“Look! He has ears like me!”
That’s what three-year-old Thomas Patterson excitedly tells his parents when he sees other children with hearing aids or cochlear implants. When he attends Camp TALK, CHoR’s week-long summer camp for children receiving audiology services, Thomas is surrounded by kids “like him.” This year, he was one of 32 children who participated in this unique program designed just for them.
Planning with a purpose
“TALK stands for Talking and Listening Kids. The idea behind the camp is to help children who are deaf learn to listen and develop age-appropriate verbal communication,” says Alison King, CHoR auditory therapist and camp organizer. “We focus on building auditory development, social skills and verbal communication through a cooperative learning environment. Each class integrates literature, shared storybook reading, art, music and cooking into the plans, encouraging the kids to talk and interact. ”
This year marked the fourth annual Camp TALK, which has grown from 10 campers the first year to more than three times that many, plus a waiting list. Campers range in age from 2 ½ to 13 years old. Rie Janek’s daughter, Jorga, has attended every year.
“Jorga was five when she first attended camp. By the end of that first week she was speaking in seven and eight word sentences, something she’d never done before,” says Janek. “She was immersed in a language-based program with trained professionals who knew just what the kids needed.”
Four years later, Jorga is so excited to get to camp she practically pushes her mom out the door in the morning.
Themes packed with fun
Activities vary based on the theme, which is different each year. This year’s western theme included square dancing, a petting zoo, panning for gold and a general store where campers turned in their gold for treasures to take home. Both Jorga and Thomas loved the special arts and crafts as well.
“The leaders plan all kinds of educational activities. The kids think they’re having fun – and they are – but they’re also being exposed to the types of vocabulary and language they need to develop,” says Shannon Patterson, Thomas’s mother. “The curriculum is amazing. It’s both instructional and therapeutic.”
For Mom and Dad, too
The camp isn’t just for children. Parent education sessions run simultaneously, with a variety of speakers. This year’s presenters included a surgeon and host of other professionals, along with a teenager who offered a personal perspective of what it’s like navigating school, friends, sports and other aspects of growing up with a hearing impairment.
“As a mom, it’s given me an opportunity to meet other parents. It’s nice to be around them, compare notes, share knowledge and learn new information,” adds Ms. Janek, whose younger child went to the camp’s sibling room so Mom could focus on the parent sessions. “It’s hard to see your child standing on the sidelines. That’s not what happens here. The kids are not forced, but they’re motivated to play and interact with each other. Parents are encouraged too. We’re not alone here.”
Until next year!
The camp is a team effort made possible through grant funding from the MCV Hospitals Auxiliary. In addition to the CHoR audiology team members who plan and oversee the activities, more than 30 volunteers help to ensure that the week is both fun and educational for everyone involved. This year’s program may have just wrapped up, but we’re already planning and looking forward to Camp TALK 2018: Space Camp!
“These are regular kids, just kids who want the chance to have a fun summer camp experience with their peers.”
-Shannon Patterson, mom to Thomas, 3