Teena Stout says there’s one question parents always ask when they arrive at the Jellystone Park in Lincoln:
“What am I going to do with my 14-year-old who will not disconnect from the Internet?”
Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts, of course, are nationally known for having a wide assortment of family friendly activities. But Stout, manager of the Lincoln, Delaware campground , is taking a new approach to prying children away from the Internet.
She recently hired two specialists in childhood education to develop new strategies to engage tweens and teens in activities that encourage them to step out of their comfort zones and participate in a variety of outdoor activities that stimulate their minds as much as their bodies.
The specialists include Jessica Lehr, who recently graduated from the University of Delaware in Newark with a Bachelor of Science in elementary education; and Marcy McKee, a student from Methodist University in North Carolina, who is assisting Jessica in developing new approaches to Jellystone Park’s activity programs.
The activities start on Friday nights, usually with “Hey Rides,” which are designed to break the ice between many of the children who are spending the weekend at the park.
Saturday’s activities often include a variety of relay races and timed scavenger hunts that require the kids to take pictures of various items with their cellphones.
“When we did this over Memorial Day weekend, we thought it would take an hour for the kids to complete the scavenger hunt with their cellphones, but with Jessica’s help, the kids formed teams and we had winners in half an hour,” Stout said.
The park has also developed building block games in which children of different ages are paired up to build igloos and other structures using oversize, styrofoam building blocks. It’s a way to engage older children in teaching younger children how to work cooperatively with others to complete a task.
Stout said these activities break down barriers and help create bonds of friendship that temporarily enable the kids to replace their focus on “being cool” with a focus on simply having fun and participating in park activities, many of which encourage physical activity.
“We want kids to learn how to have fun exercising in fresh air,” Stout said.
Jellystone Park activities also include bicycle parades and themed weekends in which kids and their parents dress up in clothing or costumes that reflect the weekend’s theme. This summer’s themes include a Mardi Gras weekend June 22nd to 24th; a Family Olympics weekend July 13th to 15th, complete with bronze, silver and gold medals for the winning athletes; a Christmas in July weekend July 27th to 29th and a chocolate lovers weekend Aug. 3rd to 5th.
“We get them to do things they would never do at home, and they have fun,” Stout said, adding that when children form friendships in organized activities they are more likely to have more fun when they see the same kids swimming in the swimming pool or going down the waterslides or simply bicycling around the campground.
Jellystone Park also takes pride in establishing a safe and secure environment for families.
“Everything we do is focused on establishing this family community,” Stout said, adding that children are often seen playing basketball until 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. before quiet hours are enforced.
The park also has weekend dances and Karaoke competitions. “We know we’ve done well when we see children with tears in their eyes when they leave.”
It’s good for two reasons. For starters, Stout knows they had a good time. It also means they will likely come back!