What's Beyond the Universe?
As you’ve read on our Typical Day page, days at American Village Camps are jam-packed with a variety of events conducive to English-learning. These events are organized and lead by our counselors. Selecting which recreational activities to plan takes a little bit more forethought than at a typical child care program stateside, as all of our campers are English-learners. That said, countless sports, arts & crafts, drama games, large-scale field games, scavenger hunts, treasure hunts, team-building games & small group workshops can be played at camp.
Believe it or not, English is not the ultimate limiting factor when determining which recreational activities to prepare. Our campers’ interests are far more important to consider. That said, we cannot explain and lead games in the same manner that we do at childcare programs in the US or UK. If our French campers can’t understand the rules of a game that they are about to play, they will be hesitant to join in. No one wants to look foolish in front of his or her peers.
There are oodles of simple methods that any counselor can use to promote understanding and encourage participation amongst language-learners. During my first summer as an American Village Camps counselor in 2006, I witnessed a veteran counselor, “Carlos” (Amvil ‘99-’11), start a discussion with some campers with a low-intermediate level about what they thought existed beyond the universe!
This was a defining moment in my understanding of how I should be communicating with campers while working at American Village.
- Carlos started by asking the question entirely. The boys did not understand. Then, he broke it down visually and verbally.
- He spoke slowly, clearly and selected times for pauses.
- He started with a concrete concept about immediate spacel, using his hands to slowly point around us. Then he mimed a globe to represent the Earth, then the space beyond (the solar system), the space beyond that (the universe) and finally, the space beyond that (beyond the universe).
- At each step, his facial expressions changed and he looked the boys in the eyes. He ended on a very inquisitive - and highly comical - face.
- He used the same vocabulary and sentence structure at each step in his gesturing. At the end, he asked “What do you think is here?” (pause, pointing) Beyond the universe?” (inquisitive facial expression, shrugging his shoulders).
The boys were entirely engaged during his questioning and tried to formulate their answers; Carlos was a dynamic counselor who regularly had interesting ideas to share. This counselor didn’t believe that the campers’ potential for understanding was limited by the immediate surroundings of the camp.
This amusing anecdote is one way I try to explain our methods to new counselors. We can convey a surprising amount of information without relying on French.
At our camps, recreational games should be tweaked to help campers understand and play. Any game can integrate both intentional and spontaneous English use by the campers. Not sure how to do it? That’s OK! Take 2 minutes and try this simple exercise.
Imagine a basic activity or game that you could lead with children. It can be something quite simple that you have already lead at an American camp, like a tag game or a workshop for a given sport. While imagining that activity:
- Consider rules or explanation adjustment : Which concepts or vocabulary may be a tad bit too complicated for basic play?
- Consider intentional English use : What are 1 - 2 ways I can integrate written or spoken English into game play, through use of signs, prompts, clues, key terms, vocabulary cards, etc?
- Consider reinforcing information : Where can I slip in the vocabulary they have already heard earlier that day, or earlier that session?
- Consider counselor placement : Where are the counselors during the game? Spontaneous formulation of English during the game will occur when the counselors are within close proximity of the campers. (Hint : There are many answers to this question, but none of them include “sitting on the sidelines!”)
- Consider balance : Is this now a game that absolutely requires English-use and understanding as a means to an end, or one that simply involves English-use throughout?
Consider adding in the more complicated concepts incrementally, after some basic play. Middle school and highschool age campers especially need to feel stimulated and not babied.
These types of activities are complimentary at our camps.
You can see how developing versions of recreational games that are accessible to language learners at different levels doesn’t require a specific diploma. By taking the time, starting from common ground, being are interesting-to and interested-in our campers, and using all the tools at our disposal, our counselors can express many thoughts and wishes to our French campers without speaking in French. Game-play in English is an essential part of what we do every day, at American Village!
Amanda B, Assistant Program Director
American Village counselor and director since 2006