Missions to Ghana.com site

 

Jason and Tabitha Wheeler live in northern Virginia and attend Christ Church, Anglican. Jason volunteered in Ghana with Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope in 2012.

Day two

2012 Bruce digging, Jason helping and Ronny adjusting the pole

From Jason:

This is my second Reading Camp in Ghana through Ghanaian Mothers Hope.  When the first trip came to an end, I promised the children “I will be back again soon”.  Well, it took me seven years to keep that promise, but I am so thrilled to be back.   As one of my fellow missioners says, “you will never get the red Ghanaian dirt off your shoes” (in other words, you will always have a piece of it in your heart and a desire to return).

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Jason and Tabitha on the Canopy Walk

This second time around is even more special for me since I’m sharing the experience with my oldest daughter, Tabitha.  She has been longing to participate in these Reading Camps since she was 10-years old, and now Tabitha will be starting her senior year of high school this fall and there was no stopping her from coming.  Tabitha has a big heart for little children and a real gift for teaching, and would like to pursue early childhood education as a career.  What a wonderful opportunity to enrich herself as well as the children of Ghana.  I have no doubt she will learn just as much from them in the process.
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We just completed day 3 of reading camp in Boate, a small farming village approximately 2 hours north of the capital city of Accra.  I am leading the level 1 class along with one of our teen missioners, Carys.  We also have 3 Ghanaian teachers in the classroom who are assisting but also learning about the way grade school children are taught in the U.S.

20190805_095633My level 1 class is for the 2nd graders (who range in ages from about 8 to 14) who are struggling the most with their reading.  On day 1, most knew the alphabet, some knew the sounds of the letters, but few could actually read any words. But where these children lack in their current reading abilities they make up for with their desire, dedication, effort, respect, and eagerness to learn.  These children come from homes with dirt floors, thatched roofs, no electricity, and no running water.  They also have no books to call their own, yet they know that books can open up a door to the bigger world beyond their village.  But the key to unlocking that door is through the ability to read.

IMG_6057I’m very encouraged by the progress so far.  After just three short days of teaching through books, poems, songs and art, we are already seeing improvement in their abilities.  To see their eyes go big and a smile from ear-to-ear as they suddenly realize “Hey! I just read something in this book!” is enough to melt anyone’s heart.  The experience for all of us is beyond magical, it is providential!

From Tabitha:

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I has officially been three days of reading camp, and I am so proud of my class. They went from too nervous to speak to so excited they didn’t want to stay in their seats. They are no longer afraid to laugh or giggle when something is funny. I make sure to always have a smile on my face, that way, if a child looks at me while I’m observing their work, they’ll see a happy face.

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The thing I am most surprised about is their level of confidence. They’ll gladly pop out of their seats to do dance motions with us, where as on the first day, no one would move or even make a sound. Many students still struggle with understanding and remembering the sounds of the letters

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Leading a class can be a bit nerve-wracking, but it makes it easy to see how incredibly far they’ve come in just three short days. I know I won’t be able to hold back the tears when day five comes to a close.

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Day Two by Zach Neumann

A small, dark blue school bus makes its way down a dirt road through the African bush. On either side, the passing scenery is of towering palm trees bending under the weight of coconuts and the dense, green foliage of cocoa trees with their pods hanging from the trunk like fat, green missiles.

P1440732As we ‘round the bend in the road, a small cluster of huts emerges with a group of children waiting with anticipation. When they see the bus bounce into view, they begin to shout and jump with joy. It is time to be picked up for reading camp.

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As I stepped off the bus to open the door for the children, Adjoa, in her purple dress, grabs my hand, smiles and says, “Good morning, Uncle Zach”. As the bus makes its rounds, we stop at four or five other places to collect some of the children who live too far from the school to walk. We laugh and smile as the bus bounces along the road. The children giggle at the goofy, big white guy whose head looks like a boggle head. The sound of children giggling with delight is one of the purest, most uplifting sounds in the world.

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Reading camp. 55 children from this village gather this week for special attention. All of the primary school students have been invited. The US team has brought books, songs, smiles, and hugs. Many of the children struggle to read. During the reading assessment where we determined which class the students should be in, I met several who told me their age of 12 years and that they are in class three, the equivalent of third grade. These are our children. These are the ones who come each day, seeking to read, knowing that without the ability to read, their future is limited, or worse, non-existent. What a burden for such young hearts and minds to bear. In just two days, some of the children have shown improvement. Some, who could not identify letters yesterday, know the whole alphabet today. What will they be able to do tomorrow? Some, who could not read the words, “A happy smile”, can now show their joyous smiles as the read and understand words on a page. What will they be able to read tomorrow? A sign? A job application? A doctor’s directions? A president’s speech?

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Dear readers, pause for a moment and think exactly how much you read every single day. Road signs. Computer screens. Billboards. Directions. Recipes. What if you could not read? How would your life be plunged into darkness? How would you function? Imagine that despite your efforts, you can only pick out a few letters. Now what? Where is your future? That is what we come to Ghana to do. We strive to empower both the Ghanaian teachers and students so that they may have a hope for a future. All students have dreams but not all students have access to those dreams. Day two of reading camp has helped our dear children in Boate take another step towards their dreams. What promises and dreams will day three hold?

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Merle is a retired engineer and former Peace Corps volunteer. Merle has been a long time supporter of Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope. He brought his granddaughter, Carys Cox with him.

From Merle:

Monday, August 5, 2019. Botheau, Ghana.  This is the first day that we have actually worked in the village of Boate at the Reading Camp.

20190805_081147There were many children already in the school compound when we arrived early to organize the materials in the classrooms to do the day’s work.  They all seemed very excited to see us and know that the day ahead would bring new chances to learn and to meet old friends and make new ones.  We are all ready and anxious to help in giving these children a chance to learn to read better, knowing that this can and will help in the future to improve their situations.

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I worked in the Art class room with Bruce Neumann and the Ghanaian teachers to present a visual representation of “How the Leopard Got Its Spots”.  This comprised of having the children come to the front of the room to dip their fingers in black paint and putting their fingerprints on the image of a leopard that Bruce had drawn and cutout for the class.  Some of the classes had not had time to read the story in their class before this, so Bruce summarized to book for them. The children also did “Friendship Bracelets” and played with spiral graphs to make geometric line designs on papers.

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Seeing the children in this village and realizing that there is actually something that we are doing to help them gives a new perspective on the ability to participate in a program like this.  Sometimes the view of all the need in the world for improvement and the feeling of frustration that there is not more that can be done for more people can lead to paralyzing inaction or indifference.  When you actually see what can be done even in a small village with what seems to be a small number of children, it can be a catalyst to realize that we each can only take responsibility as God gives us the ability.  We can change the world one child at a time, knowing that we have done what we can at that particular point in time, and that God will use it to His purposes and in His timing for His good purposes.  We can show the love of Christ to these children even in this way.

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Merle in front center with Carys behind him

From Carys:

Today was my first day at Reading Camp, Boate Village. In the morning while some children were being assessed, the other children played with a large frisbee we brought, while running over loose gravel and large stones. The kids were so excited to be at Reading Camp that many of them waited for two hours in the courtyard before we even came to the school.

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I am very impressed with the dedication of the Boate Teachers. Last week they traveled for three hours all the way to Akramaman to attend the Teacher Training and Reading Camp instructions.

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It is a wonderful thing to see them show up during summer break to help the children in their village and further enhance their skills as teachers.

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Seeing the children’s eagerness to learn is wonderful, however, I am sad knowing there are so resources available to them. They are all so sweet and shy, yet eager to try something new.

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I loved getting to know so many children today and I can’t wait to find out more about their personalities as the week goes on.

This year we are so fortunate to have three parent/grandparent – child pairs traveling with us. Ben Spiker, a long standing board member, brought his son Aiden with him. Aiden has grown up with Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope.

From Ben:

On Saturday, the team had the opportunity to travel a few hours from Accra to Kakum National Park in Cape Coast. It was our chance to visit an African Rainforest.

20190803_104848Though in all honesty, I slept through most of the three-hour travel to the park due to jet lag, the variety of sights, sounds, and smells along the way will stay with me for some time. Wither it was the goats and children playing alongside of the road, or the incongruent dilapidated shanty-like villages with massive, state of the art soccer stadiums, I am constantly struck by the brimming opportunity and work ethic of the Ghanaian people.

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Kakum National Park boasts a wonderful canopy walk that allows visitor to tour the rainforest canopy at a height of nearly 130 feet.

It includes seven rope bridges spanning 1,080 feet. There was a one-mile trek up a hill before entering the canopy walk. Nine team members climbed with me.

IMG_6404We had fun taking photos of one another as we trekked from tree to tree. This allowed us all of feel like part of the rainforest usually only experienced by the birds and monkeys. What a wonderful day.

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Ben and Aiden Spiker

From Aiden:

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We went to the Elmina Castle in the Cape Coast Area. It was a big white fort which looks a bit like a castle originally built by the Portuguese in 1405. It was used to house slaves before shipping them to the Americas. The Dutch won it from the Portuguese and then it was later occupied by the British. Ghana won its independence from Britain in 1957.

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We learned a lot about the mistreatment of slaves. They were tortured, sexually abused, and treated worse than animals. The soldiers would put hundreds of slaves in a small cell with no bathroom and little food for more than three months. Two out of every three slaves died in the cells. They were not buried but decomposed right there in the room. There is over three feet of human remains in the cells.

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Learning about all of these things makes me feel different in many ways. It makes me feel sad for all who suffered, but it also makes me feel mad that any human could do this to another human. I am glad to have learned all of this.

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Debi asked me to give some impressions of the team’s first day going to the Reading Camp Training.

 

On the road to Akramaman last Thursday, we had to eat our breakfast in the bus byfbc386d4-c1a1-4fb1-9eae-a9dea80bc4a4 by peeling eggs or making peanut butter sandwiches. One experienced volunteer would remind us to take our malaria drugs. All of this while watching ladies along the road in their colorful dresses carrying variety products on their heads and cute babies on their backs.

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The roads are bumpy, red clay. Goats and chickens run across the road but finally, we made it.

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Teachers from three different villages are waiting to expand their knowledge about building understanding relationship with their students. They are taught the importance of building and establishing love for books and reading.

All of them dress nicely moving quietly to the very small seats at the children’s desk, ready to listen to training presented by Debi and Becky.

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I took my place in the back –camera ready. The information delivered by Debi and Becky, and the teacher’s interactions and feedback were so interesting that I totally plunked myself down in to the training.

The teachers were asked to write two symbols of your life. I had my camera ready to video tape the answers. Suddenly I thought, let me think about my symbols as well.

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My first symbol is a tree. It represents life- like a tree we all have roots  encored in different places, countries, continents… we all grew up in different culture, building characters, and like a tree no person is never same and always changing.

And there is a symbol of “Heart” representing love connecting all of us in this very moment.

Martina Kinslow lives in Bradenton, Florida. She and Debi know one another through the Community Foundation. Martina hope to start nonprofit work in Uganda.

CAN TURN OUT AWESOME!!!!

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Tuesday morning nine GMH volunteers arrived in Ghana. Becki and Bruce Neumann and Zach and Janet Neumann have been wonderful dedicated volunteers who have traveled here many time. They were joined with Jason Wheeler and his daughter Tabitha, Merele Holsinger and his granddaughter Carys, and Martina Kinslow.  By the time you read this blog, two more volunteers, Ben Spiker and his son, Aiden, will have arrived. So now the fun really begins. The plan: only five of us would be in Ghana this year but now we are tweleve. AWESOME!

IMG_6299As with all our of mission trip programs, plans are made a year in advance. Our plan for this year was to host three simultaneous Reading Camps in three different villages; Akramaman, Twerebo, and Boate. Each camp would host 50 children entering class 2 and include 10 Ghanaian teachers. Akramaman and Twerebo would be mentored by Kate Okine, a Ghanaian teacher. Kate has been helping with our camps for seven years and is quite capable of visiting both camps and making sure the leadership is doing their job. The volunteer team would work in the Eastern Region to help mentor the teachers at Boate. The best laid plans. . .

What we didn’t plan was that Kate would be expecting a new addition to her family this summer. She delivered by cesarean section on July 10th and has a beautiful baby boy. She cannot help with Reading Camp but Anastasia, a former Ghanaian volunteer, will be able to join us in Kate’s stead. AWESOME!

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Our plans: Host a two day, dynamic teacher workshop for 30 teachers before the Reading Camps. We did not plan for road work to detour us causing day one of the work shop to be delayed an hour. What we did not plan was to detour right past the brand new high school, the first to ever be built in this area.

When people ask or question the impact of what we do in Ghana, I want them to look at this photo. In 2007 GMH funded a preschool. Then in 2010 GMH funded  a primary school. The third and fourth are a new four story high school built by the government because families are moving to this area for the quality of education in the local schools. The reading camps we have run and the teacher training we have done have had a ripple effect in an area where very few students made it to high school. Until now.

The power of education is priceless. These students now have access to opportunity and a chance for a future.    AWESOME!

 

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The plan was a two day teacher training course. Day one would deal with teaching techniques in general with day two focusing on the mechanics behind our reading camp curriculum. What we did not plan for was the Municipal Education Department deciding to host a new curriculum workshop during our reading camp. This would effect one camp. We also did not plan on the Municipal Education Department to create new rules for working with NGO. One school was told they could not attend the training or host the Reading Camp.

The teachers and the Head Master came to the training anyway. We began these training sessions six years ago. Usually the teachers are very quiet and less engaged. These two days have been filled to the brim with excitement, animation, TOO much talking, and some great ideas.  In other words, these two days turned our AWESOME!

 

 

Me and You

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Last week I had the pleasure of doing a book and cultural exchange with the second grade of Alta Vista Elementary School. After reading “The Ghanaian Goldilocks” and “Clifford at the Circus,” I had the pleasure of introducing Ghanaian culture to each class. I was not prepared for so many questions but the children were truly excited to know about children who live in other parts of the world. Each child wrote a letter inside the “Clifford at the Circus” book to a new friend in Ghana. I took all of the Clifford books with me that week as I cross the ocean to Ghana.

As I read each letter, tear began to fall. The beautiful fully accepting innocence of children should be a lesson to each of us. The drawings in the letter above is a great example. Me and you are all alike with are just clothed with different skin.

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In Ghana through the years, I have run into a problem with the lack of books that children can enjoy and learn that reading can be fun. Our summer reading program gives every child five books to read for fun. This cultural book exchange gave the Alta Vista children in Sarasota a chance to learn about St. Paul’s school in Ghana and the Ghana children a chance to learn about an interesting fact about Sarasota. We are a circus town.

The Ghana children also were presented with a cultural program about America. Then they began to write their response letters to the children in Sarasota.

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Many of children wrote how happy they were to have a new friend. 

Today marked a new high for children in both classes as we held a video chat between the schools. For a small village in the bush of Ghana, this was a major event. Today is a school holiday and yet every child, an at least 50 other children arrived two hours before the video chat. It is 89 degrees in the shade here. There is no air conditioning and no fans to move the air in the rooms. 

Challenges abounded. We needed a projector and someone borrowed one from their work, but when we got to the school, today is lights off. They have rolling blackouts in Ghana. With no power and just a 13″ screen it looked pretty bleak. Another friend, Seth Owsu, sent two of his IT workers to help. They had a tiny battery operated projector. We had no screen. After taping 4 pieces of paper to the blackboard and borrowing sheets to cover the windows we could barely see the image but we were set.

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The day open with. . . . . 

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Both schools wearing red noses to prove we are so much alike. The Ghana children were treated to a clown performance thank to Sarasota Arts Conservatory.

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And Sarasota children were treated to drumming and dancing. The link to the drumming is at the end.

After the excitement of the clowns and drumming, each school had students asks questions of the other school. What food do you eat for lunch? How many are in your family? Does you family own a car? There were 20 questions posed and many high 5’s when the children on both sides found their answers were the same.

All of this happened because of Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope Donors, The Patterson Foundation, The Sarasota Community Foundation, Dr. Barbara Shirley and the staff of Alta Vista Elementary, and the Ghana Education System at St. Paul’s Anglican Basic School, Akramaman.

 

 

Drumming

 

 

 

 

Boy is it hot in Ghana

I am sitting here in my room in Ghana with no electricity, sweltering.  Thankfully my trusty Mac Book Air has a long battery life. My WiFi unit has a full change, and I can finally share with you why I would travel to Ghana in March, the hottest time of the year.

The Ghanaian Goldilocks

This book, “The Ghanaian Goldilocks,” has been sitting on my shelf for five years waiting to be used. Thanks to those of you who donated to the Giving Campaign last May, Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope is able to share this book with 70 second graders at Alta Vista Elementary along with a pretend journey to Ghana to experience the beautiful culture. 

The children loved learning about foods, school, stools, kente and so much more. Each student wrote a letter to a new friend in Ghana inside of a book with a little Sarasota culture, “Clifford at the circus.”  Many thanks to Jody and Burns Waters for donating the Clifford books. Sarasota has been a circus training ground for a long time. 

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So now I am in Ghana getting ready to visit the second grade at St. Paul’s, Akramaman. They will have a chance to travel on a pretend journey to Sarasota and the circus. They in turn will write back to their new friend and the whole program will be topped with a Skype chat between the two schools on Thursday. There is a rumor that a few clowns may stop by to join the group in Sarasota and entertain the group in Ghana. 

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Books are here, snacks have been purchased. Please, God, deal with the technical issues and thank you for Seth Owsu who is helping us.

Stay tuned.

Debi

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Last summer I received a Facebook message from a friend from my days at Epiphany Episcopal Church in Timonium, Maryland. Susie Necker and I had been former choir members and our children had grown up together in Springdale. Now she lives in South Carolina and I’m in Florida.

Our daughters reconnected us on Facebook and Susie was curious about my work in Ghana after seeing photos. We agreed to talk when I returned.

Susie run the group you see in the photo above. This group was formed to begin sewing reusable sanitary pads for teens and women in Africa who do not have the money to purchase sanitary pads. Girls will skip school during that time of the month.

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This project fascinated me. I am all about giving girls what they need to go to school. She told me they also make pillowcase dresses and boys shorts. Well now I was really interested. I agreed to come meet with the ladies in February.

What a energetic group of ladies and some men who together once a month to create items for use in Africa. Many sew at home during the month. They have a regular assembly line going.

When I arrived everyone was busy. Ten or twelve sewing machines are going at the same time. Material, notions, sewing machines, have all been donated to the group. The storage area of materials was like a small garage.

I left with 152 pillowcase dresses,

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140 pair of boys shorts,

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and over 800 sanitary pads packaged in beautiful bags with a sewing kit, wash cloth, panties, and a zip lock bag. Some of the panties were a little large and the women really laughed. Three different villages have benefitted from these donations. Ladies, I am so grateful for you.

There are other sewers to thank as well. The Redeemer Quilters of Southern Maryland have made several hundred blankets for us as well. Dedicated women, coming together to help those in need by using their talents.

The photo below is of one family who has 11 children including four sets of twins. They were given blankets for the children.

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As my time this year in Ghana comes to a close, I thank everyone who has helped Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope make a difference one village at a time. Your kindness will  empower the future leaders of Africa.

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While the rest of the team left last Sunday, I stayed an extra week to work at theReading Camp in Akramaman . It was quite a difference from teaching in Boate.  At the latter school, children had never before experienced Reading Camp.  At first, they were very shy and quiet.  It took nearly the full week for their enthusiasm to show.  I had wished for another week with them.

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On the other hand, Reading Camp finished its ninth year in Akramaman this summer.  The children entered my class with all the enthusiasm that took nearly a week to develop at Boate.

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Debi had known a number of children since they were infants.  Kate Annim, a Ghanaian teacher, acted as head mistress, very confident and capable in her duties.  I grew to like her very much.  She is also from Accra and took the tro-tro and then a taxi, a two hour ride each way every day.

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The curriculum was the same as that we used last week.  My class had the highest-level readers.  One of the highlights of my week was discovering that some of my flightier students could actually read quite well.  Focus is a learning skill that we try to develop.  One moment I will give my “look and listen” signal (Da dada Da Da-Da Da to the tune of Shave and a Haircut) and get the children’s’ attention, and as soon as I start giving direction, the attention is gone!  I have learned that a rousing game of Simon Says works wonders to release energy and restore focus.

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Another of my weekly highlights was witnessing the development of critical thinking skills.  Two of the books we read (children received all five of their books to keep and take home) had comprehension puzzles at the end of the story that involved sequencing, true and false, what’s wrong with this picture, etc.  After working the first puzzle, the children tried to do the next in the same way.  With a little coaxing, they began to rethink as needed.  By the end of the week of the week we did not need to refer at all to the story pages.

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Of course, we had our games as well.  It was when playing Around the World with our vocabulary words that I discovered that one little girl was much quicker than I imagined.  I also taught the class Red Rover, Red Rover which they loved so much that I believe they could do nothing but play that game all day.

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In the camp closing, each child received a GMH t-shirt and a bag filled with books, their exercise books and coloring and writing utensils.  In addition each boy was given a new pair of shorts and each girl a sun dress, all made with loving hands by the ladies of the Ladies Freedom Project, Columbia, South Carolina.

 

It was with great pleasure that as I said goodbye to each of my children I said, “I’ll see you next year!”

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