Lynne Maloy said thereâ€™s one question parents always ask when they arrive at the Jellystone Park in Lincoln, Del.
“What am I going to do with my 14-year-old who will not disconnect from the Internet?”
Yogi Bearâ€™s Jellystone Parks, however, are known for having a wide assortment of family friendly activities. But Maloy 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, a University of Delaware graduate with a degree 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 programs.
The activities start on Friday nights, usually with â€œHey Rides,â€ which are designed to break the ice between many of the children who are spending the weekend at the park. Saturdayâ€™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.
â€œWhen 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 Jessicaâ€™s help, the kids formed teams and we had winners in half an hour,â€ Maloy 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. Itâ€™s a way to engage older children in teaching younger children how to work cooperatively with others to complete a task.
Maloy said these activities break down barriers and help create bonds of friendship that temporarily enable the kids to replace their focus on â€œbeing coolâ€ with a focus on simply having fun and participating in park activities, many of which encourage physical activity.
â€œWe want kids to learn how to have fun exercising in fresh air,â€ Maloy 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 weekendâ€™s theme. This summerâ€™s themes include a Mardi Gras weekend June 22-24; a Family Olympics weekend July 13-15, complete with bronze, silver and gold medals for the winning athletes; a Christmas in July weekend July 27-29; and a chocolate lovers weekend Aug. 3-5-.
â€œWe get them to do things they would never do at home, and they have fun,â€ Maloy 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. The park also has weekend dances and karaoke competitions.Â
â€œWe know weâ€™ve done well when we see children with tears in their eyes when they leave,” Maloy said.
That’s good for two reasons. For starters, Maloy knows they had a good time. It also means they will likely come back.