by Ashley Bouwense
Unique, individualized and enjoyable, the Kids Helping Kids program at the Morris Plains Community Center promises a summer of fun and growth for children during the month of July.
The four-week program offers six classes: The Magic of Reading; Math Madness; The Lego Club; Messy, Fun Experiments; Recess Fun and Games; and Let’s Get Messy! Each class is taught by a teacher from the Morris Plains school district. Class sizes are small and manageable to ensure every child gets the attention he or she deserves.
The most unique aspect about the program is that—as its title reads—kids help kids. One adult teacher leads and oversees the activities, while one mentor is paired with one child throughout the four weeks; there are 20 trained mentors who are volunteering this summer. Volunteers range from grades four to 12, and are meant to be a “big buddy” to their partner. A child can choose to not work with a mentor if he or she chooses.
Volunteers underwent more than an hour of training in March, where they learned how to provide individualized instruction to unique learners, like those who are shy or have learning disabilities. Former volunteers also spoke about their experiences with the program.
The peer mentoring proved very successful throughout the nine years the program has run, as children are more prone to engage and learn when they work with someone in their age group.
Kids Helping Kids is a program original to Morris Plains.
“Kids Helping Kids offers a different opportunity for children who don’t fit in to large groups,” Early Childhood Special Education Teacher and program coordinator Ann Bono said. “The one-to-one ‘big buddy’ system is something that other summer programs don’t have, and the small group sizes offer a place for children who are shy to have fun!”
Every class has a specific maximum registration, but no class is larger than 15 students. The smaller sizes make for a low-key environment so children do not feel overwhelmed.
Two popular classes are “The Magic of Reading” and “Math Madness.”
“The Magic of Reading” is always the most enrolled. MP Borough School teacher Amy VanBuskirk teaches this eight-session course, which meets 12:30 p.m. to 1:15 p.m., Tues. and Thurs., through July 28. The class is open to children in kindergarten through fourth grade, and the fee is $100.
In the first session, the VanBuskirk will assess the participants to gauge the student’s reading level. Then, the child is assigned to a mentor to whom they will read level-appropriate books. An older mentor, usually in high school, volunteers in this class. The reading time counts for summer reading requirements. Although this program is offered in the summer, it does not solely run during July; it is a year-round program.
“Math Madness” is another fan-favorite. Students in grades one to four will “stay fresh with their math skills while playing a variety of games,” the program flyer reads. Grades one and two will focus on addition and subtraction while grades three and four will work on multiplication and division, all while participating with their mentors. Activities like board games, card games and bouncing balls teach kids that math can be fun.
The class is four sessions and costs $40; it met Tues., July 5 to 26 from 1:30 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. VanBuskirk also teaches this course.
Both mentors and students benefit from Kids Helping Kids. The “big buddy” environment promotes a positive setting where children can be themselves and learn as they are inclined to learn, while volunteers learn practical leadership skills while they mentor their “buddy.”
To register for Kids Helping Kids and to learn more about the program, visit www.morrisplainsboro.org or call 973-538-3544.