Playing around: Communities keep kids busy with educational, active schedules

Posted: Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Children race through the Kenai Recreation Center gym, tossing foam balls back and forth, sliding to their knees when struck and cheering one another on with gleeful laughter and echoing shouts.

"Somebody get Justin," shout the college-age supervisors monitoring -- and playing in -- the game.

Justin Herrmann, sweating in his jeans and white U.S. flag T-shirt, tears up the gym, speeding from one end of the gym to the other, catching the foam balls that come his way and striking others with the balls to "get them out."

The game is "Ruler of the World," a dodgeball-meets-freeze-tag sort of game with complex rules and a muscle-challenging aerobic workout.

"I love playing 'Ruler of the World,'" Justin smiles, taking a brief break. He also enjoys playing hockey and taking field trips with the summer recreation program.

The Kenai Parks and Recreation summer day camp offers two sessions for children each day. Kids ages 5 to 8 play gym games, create arts and crafts and share snacks in the morning sessions, while those ages 9 to 13 come in the afternoon.

The activities are chaperoned by college students home for the summer.

"We have gym time, usually playing games they suggest," said rec leader Tamanika Haynes. "And we try to do really unique arts and crafts, stuff they haven't done before, stuff they can take home and keep."

The kids also have occasional field trips, such as ventures to the bowling alley or area parks.

In Soldotna, children also spent Monday running, playing, creating and learning.

The Boys and Girls Club After the Bell summer clubhouse at Soldotna Elementary School offers education and recreation all in one.

From learning to speak Russian to miniature golfing to gardening, the After the Bell program gives children a sea of choices to sail through the summer.

"I like when we do arts and crafts, or when we play outside and stuff," said 10-year-old Jasmine Woodland.

Eddie Darian and Jeff Pindras, both 11, said they most enjoy swimming at the Skyview pool on Fridays.

"I also like the Russian," Jeff added. "I already knew some, but I figured I might as well get some more information."

But the best part, the three said, is choosing what to do each day.

The day camp is built on mini-courses. Each week, the staff offers new activity groups, and children sign up for the ones that interest them. Morning classes tend toward education, including topics such as reading, sign language and foreign languages. In the afternoon, classes are more activity-oriented, including team sports, gardening and other hands-on activities.

Giving the children the power of choice is the key, said director Tammy Hanley.

"They may not being doing their most favorite thing, but because they had a choice, they're happy," she said.

"It's pretty cool," said Jeff. "It's fun to choose something and if you don't like the first thing, you can try another."

The After the Bell summer clubhouse runs all day through the summer. About 130 kids are registered for the program and show up on a casual basis. The staff is prepared for about 100 a day, though they usually see fewer.

The Kenai summer recreation program serves fewer children and has seen a drop in registration this summer due to fees. The program was free in the past, but now costs $120 for one child, and another $100 for each additional child in a family. Registration for the program is open throughout the summer.

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