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How to set up your day camp

If you're on the volunteer team to plan a low-budget children's day camp or Vacation Bible School this summer, these tips are for you.

First, think in terms of the process over the product. Projects prepped ahead of time may be cute, but they do not draw in a child's imagination. Crafts prepared in steps by adults all look the same, and kids tend to dash through them and take little interest in them.

If teachers have asked the questions and have given the answers, every piece produced will look the same. Instead of set, identical crafts, kids get more out of open-ended experiences and don't necessarily need to take something home each day.

* Choose themes such as "beach day" that lend themselves to ideas that cost little money. For example, buckets of shells, sand and spray bottles full of colored water may not provide any take-home project but will happily occupy your campers.

* Don't turn to the same volunteers year after year for help. Bring in some new folks, and be sure to recruit set-up and clean-up crews. Make arrangements to care for young children during volunteer meeting times. Look at your work areas in terms of traffic flow. How much space does each child need to comfortably work on each project? Are you cramming too many children and too many projects into a morning?

* Look for ideas in catalogs, magazines and craft stores, then copy them and recycle typical around-the-house objects to make similar projects in the least expensive ways possible. Purchasing individual kits such as one necklace at a time is a waste for large groups and requires lots of opening of packets. Order in bulk, including buying beads, paint and glue.

* Adults get bored easily, but children thrive on getting to process what's new until they master it. Preschoolers love to pretend and need open-ended areas that can be forts, castles or buses. They also need to be able to move around, and alternate dancing with sitting and listening. Budget your time for this up-and-down pattern for a successful camp morning.

* Get older children involved in any preparation, and get their ideas. Many kids need community-service hours for their middle and high schools, and ideas for baby-sitting. The younger generation's way of looking at the world should be an inspiration. As they volunteer, they too need to learn to keep their hands off of the work of the younger children.

* Get in touch with merchants in your area for various sizes of boxes, bags, bubble wrap, reject keys from hardware stores and hats -- just about anything. Ask friends and relatives to comb their attics for buttons, lace, fabric and magazines, and save water bottles.

* Young children do not want or benefit from a batch of projects to race through. They want experiences and connections. They want to do and be without seemingly giant adult hands reaching over them. They don't want to wait in line for a grown-up to tell them what to do with a paintbrush and paint. They just want to go for it. Also, they need to be responsible for helping with cleanup.

> Parenting tip

Is it allergies or a cold? Symptoms lasting for more than three weeks that haven't worsened into a sinus infection or begun to subside are probably allergies, according to the Dr. Sears Family Newsletter, "Housecalls." Allergies can occur for a day or two at a time, or can hit for a week or more, then fade away, then return a week or two later. Colds linger and fade away over several days. But allergies can be full-blown one day, then go away the next. Some allergies will occur for a particular season, typically spring or fall.

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