him was by not dealing with him. He would come to us if we make things interesting for him. I realized that when I am teaching something, I should appeal to each of these kids in a way that they are able to relate to things they like. This meant saying the same things in many different ways. The trick was to personalize teaching.
  • Developing close relationships with them is very helpful. I made it a point to know and remember their names and backgrounds, what their parents do and what do they think about their schools, their teachers and us. By doing so, I was able to develop a rapport with them and they were able to approach me easily. I found them to be very logical and by appealing to their reason and not by arguing we can gain their respect. Even as they took freedom with me, I had to set limits and let them know what to expect from me.
  • I found that I could easily motivate and inspire them by telling them about great people who came from very poor backgrounds and from difficult circumstances. While telling stories I used simple sentences like – ‘he didn’t have parents and he had to earn money while he was studying’. I used to ask them if they have electricity at home and then give examples of people who studied under street lights and candle lights. I showed few videos of children of their age who achieved great things. I think these are accepted ways to teaching which really work.
  • And after taking sessions with 20-25 kids, I am really astonished that it is normal for classrooms to have 60 -70 kids. When I was the only volunteer taking a class, I found it extremely challenging to engage all the kids because each one had different speed of learning and different way of learning. Every kid had so many questions and every one needed guidance. It required considerable effort to reach out to each child.

Though I think all these ideas need to be applied constantly over time, I hope they made some difference to them during the five weeks of summer camp we organized. I thought of sharing these thoughts of mine with you all.