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Ben’s Lighthouse Offers First Isle Of Skoo Summer Camp



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“Wave hello, on the Isle of Skoo; wave hello, there’s so much to do,” sings Francine Wheeler, Ben’s Lighthouse Creative Director/Administrative Director, on the welcome track for “The Isle of Skoo” program.

The upbeat energy of the “Hello Song” joyously bounced throughout the room at Christ The King Lutheran Church, while Ms Wheeler waved kindly to the children and teens waving back to her during the Isle of Skoo summer camp, on Wednesday, July 17.

Ben’s Lighthouse originally launched its Isle Of Skoo program last year with six-week sessions at the C.H. Booth Library. Its namesake puppet was inspired by Ms Wheeler’s nickname of “Skoo” for her son, Ben Wheeler, for whom Ben’s Lighthouse was created in honor of after his passing at Sandy Hook Elementary School on 12/14.

The program was designed to give children ages 5 and 6 an interactive outlet to learn to express their emotions through music, puppetry, and art. It also includes a mentor and mentee component, where each child is paired up with a high school aged buddy to build social/emotional connections.

For the first time, Ben’s Lighthouse created an expanded version of The Isle Of Skoo in the form of a free week-long summer camp that ran for three hours daily from July 15 to 19.

New Opportunities

Just like the “Hello Song” says, “there’s so much to do” on the imaginary Isle of Skoo.

While the inception of the Isle of Skoo program focused on packing a story, craft, and movement game into a one-hour class, its summer camp version allowed for more opportunities for its puppet characters to explore the day’s themes in new ways.

On Wednesday, the group of 16 children and their 16 mentors met with the puppet Ralphy the Rough Wave, facilitated by Ms Wheeler, to learn about why he was feeling so angry.

Through a variety of activities, including decorating rain sticks, the children learned about calmness and the benefits of taking time to listen and breathe.

Later in the day, the campers met with the puppet Sasha the Seahorse to hear about how being a perfectionist and not wanting to make a mistake causes her to feel upset with herself when she does not act perfectly. Since Sasha’s character enjoys cooking, the children participated in her favorite activity by making sunbutter truffles with Pam Buchler.

Throughout the week, other local guests visited the Isle of Skoo to help the children develop new skills that correlated with the day’s theme.

When learning about coping with anxiety and sadness, Joy Hoffman led a yoga class to show the benefits of meditating and moving your body; and when learning about shyness, artist Paula Brinkman had the children decorate self-portraits to understand the importance of feeling comfortable expressing themselves.

At The Isle of Skoo summer camp, the campers also were assisted by three middle school aged Junior Mentors, Mentor Advisor Barret DeYoung, Ben’s Lighthouse Administrative Assistant Shannon D’Amico, and camp facilitators Twyla Hafermann and Elaine Lundquist.

Ms Wheeler credited each person as being an important piece of the puzzle in making the camp happen, and she has especially treasured getting to watch the bonds form between the children and their mentors.

“What I’ve been enjoying most are the relationships that I’ve seen between our big kids and our littles and how they are all working together,” Ms Wheeler said.

Seeing that connection happen before her eyes has made what she once dreamed of become a reality.

Puppet Power

“Ralphy! Ralphy!” came the excited calls of Ms Wheeler’s son, Matthew, as he scurried over to the Ralphy the Rough Wave puppet, still in the hands of his mother as she sat talking with The Newtown Bee on July 17.

Without missing a beat, Ms Wheeler brought the puppet to attention to listen to what Matthew was eager to tell him.

“See this blue, this is a little bit of you,” Matthew said while pointing to the coloring he chose to decorate his rain stick with in Wednesday’s class.

“You like me?” Ralphy asked Matthew.

“Yeah!” Matthew cheered with enthusiasm and a small bounce in his step.

Matthew gave the puppet a quick kiss and, having come up with an idea on the spot, said, “Ralphy, since you don’t have a hand, we can just shake like this” and shook the tail end of Ralphy’s foam body.

The interaction took no more than a few seconds, but throughout the camp, there were countless moments like it.

The puppet characters in the Isle of Skoo were not only teaching lessons about emotions, but they were also facilitating opportunities for the children to be comfortable engaging in conversation.

The children even worked on making their very own puppet during camp, so they would be able to bring that magic home with them.

They practiced different sketches with their puppets and got to debut their new characters at the Isle of Skoo Extravaganza Puppet Show that took place on the last day of camp for their families to enjoy.

“Kids really start to express themselves when they are somebody else and have a puppet in their hands,” Ms Wheeler said.

The Isle Of Skoo program will return this fall and in the spring of 2020. Sign-up will become available through the Ben’s Lighthouse website.

For additional information about the Isle of Skoo, visit benslighthouse.org or e-mail Ben’s Lighthouse Admin Assistant Shannon D’Amico at sdamico@benslighthouse.org.

At Ben’s Lighthouse Isle of Skoo summer camp, on July 17, Francine Wheeler sits with the puppet Ralphy the Rough Wave as mentors, their child mentees, and Skoo the puppet look on. — Bee Photos, Silber
Isle of Skoo summer camp mentors and their mentees shined flashlights to symbolize being beacons of light while the song “Stand Tall, Shine Bright” played on July 17. Pictured center is Francine Wheeler, who led the activity.
Jacob Christos concentrates putting decorations on a rain stick while his mentor, Ainsley McLeod, helps him during the Isle of Skoo summer camp.
Skoo, the main puppet and lighthouse keeper in the Isle of Skoo program, had the campers’ artwork displayed on his puppet theater. “We decorated the set with our feelings on paper,” Ms Wheeler explained.
Teirnan Donaghue twirls multi-colored ribbons in the air to create his own waves after meeting the puppet Ralphy the Rough Wave.
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