Thursday, July 29, 1999

Visit to Dawn Farm helps special needs campers learn

Visit to Dawn Farm helps special needs campers learn
The Ann Arbor News
By Pamela Appea

As Nondi Lampkin, 4, snapped broccoli heads from Dawn Farm’s garden and placed them in her yellow bucket, she said she planned to cooker her small harvest later on that afternoon—adding some supermarket-bought melted cheese.

Lampkin was one of more than 20 children from Ann Arbor’s Early Learning Center summer camp program who visited Dawn Farm Wednesday.

The 4 ½ week camp works with children ages 3-5 who have special learning needs, grouping them together with other preschool children, so that all children can learn and have fun. One of the camp’s most popular field trips is to the Ypsilanti-area farm, where children pet farm animals, leaf-paint, go on hayrides, and garden for half the day.

Ann Telfer is one of the organizer’s of the integrated summer camp—which is in its third year. Telfer, the parent of a 6-year-old autistic child, David, said she felt there was a need for a local camp that took an integrated learning approach.

“This entire project points to the positive influence of the 1997 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and its voice in requiring schools and communities at large to include and accommodate children with differing abilities in all aspects of life,” she said.

Telfer said the Dawn Farm trip is particularly successful for autistic children, who enjoy the direct contact with animals—since some have difficulty playing with other children or talking with adults.

Camps coordinators work on strengthening children’s verbal skill and play ability. The camp also gives non-special needs children the opportunity to learn about others who are different.

“I think it’s remarkable that we are now working in integrated classrooms,” said Linda Johnson, a special education teacher with the Ann Arbor Pre-School and Family Center.

Telfer said that the idea for the camp was realized with the support of Johnson, a 30-year teaching veteran and Carol Fast, an Ann Arbor-area speech pathologist. They and other parents worked with the Early Learning Center, which is a private school, and Ann Arbor Public School administrators to start the summer camp.

Jim Reitz, an Ann Arbor parent, said he was pleased with the camp. He went along with the group for the Dawn Farm field trip.

“My son (Duncan), 4) really likes animals. There’s nothing like a farm for these kids,” he said.

Telfer said it’s important to provide autistic children the opportunity to talk with other children during the preschool years. In her opinion, though, the camp benefits all the enrolled children.

Telfer’s son David, said he enjoyed feeding the goats and the llamas at the farm. “I feel proud the goat ate the leaves,” he said after thanking the animal.

Sam Colvin St. Cyr, 5, didn’t have much time to talk about his favorite farm activity. He said, “I have to feed my hungry goat,” he said, not breaking his stride.

The children also looked at llamas and the farm’s three pigs, and they petted baby turkeys and baby rabbits.

Dawn Farm which operates as a residential drug rehabilitation center, recruited resident volunteers to participate in the children’s farm experience, said Alayne Speltz, operations manager.

“I think it’s fantastic. They put a lot of smiles on our faces,” said Roxanne Denike, a Dawn Farm resident from the Whitmore Lake area.

The trip to Dawn Farm was partially subsidized by the Ann Arbor Branch of the Women’s National Farm and Garden Association, in addition to parent’s camp enrollment fees.

Originally Published July 29, 1999.