Planning a Summer Program: My Experience Creating a Summer Camp Program

Added to Medium, August 2, 2018

On August 1st, I executed and implemented a test summer program for the Three Village Historical Society. I spent months with the rest of the Education Committee coming up with ideas for activities and coming up with a list of materials needed for the program. During those months, I developed the invoice, lesson plan, and evaluation forms for the program. While planning this program, I thought a lot about summer programming and the significance of keeping activity going in the museum during the summer.

 
Last year I discussed in a previous blog post about previous experiences with summer programs in museums. I included a link to the blog post “Summertime: Keeping Audiences Coming to Museums” below which provided details about my experience at Connecticut’s Old State House, Connecticut Landmarks, Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, and the Long Island Museum. I stated my plans with the Three Village Historical Society:
I also began working with Three Village Historical Society on education programs. Collaborating with the Director of Education and the Historian, I will work on school and kids summer programs. I look for inspiration from past programs Three Village Historical Society has taught, my own experiences, and the lessons I learned from professional development programs. Summer programs and the staff who develop them I have learned from my experiences provide opportunities for visitors to return for more programming. It is important to have it well advertised so more people will be able to know about these programs through outlets such as social media, newspaper ads, flyers, mailings, and/or a mixture of any of the previous methods. Also, it is important to develop a way to evaluate the programs to see what works and what needs to be improved on.
A few months ago, the plan I mentioned in last year’s blog post was put into action. As we planned and implemented the program, we found that there are things we could improve upon for future programs.

 
One of the first steps that were taken was to find a camp that is willing to participate in our test summer program. The Three Village Historical Society decided to ask Campus Camps in Oakdale to participate in the demonstration, and they accepted our invitation. I was put in charge of not only being the main person to maintain contact with Campus Camps but I was also put in charge of leading the activities. Both parties came to an agreement on the cost and number of participants for the program, and we determined that the program should last about two hours. Since this summer program is a test run, we decided to charge the regular rate for school programs but decided to revisit the summer program rates in the future.

 
During the initial process, I developed a couple of documents to put our agreements into writing and to allow program participants provide feedback for us to keep or make changes going forward. After we made the agreements for the amount of campers and rates, I drew up an invoice based on the historical society’s invoice set up for school programs and sent it to the director of Campus Camps. Then I created two different versions of evaluation forms for campers and counselors, and the rest of the Education Committee’s reviewed the forms so we would be able to determine what we want to take away from the evaluations so we should ask the right questions that will help us improve the program.

 
In the counselors’ evaluations, the first couple of questions asked them to provide a rating for their experience with the program and the educational value of the program. The third question asked the counselors to rate the staff and explain how the staff could be more effective while leaving the fourth question to have the counselors elaborate on their previous ratings. The last question asked the counselors to provide any suggestions or recommendations for improving the summer program.

 
In the campers’ evaluations, we asked them to describe what their favorite part of the visit was, what they were surprised about, and what they would like to learn more about. At the end of the sheet, they were also given an option to draw a picture or write a story about their favorite part of the trip. The evaluation forms were given to the counselors at the end of the program.

 
Once we had the evaluation forms developed, we were ready to develop the lesson plan to use as a guideline. The Education Committee met on a weekly basis to discuss ideas for activities focused on the Culper Spy Ring, and we came to a consensus on how this test program will be run. I took the notes I wrote down from our brainstorming and planning process to develop the lesson plan.

 
We decided to have the campers walk through the Culper Spy Exhibit and once they have walked through the campers will gather in the room to listen to the introduction. In the introduction, we would explain what the Culper Spy Ring is as well as who the spies were: Benjamin Tallmadge (who was in charge of the espionage ring), Robert Townsend, Abraham Woodhull, Caleb Brewster, Austin Roe, and Anna Smith Strong. During this introduction, a brief explanation of what the campers would expect from the program is given. We have three stations to divide the campers into to participate in writing messages using invisible ink, creating clues to guess which Culper Spy they portray called Who Am I?, and solving codes. Each station has an opportunity to create their own presentations to share with the rest of the participating campers to see what they learned and discovered at the end of the program. The campers picked the names of stations out of a basket to help move the process along.

 
In the Invisible Ink station, campers would first practice writing with quill pens and lemon juice. While their first sample dried, campers would make predictions of whether milk, baking soda and water mixture, or lemon juice would work better for use as invisible ink. After making their predictions, the campers wrote messages using each method. As those messages dried, since I was in charge of this station, I would discuss invisible ink or sympathetic stain with the campers and demonstrate how pH pens worked on revealing messages. The campers then prepared poster boards for their presentations, and used an iron to reveal their hidden messages. Each camper had varying results since some found that baking soda worked better while others found lemon juice worked better. What each camper agreed was the heat worked better to reveal the hidden messages than the pH pens for the majority of the invisible ink methods.

 
In the Who Am I? station, the leader would explain why the Three Village Historical Society wanted a permanent display to be made so campers can contribute to the exhibit. The campers can choose from six characters who were involved in the Culper Spy Ring, pick and try on costumes, and pick related props for their characters. Once they picked their characters, they have an opportunity to practice out their clues and act as their characters.

 
In the Coding station, the leader would explain what coding is to the campers and then show a poster of a primary source document, Tallmadge’s Code. The campers received a copy of one of the original letters written by Abraham Woodhull and a dictionary code of Tallmadge’s Code to decode letter. Also, the leader would show campers other samples of types of codes and the campers would choose one to decode. Then the campers chose a code to write their own message with to have other campers attempt to decode.
We used the past couple of days earlier in the week to prepare for the program. The Director of Education and myself went in to the Three Village Historical Society to set up the costumes and props, the invisible ink section, and the coding sections. Then we left the rest of the preparation for the morning of the program.

 
On the day of the program, we tested our flexibility skills when we executed and implemented the program. As the campers came in, the campers were older than we initially believed they would be so we made last minute adjustments to each of the stations, and we added a trip to the nearby cemetery at the Presbyterian Church so the campers could visit Abraham Woodhull’s grave. Overall, the campers as well as the counselors seemed to enjoy the visit, and we had a blast working with the group. The Education Committee will meet again to compare notes and see what we can do to develop the summer program further as we look to the future.

 
Have you planned a summer program in the past? What were your experiences like?
Resources:
Summertime: Keeping Audiences Coming to Museums: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-9v
Three Village Historical Society: http://www.threevillagehistoricalsociety.org/

3 thoughts on “Planning a Summer Program: My Experience Creating a Summer Camp Program”

  1. What a wonderful idea! Surely the paryicipants were thrilled. How much of an age difference was there and why do you think this was the case. Will you state age range in future efforts or go with the flow? Fantastic energy and idea. Great article! Thank you.

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    1. When we were planning the program, both parties agreed to have campers in the fourth grade level and up. We thought we may get fourth grade level campers but since we only knew how many campers were supposed to come we didn’t expect all of them were going to be middle school levels. It was good that our program could easily be adjusted to also appeal to middle school students. Also, this is why we did a test run so we can see what works and what we need to adjust. The committee is still deciding on what we are going to do moving forward.

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