Eighth-grader Kellar Edwards is in that in-between phase of being too old for summer day camp but still in need of some supervision — and he's definitely interested in fun.
To keep him physically fit and his brain sharp, his mom, Dee Fretwell of Ashland, enrolled him in a weeklong Ashland Family YMCA program that trains teens to be camp counselors to younger kids.
Academic experts warn that children of all ages can experience "summer slide," a dip in academic skills during the months away from the classroom.
Experts recommend children:
Join a library summer reading program
Explore parks and nature preserves
Visit museums and cultural centers
Practice simple math skills while baking or shopping
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According to Gary Huggins of the Maryland-based National Summer Learning Association, 100 years of research shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of June.
Summer school and other activities can prevent learning loss while also helping kids get a jumpstart on fall coursework and build leadership skills, self-esteem and motivation. Without too much complaint, they also stay active.
Last week, Kellar and a dozen seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders participated in the Ashland YMCA's Counselors in Training program.
Over five sessions, instructor Kylie Carrington, 23, taught them that they can make money babysitting or they can volunteer for youth programs if they know how to keep little kids safe and happy.
Trainees Kleyda Dhenin, 13, and Bryce Rollins, 14, who both will be at Ashland High School in the fall, and Spencer Whyte, 14, who will attend Phoenix High, are taking the class because they want to volunteer at the YMCA.
They are applying to be camp counselors at the YMCA's Outback Adventure, a weeklong camp held in late July at the Greensprings Box R Ranch. Here, third- through eighth-graders sleep outdoors in a teepee village and take zip-line and barrel rides during the day.
It sounds like a great time, but their ever-smiling instructor explained that there are rules to being an organized, effective, effusive camp leader.
Carrington told the teens that they have to be firmly in charge but also be patient. "Not all the kids will be happy at all times," she said, adding that it's the leader's job to get everyone to participate, even when some of the little ones don't want to.
Mostly, the junior counselors have to be able to launch an activity that will keep active minds interested for a half hour or maybe just a 10-minute transition game before a break.
Even though these teens have played a lot of games throughout their lives, they were surprised when Carrington showed them a shoebox-size container with cards detailing hundreds of games — from atom ball to horseshoes — and activities, such as a water-balloon toss and juggling.
Over the week, the teenagers spent time with the preschool campers showing them how to make butter, weave and plant seeds.
Then they dressed up like superheroes to "defend value colors" green, yellow, red and blue to kids in kindergarten through third grade.
Afterward, they said that the younger children were easily distracted and they asked a lot of questions, but overall, they were entertaining.
Sam Dean, 13, said his mom encouraged him to take the training and he's surprised he's enjoying it.
"The kids are full of energy but they don't get on my nerves because they do whatever I say," said the 5-foot-11-inch Ashland Middle School eighth-grader. "Enlightening them makes them happy."
On Thursday, AMS seventh-grader Elijah Smith was trying to explain the game Quiet Ball to Carrington and the counselors in training, but they kept interrupting him and asking him questions like a bunch of 5-year-olds.
But that was just fine with Elijah, 12, who wanted to practice with his peers before he was put in charge of a scrambling pack of preschoolers.
When Elijah instructed the group to sit "crisscross applesauce," Carrington pretended not to understand. He then showed her how to sit on the floor with legs crossed.
He described the goal of the game — to catch and throw the ball without it dropping to the floor. He then took a squishy ball from a netted bag and handed it to Kellar to get the game started.
"Why can't I talk?" asked Kellar, 13, who will be enrolled at St. Mary's School in Medford in the fall.
"Because it's called Quiet Ball," Elijah reminded him, and Kellar nodded.
"Good answer," said Carrington, who earned a master's degree in exercise science and sports psychology from the California University of Pennsylvania.
Later, when the instructions seemed complicated, Carrington asked Elijah to keep them shorter, simpler.
"And make it seem fun," she said, "like, say, 'If you get out, hey, you can chase the ball!'"
Kellar said he originally consented to the class because he can earn $10 an hour minding his sisters, who are 3 and 8, if he demonstrates to his mom that he will keep them active, such as taking them to the park. If he just watches TV with them, he gets paid zero.
His mother sees it a different way. She said the training program is an opportunity for him to take a leadership role and to learn another lesson.
"It's a framework to understanding that being engaged is so much more rewarding than doing nothing," she said.
Tia Wilhelm, 13, who will return to AMS, said she would like to earn babysitting money, and her prospects are better now that she has had this training.
Keira Fite, 13, who is at AMS, already watches a 17-month-old, and she said she feels more confident since she has learned first-aid techniques.
Tayva Di Paoli, 12, will be going to Willow Wind Learning Center this fall, transferring from Talent Elementary Outdoor Discovery Program. She's met two Ashland friends in the camp and said that teaching helps her feel as if she's a "part of the world."
Besides, if she were home, she'd probably be working in her mom's garden, riding her bike to see her friends, reading a book or "just being bored."
Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or email@example.com.