Calvin James, 6, and Cai Moses, 6, share a book together on Tuesday afternoon while at the Oak Hill Children’s Center Summer Program in Pownal.
Calvin James, 6, and Cai Moses, 6, share a book together on Tuesday afternoon while at the Oak Hill Children’s Center Summer Program in Pownal. (Holly Pelczynski/Bennington Banner/photos.benningtonbanner.com )

POWNAL -- The Oak Hill Children's Center of Pownal's new and improved summer program for elementary school-aged children wrapped up this week, after giving the children a chance to create and maintain their own space all summer long.

The Oak Hill Children's Center opened in 1972, and has been providing day-care services for infants through pre-kindergarten and after-school and summer programs for elementary-aged students ever since. It moved to its current location, adjacent to Pownal Elementary School, in 2003. However, according to executive director Cinda Morse, "This summer, we really wanted to do something significantly different."

The instructors and 15-or-so first through sixth graders who signed up for the program cleared brush from a space behind the center's fenced off play area and erected a gigantic tent. "They're responsible for the space," explained Morse. In that space, apart from the younger children, the older children were able to create, read, play, explore, and learn, without needing to worry about disturbing the others' nap time.

On Tuesday, the students used solar ovens made from pizza boxes, tinfoil, saran wrap, black construction paper, and rolled up newspapers to cook English muffin pizzas, and in the afternoon, after quiet time, in which they spent an hour reading, being read to, or performing other low-energy activities, the children pulled out homemade guitars and drums and played music along with instructor and former Mount Anthony Union student David Hojnowski.


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On Wednesday, barring rain, the plan was for the kids to spend time hiking on the nature trail behind Pownal Elementary School. Instructor Sharron Kaiser said that the group had only been chased inside twice this summer, by thunder and lightning.

The students are outside from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day, said Kaiser, after which point they go inside for a little bit before their parents come to pick them up. Every morning this summer, the group has sat and been read a chapter of E.B. White's "Stuart Little." Kaiser, Hojnowski, and Tiffany Elliot make sure to incorporate many different activities into every day, including creative, physical, and mental exercises and games. Most of the time, said Elliot, the instructors will choose the theme of the period (for example, a quiet period or a fitness period) and let the children choose the specific activity. However, during the quiet period, each child must read (the books are provided by Kaiser and the center) or be read to for at least 15 minutes. While many seemed to have too much energy for this to become a reality, the three instructors gave the children personal attention to make sure that each was doing their reading.

During the school year, Oak Hill continues its programs for pre-kindergarteners, and offers a before- and after-school program for Pownal Elementary students.

Kaiser said most of the students in the summer program have participated in the programs during the school year. "I used to work in the infant room," she said, "and I had some of these kids as infants. It's nice to see what they've become."

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB