A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Science – and worms – take center stage
at summer camp for young ESL students

Each child examined a handful of soil and noted why the streaks of iron are red (it’s because of rust, as when a bicycle is left out in the rain). (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)

Each child at Lansdowne Elementary’s ESL camp examined a handful of soil and noted why the streaks of iron are red (it’s because of rust, as when a bicycle is left out in the rain). (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)


 

By Tammy L. Lane
Special to KyForward
 

When English is a child’s second language, an enriching summer experience can make a huge difference in their level of understanding and self-confidence when he or she is back in school in August. That was the hope at Lansdowne Elementary’s four-week ESL camp, where science took center stage.
 

Children in grades K-5 at the Lexington school – many of them refugees – focused on the interaction of people, plants and animals during the weekday morning camp. Teachers incorporated the science learning with reading and math lessons by having the kids draw and diagram an earthworm’s body parts, for instance, or summarize the day’s hands-on activities.
 

“We encourage the verbal and written language because they learn from each other. They’re interacting culturally as well,” said staffer Betty Simson, who noted the campers included mostly Hispanic, African and Nepali children.
 

Leaders also introduced the youngest campers to the school building and some basic rules such as waiting their turn to speak and lining up for snacks. “They really pick up a lot,” Simson added.
 

Playing musical instruments to indicate their active growing time, the children portrayed milkweed, black-eyed Susans, blazing star and other plants - standing tall in spring and curling up for winter. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)

Playing musical instruments to indicate their active growing time, the children portrayed milkweed, black-eyed Susans, blazing star and other plants – standing tall in spring and curling up for winter. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)

The guest speakers one Wednesday were environmental educator Blair Hecker from Bluegrass Greensource and Jeff Gosser with the Environmental Management branch of Kentucky’s Department for Public Health. With campers gathered outside near the playground, Hecker walked them through the seasonal life cycle of their school’s rain garden. Playing cymbals, tambourines and drums to indicate their active growing time, the children portrayed milkweed, black-eyed Susans, blazing star and other plants – standing tall in spring and then curling up for winter. They also leaned back on the grassy hill and wiggled their feet to represent the flowers’ vibrant roots.
 

“Throughout the year, the rain garden is still alive whether we see it or not,” Hecker explained.
 

Meanwhile, Gosser talked with the second group about the importance of soil, which absorbs rainwater, filters out pollutants and provides support and sustenance for plants, among other functions. “The soil gives us food, so we need to protect it and take care of it,” he reminded the youngsters. Gosser also augured handfuls of soil for each child to examine, noting for example why the streaks of iron are red (it’s because of rust, as when a bicycle is left out in the rain).
 

Earlier in the week, the campers compared sand, silt and clay, and saw how water percolates through each type of soil. They also had a close encounter with red wiggler worms. “It gave them a real-world example of what’s going on,” Hecker said. “Some of the worms we looked at you could actually see inside their bodies and how the soil was being processed. For them, that’s a really fun activity – holding worms in their hands, looking with magnifying glasses, touching worm poop. When they get back into class, they’ll remember.”
 

ESL teacher Karen Botts found the summer camp offered a prime opportunity to expand vocabularies with these interactive lessons. If a child didn’t know the English word “worm,” for instance, how could he grasp the science of decomposition?
 

“I see it as planting seeds,” Botts said. “They’re learning vocabulary that will give them a foundation. When they get back to the classroom, it won’t be a totally new, foreign topic for them.”
 

Tammy L. Lane is a media and communications specialist with the Fayette County Public Schools.

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