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In the end, his love of animals won out over his distaste for getting dirty. Zeke’s sixth camp of the summer was Native Animal Explorers, run by an organization called Fish and Explore. He spent every day wading knee-deep into creeks and streams and marshes, climbing over rocks, and making himself at home in the woods. He found hellgrammites and velvet mites (both of which I had to look up) and crayfish and tiny toads. He said he spent a whole day with another camper who had sharp eyes—she would spot the toads and he would catch them. He said he has quick hands. He held (non-venomous) snakes that the counselors found. He let little caterpillars crawl around on his hands. One caterpillar reportedly pooped on Zeke three times. He and his fellow campers named some of the crayfish—Big Daddy, Big Boy, Tiny Tim, Tiny Guy—you sense a theme? Zeke reported that getting pinched by a crayfish did not really hurt. The day they explored the Billy Goat Trail he came home with scrapes all over his legs. He did not complain. And this is a boy who is sensitive to pain and most minor injuries. 

He did complain, however, that the days were tiring—and they were long and included a lot of driving to the various parks. And that changing clothes in the camp van was annoying, which I’m sure it was. But he didn’t seem to mind getting wet and dirty and he definitely loved finding and observing and holding the creatures. He smuggled a hellgrammite home in his water bottle on the last day of camp. We observed it in a Tupperware container filled with water and then we convinced Zeke to let the little guy be free. 

This weekend we are in West Virginia, hiking to waterfalls and mountain lookouts, and exploring little towns. Zeke is reminding us that if we see any animals, he can identify them for us and probably catch them for closer observation. He wants to go off trail, which we’ve reminded him is not safe when you’re 3,000 feet up. He is ready to wade in the water, although so far we haven’t had a chance. He did go outside and dance in the rain on the porch of our Airbnb, though, which is pretty close. 

I insisted we register him for three active camps if he was going to do a week of Minecraft camp. He readily agreed—and so he did fencing and archery, a theater camp that involved much more choreography than he was prepared for, and Native Animal Explorers. He did like fencing and archery, and when we watched the Olympics, he taught us quite a bit about the kinds of bows and arrows and fencing weapons that the athletes were using. And he came home with a multitude of bruises on his legs from fencing but didn’t complain then either. The theater camp was a little iffier. He said he didn’t like the theme—Broadway Disney—because too many of the girls in the camp were obsessed with Disney princesses. Although Zeke likes to sing and dance at home—or truthfully dance anywhere—he didn’t care for the choreography or the choice of songs, even though he likes Disney movies as much as the next kid. 

He’s been saying he wants to do more archery and fencing, so I consider that a success. And of course he loved the Minecraft camp. Apparently, he actually learned some coding, so that’s a bonus. The most disappointing camps were the ones that did not at all match what was advertised. One was Safari Robotics, run by SciGenius. The campers were supposed to learn about safari animals and observe how they moved, and then create robots to imitate the animals’ movement. Instead, what they did was dig through bins of Legos to find parts to create Lego robotics projects they followed the instructions for. Zeke has nothing against Legos or Lego robotics, but he’s done those camps before, and that was not at all what he signed up for. Surprisingly, the best thing about that camp was that during breaks, they played soccer. As a result, Zeke said he wanted to join a soccer team this fall. I have been (gently) asked him since kindergarten if he wanted to play soccer on a team and he has always politely declined. But now he has a jersey hanging on the back of his door and we are eagerly awaiting an email from his coach letting us know when and where to practice. 

The other disappointment was Steve & Kate’s Camp, which had been fabulous years ago when Zoe attended. The whole thing with Steve & Kate’s is that kids get to choose what they want to do—among a wide variety of interesting activities including bread baking, sewing, karaoke, board games, and more. We understood that because of COVID they were forced to change the model somewhat, putting the kids into cohorts instead of letting them roam free. But they also seemed to limit what the kids could do. Zeke spent so much of the day playing on an iPad that he got bored, which I did not think was possible when Zeke has a screen in front of him. One other option was playing in the gym—with a ball—by yourself. They weren’t allowed to throw the balls to anyone else. And Zeke is tall but not quite tall enough to be able to shoot baskets at standard height net. So what are kids supposed to do with a ball in a gym by themselves for hours? The only unusual diversion was inflatable axe throwing at an inflatable target. Bread making, sewing, maker space, and other promised activities were never offered. Zeke was signed up for five days at Steve & Kate’s, but since you pay by the day and they give you refunds at the end of summer for days you didn’t use, we pulled him out for the last two days. 

I have already started a summer 2022 spreadsheet because that’s who I am, and I don’t want to forget what we learned after this summer. And I would like to think that by next summer COVID won’t actually be a terrifying and constantly looming threat, but I am not confident about that. But meanwhile, I am thankful that Zeke had the opportunity to be out in the world this summer, trying some new things, making new friends, and learning new skills. If we’re lucky, all that will continue when school starts in a couple weeks. Fingers crossed. 

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