University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Extraordinary Happenings: Summer Camp 2010

September 10, 2010

As most of us who work in the museum field, and for non-profits in general, I wear many hats.  This summer, I was one part Educator, two parts Juggler, and three parts Child Herder.  It’s all in a day’s work as Assistant Summer Camp Director.  And I love every minute of it.

This summer marked the 15th year of the Museum’s Anthropologists in the Making summer camp.  I know I’m biased when I say it’s Philadelphia’s best summer day camp program, but there’s solid evidence to support the fact that Anthropologists in the Making is Philadelphia’s most out-of-the-ordinary summer camp.  Below is the evidence, a week-by-week recap of Summer Camp 2010, noting some the camp’s most extraordinary happenings:

1)       Pirates at Play
During Week 1, campers learned all about the Spice Route as they “Sailed the High Seas.”  The week involved grinding spices, winding through a pirate-themed obstacle course (complete with toy pistol firings and Cracken dodging), and singing “Tiny Bubbles.”  We were particularly impressed by one eight year old who could distinguish cloves from cumin, and even knew what saffron was!

2)      The Epic of Gilgamesh
What do you get when you have kids dressed up like Santa Claus, girly divas, a couple of warriors, and even a Bull of Heaven?  Why, you have the Epic of Gilgamesh, of course!  What made “Mesopotamian Mysteries” week so wonderful was our Friday get-together – it was educational and entertaining.  Before the Epic, kids acted as zone docents to interpret subjects like Mesopotamian geography, Lady Pu-abi’s tomb, and cuneiform.

3)      Lady Liberty and Uncle Sam jam to “Born in the USA”
Ok, so it wasn’t Ringling Brothers, but we sure did have fun dressing up, decorating “floats,” and marching around Stoner Courtyard for a parade.  After the parade, campers and counselors created a dance celebrating their parade float theme.  During “It’s a Celebration” week, campers also learned to samba, painted koi kites, and decorated the Group Dining Room with Tibetan Prayer flags.  On each of their prayer flags, campers wrote wishes ranging from “I wish for more Pokemon cards” to “I wish there was no cancer.”

4)      The “Loy Krathong Song” Sing-Along
Sure, digging up Ban Chiang remains like clay rollers, bangle bracelets and skulls and other bone casts was cool, but my highlight for Week 4 “In the Field” was teaching the kids about Loy Krathong Day.  I even led a “Loy Krathong Song” sing-along, complete with hand and body movements.  I don’t think the teens within the group were too impressed.

5)      The Young and the Restless:  Ancient Egypt Style
Wow, we were really “campy” this week!  The kids learned about Penn’s Egyptologists past and present before dramatizing stories about King Tut.  Sands of Our Time started with King Tut’s father’s love affair and then moved onto King Tut’s childhood years and untimely death.  The soap opera continued with the discovery of Tut’s tomb by Howard Carter and the tensions between Carter and Penn Egyptologist Clarence Fisher.  The play concluded with Fisher’s love triangle between his wife and Fisher’s mistress – the land of Egypt.  Our soap opera was complete with a campy announcer (me), organ sound bytes (dun-dun-dah!), and commercial breaks.

6)      The Greek Underworld Reenactment or Halloween in July
I think this week was the most out-of-the-ordinary in camp history! Of course, what other camp in Philadelphia has a theme entitled, “Bring Out Your Dead?”  On that week’s Friday, camper parents (and curious staff) ventured into the Greek Underworld.  Visitors started their journey by receiving passports mapping the Greek Underworld and roles to play.  They were then ushered in by Charon on a boat (the cardboard Death Express) to Cerberus.  After solving Cerberus’s riddle, they presented their role cards to three judges who decided where they would live for eternity.  During their journey, visitors met wondering souls, war heroes, and the damned, as well as Hades and Persephone.

7)      Pre-teen Rave Set to “Tubular Bells”
During “It’s Written in the Sky” week, campers learned the difficulties of making sun dials and other celestial navigation tools.  They created their own constellations and its origin myth, explored celestial monuments, and learned about the Mayan calendar.  The week concluded with a planetarium show, which opened with kids dancing to “Tubular Bells” with glow sticks and glow-in-the-dark stars.

8)      Divination Stations
During “Signs and Superstitions” week, campers experimented with fortune telling techniques.  The Group Dining Room was set up with various divination stations, which included palm reading, pebble reading, pendulum reading, bibliomancy, and more.  One camper asked the same question at each station, “Will my mom let me play video games tonight?”  At each station, he received a resounding “no” from his fortune teller.  However, he seemed very happy to learn my interpretation of his rune reading.  After asking, “What will I have for dinner tonight?” he pulled the following runes:  Raidho (meaning “chariot”), Isa (meaning “ice”), and Manaz (meaning “man.”)  I told him, “Your mom is going to drive you to a man who will serve you ice cream tonight!”  The next day, I asked the boy if he had ice cream last night.  And yes, his mom had taken him out for ice cream.

As you can see, it was an action-packed, fun-filled summer!  Stay tuned – I will follow-up this post with some pictures of Summer Camp 2010.

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