Summer Programs Expand for Military Children
By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 26, 2010 From camps to golf clinics to acclaimed museums, military children have an abundance of free summer programs to choose from this year, a Defense Department official said.
The activities not only offer a respite from day-to-day routines, but also foster camaraderie among children dealing with similar military challenges, said Barbara Thompson, director of the Pentagon’s office of family policy, children and youth.
“Peer to peer is wonderful way for children to learn how to deal and cope with separations and parents’ absence,” she said. “Each person copes differently, but my personal belief is that when you’re busy … it takes some of the burden off of your shoulders, takes away some of your anxiety and concern.”
Thompson suggested military families start by looking into the plethora of day and residential summer camps.
Operation Military Kids, for instance, will sponsor 250 summer camps across the nation for school-age military children, both active and reserve, through a partnership with the Army, the Defense and Agriculture departments and 4-H. The camps cover a wide range of interests, including robotics, technology, high adventure, animals, cooking, photography and art.
These camps can be particularly beneficial for Guard and Reserve children who may not have a community of support around them, Thompson said.
“It shows that they’re not alone, that there are other children facing the same worries and anxieties as they deal with the issues of the military lifestyle,” she said.
The Defense Department will deploy more than 100 of its child and youth behavioral specialists to 99 of these camps, Thompson noted. They’ll support the camp staff, she said, and also will conduct focus groups and other support activities for children.
The department will send hundreds of other child and youth specialists to Operation Purple Camps and to camps sponsored by the services, Thompson said.
In total, “we are going to be sending over 500 child and youth specialists across the world to take care of children in summer activities,” she said.
Operation Purple Camps, sponsored by the National Military Family Association, are designed to help military children ages 7 to 17 cope with the stress of having a parent deployed, Michelle Joyner, the association’s communications director, explained.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to bring kids together so they can learn some coping skills to get through difficult times,” she said. The children also are encouraged to form their own support networks, she added.
The association, through a grant from the Sierra Club Foundation, expects to send more than 9,500 children to camp this summer. Camps are located in 37 states and in two sites in Germany, Joyner said.
While camp registration has ended for this summer, registration still is open for Operation Purple Family Retreats, available to all members of a military family. The next retreat will be held July 4 at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. It includes a travel stipend to defray the cost, Joyner said. People can visit militaryfamily.org to sign up or to learn about the association’s other family programs.
Military children also can seek camp and other summer activity opportunities through their installation libraries and child and youth services programs, Thompson said. Additionally, each installation has a pool, and some have pool lifts for swimmers with special needs. The department also has been revamping some of its playgrounds with special-needs children in mind, she added.
Off installation, Thompson encouraged parents to explore cultural opportunities through the Blue Star Museums program. This initiative, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and Blue Star Families, offers servicemembers and up to five of their immediate family members free admission to participating museums from Memorial Day through Labor Day. More than 600 museums in 50 states and the District of Columbia have signed up so far.
“What a cultural opportunity,” Thompson said. “It’s just a wonderful way to spend summer days so it’s not all games and fun, but there’s some learning going on and cultural activities. We’re very excited about this initiative.”
For budding golfers, the First Tee Military Affiliate Program offers free golf instruction to children from Guard and Reserve families geographically separated from a military base, Thompson noted.
The instruction is available at First Tee’s 200 chapters located across the nation. School-age children at all skill levels, from beginner to advanced, are invited to hone their golf game with the help of trained coaches.
The program not only sharpens their skills on the green, but also equips children with life skills. Along with basic golf instruction, First Tee coaches teach children interpersonal communication, managing emotions, goal-setting and overcoming obstacles.
For parents looking to keep their kids’ learning skills honed throughout the summer, Thompson suggested they visit Tutor.com, a free, online tutoring service for servicemembers and their families. Children can access round-the-clock professional tutors who can assist with school work.
“When children are out of school we want their time to be fun, but productive as well,” she said.
Also aimed at education, the Department of Defense Education Activity will offer a four-week summer enrichment program that emphasizes math and language arts skills. This year, the program will be offered at 62 sites worldwide to about 10 percent of the activity’s students from kindergarten through 8th grade.
The activity also offers a summer online high school program for students who are at risk of not meeting graduation requirements. These students can enroll in coursework to replace a failing grade or to fulfill a course requirement.
"Our summer school program helps our students meet their educational requirements through a virtual program,” said Patricia Riley, chief of the activity’s Virtual School Program. “This is particularly helpful for our students overseas, since many [do] travel back to the U.S. to see family in the summer, which would be difficult if they were attending a traditional brick-and-mortar summer school."
From outdoor activities to educational opportunities, the department’s summer-time programs are just another way of taking care of military families, Thompson noted.
“Children also serve,” she said. “For them, it may be a little harder than [for] the adults in their life, because they can’t always figure out what’s going to happen next, especially depending on the age of the child. To have these opportunities for excitement and fun is just the best thing that we can do.”