Science Day

Maddison Koch, 5, takes part in a science lesson during Summer Learning Day at Constitution Park.

CUMBERLAND — Maddison Koch may not remember she learned about polymers this summer but she’ll probably never forget that cornstarch and water turns to “goo” and makes her laugh when she plays with it.

And when you put the goo that she describes as being like Silly Putty© in a plastic bag, it stays that way for quite some time.

The science lesson was one of many new activities 125 children participating in the Cumberland Parks and Recreation Department’s summer day camp program experienced for the first time thanks to a $1,500 grant from Johns Hopkins University.

The children, ages 5 to 12, along with their families, camp counselors and volunteers, celebrated with a Summer Learning Day open house picnic last week.

“Each year we try to add things, but we’ve never done anything of this nature,” Diane Johnson, the parks and recreation department’s director, said.

Day camp, held yearly at Constitution Park, involves swimming, lunch, lessons and games, but the grant allowed the group to participate in interactive programs. Children were able to choose two activities that included Cooking at Camp, Dance Dance, Mad Science, Nature Hunt, Life Saving and Sensational Scrapbooking.

Jessica Mellon, counselor and administrative assistant, coordinated the activities and co-wrote the grant with Johnson.

Taking part in such activities helps the children learn and understand more, she said. The knowledge they gather, she added, often continues through life. It’s also better to have a hands-on experience and it gave the children an opportunity to explore different interests and possible talents.

“If you do it, you learn it a lot better,” Mellon said. “Not all of us are good writers or artists, but all of us are good at something. We tried to make it as interactive as possible and fun. We wanted them to take home that learning is fun.”

Other than the goo, or oobleck based on Dr. Seuss’ “Bartholomew and the Oobleck,” children made things from slime and sidewalk chalk to tie-dyed socks and muffins.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Koch’s mom, Angela, said. “She comes home excited every day. ... It’s a great experience for her to come and interact with other kids before school starts.”

Maddison, 5, will be a kindergartner this year at West Side.

Kathryn Ekstrom also had kind words for the camp she’s watched over the years from her nieces, who are now in their 30s, to her grandchildren.

“It’s a wonderful program,” she said.

Ekstrom’s grandson, Noah Evans, 8, a student at John Humbird, is quite the chef already. Besides field trips, swimming and games, the cooking segment was his favorite part of day camp. What he learned, he said, is “you can make a lot of muffins with only a little box of mix.”

Evans’ sister, Isabella Redriver-Storm, 14, and a former day camper, also was impressed.

“We didn’t have all this,” she said. “I like science, but at school, we don’t always get to do the fun stuff.”

Johnson said she looks forward to doing such activities for years to come even without grant funding. The activities, she said, can be incorporated into the camp’s regular programming.

Maria Smith can be reached at

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