Program Profile: Students Explore the Great Outdoors and Hands-On Learning at Camp Ponkapoag

Pulling students from the urban environment of Boston, YMCA Camp Ponkapoag acquaints rising fourth and fifth graders with the great outdoors while helping them develop skills that they can apply both in school and in life. By combining quality academics with outdoor exploration, the Summer Learning Project partner provides students with an impressive array of opportunities to learn, grow, and have fun.

“Our plans/goals for the summer are for students to demonstrate a deeper understanding and proficiency with the curriculum (water or simple machines), be able to apply their learning through meaningful tasks, think critically, and communicate clearly in a variety of media,” Ashley Cobb, Site Director at YMCA Camp Ponkapoag, said.

Students begin each day with breakfast and a series of lively activities that set the mood for the day and wake up students’ brains, including an opening circle where everyone sings the camp song, “We Will Rock,” a riddle of the day, “jammin minute,” and daily announcements. Youth then disperse into groups to learn ELA, where they study simple machines and water, interrupted only by a team building activity in the middle of the lesson. The group then reconvenes for a community lunch, followed by swimming lessons, math, enrichment, and closing circle, where students receive a snack and staff distribute camper of the day certificates.

Thus far, students have enjoyed and benefitted from the opportunities provided to them at YMCA Camp Ponkapoag. According to Cobb, they’ve made impressive progress in academics, creating “amazing” diagrams and charts of simple machines and how they work as well as anchor charts for the math concepts they’ve learned each week. Cobb attributes this great work to the efforts of the camp’s Boston Public Schools teachers.

“Our teachers have been taking learning to a new level as they are using our outdoor atmosphere and summer time fun games to make learning fun,” Cobb said. “Multiplication war and around the world with fractions are two of the campers’ favorites.”

Enrichment activities are wide-reaching, taking advantage of the nature around them and providing something for all students to appreciate. Through these hands-on activities, students learn important social-emotional skills, like teamwork and problem solving, while having a great time with their peers and staff.

“On a daily basis you can catch our students participating in our ropes course, STEM project based activity of creating their own shelter, swimming, archery, hiking, art and crafts, or IPLAY,” Cobb said. “But one thing they absolutely adore is the gaga pit; campers and staff alike are all excited to participate in a game of gaga ball.”

All summer, youth work toward a presentation to families and friends in the form of a public service announcement to showcase what they’ve learned about water and simple machines. Throughout the academic lessons and enrichment activities, YMCA Camp Ponkapoag works to provide students with the tools they need to be successful in the fall.

“YMCA Camp Ponkapoag allows campers to experience an outdoor journey that they typically don’t get to experience in the city,” Cobb said. “It gives them a safe comfortable place to be themselves and learn more about themselves. Through our academics, campers feel more confident in their work and are more prepared for the upcoming school year.”