Photo by Marcy Stamper The spirited members of the dance club loosened up and worked on their rhythm and dance steps at a rehearsal last month.

Photo by Marcy Stamper

The spirited members of the dance club loosened up and worked on their rhythm and dance steps at a rehearsal last month.

Cub Club offers range of activities for elementary school students

By Marcy Stamper

Almost 100 kids have learned to play chess, program robots, work with horses — or just work out the kinks by skiing or dancing — through expanded after-school activities this year.

The Methow Valley Elementary School’s Cub Club offerings have been broadened this year from activities like cooking, art projects and games that changed weekly to clubs with a more targeted focus on dance, robotics and instruction in art and design.

The new options clearly appealed to students and their parents, since 93 kids have participated in the clubs this year, compared to only 11 last year, according to Katharine Bill, the district’s early childhood education and childcare coordinator.

Photo by Marcy Stamper Sixth-grader Timothy Darwood “groomed” a simulated horsehair vest worn by horse club leader Annie Budiselich, program director at Methow Valley Riding Unlimited.

Photo by Marcy Stamper

Sixth-grader Timothy Darwood “groomed” a simulated horsehair vest worn by horse club leader Annie Budiselich, program director at Methow Valley Riding Unlimited.

Some after-school activities, like art, chess and robotics, run for almost the full school year, while others, including skiing and horse clubs, are seasonal. Spring will bring new outdoor activities like fly-fishing and a garden club, said Bill.

In addition to being fun, the clubs provide learning opportunities. Fourth-grader Kenny Hussey said this was the first time he’d been exposed him to robots. “The best thing about it was building and programming the robots,” he said. Hussey and a friend in the club recently put their robots to the test in a remote-controlled sumo-wrestling match.

The dance club, which wrapped up in February, attracted an energetic, multi-age group, said club leader and choreographer Missi Smith. “One girl said she likes to do something after school instead of sitting at home, and others said they just like to be active,” said Smith.

Students were stretching, bouncing and spinning on a recent afternoon as they practiced their line dances. The group learned about rhythm and basic dance steps and performed for their families during the last session, said Smith.

Smith learned dance as a child through an inclusive program based on the concept that every kid can dance, regardless of body type or athleticism, and wanted to provide the same opportunity for kids here. “I just fell in love — it was about enthusiasm for dance and the opportunity to learn about movement,” she said.

Parent input

To figure out what clubs would attract more kids, Bill surveyed all elementary school families in November. The survey found that most kids and parents wanted offerings where kids could be active and interact with other kids.

“Not looking for more academics, rather ‘fun’ and opportunity for more time with peers in our rural community,” said one survey respondent.

The social interaction is a key ingredient for many families. “My son loved the homework/reading option offered in previous years. Not that he enjoys homework, but he liked being there with friends, I suppose,” said another.

Several parents said they wanted their kids to have time outside in structured activities, but some urged the school to continue to provide tutoring and help with schoolwork. Others suggested rock climbing, journal writing, pottery, teambuilding activities or an LGTB club.

A planned skating club had to be dropped because of equipment problems at the ice rink, but the cross country ski club, taught by the Methow Valley Nordic Club, provided winter activities for 17 first and second graders.

Scheduling conflicts, costs and transportation needs proved to be the biggest obstacles to participation in previous years, according to the survey. The majority of respondents said they could pay from $1 to $10 per activity, but some said any fee would be a hardship. Others offered to contribute to a scholarship fund.

Some of the clubs offered this year are free, but others have supply or equipment-rental fees. Scholarships are available.

The clubs are designed to be enriching for kids, but they also help parents manage schedules and childcare. Comments on the survey included “Thank you, this program is very beneficial to working parents!”

Adding a late bus to take kids to Twisp and Winthrop three days a week helped increase participation, said Bill.

The biggest demand on the survey was for an art club, with 97 percent of respondents saying their child would be interested in art. Margaret Kingston has been leading an after-school art club for three years, but this year participation is full at 18 kids, she said. The free club is funded by Methow Arts and the school district.

Kingston said the art club is particularly popular this year because it was opened up to kids in kindergarten through second grade. It also was increased from just eight sessions to run from November through May.

Kingston teaches kids about lines, shapes, color and texture through drawing and painting, using pastels, watercolors and other mediums. In one recent project they drew people by assembling drawings of fruits and vegetables for their faces, said Kingston.

Robotics, taught by volunteer parent Miller Batson, was also so popular that there was a waiting list after participation reached 19 students, although that number has since dropped.

This spring, second-grade teacher Jonathan Stratman will lead a six-week fly-fishing club, with instruction in fly-tying and casting on land and a final session of fishing at Moccasin Lake, said Bill.

There will also be a garden club at the school’s Classroom in Bloom, where kids can work in the garden and learn about soil and plants. Bill is also setting up an outdoors club that will combine plant and animal identification with outdoor skills and short hikes.

“These clubs are a great opportunity for the community to connect with elementary school kids,” said Bill. She invited anyone with ideas or the interest in leading a new club to contact her at kbill@methow.org.