By Collette Caprara

FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Spring is in the air, and if you live in earshot of a school, you can tell the excitement of a break week is escalating. So next week, numerous community organizations and associations are offering spring break camps to ensure that children's weeklong vacations are fun-filled and well-spent.

An art camp for children in grades 3-12 will be offered at Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont, and will focus on two major artistic endeavors.

In the camp's first project, under the tutelage of local artist and Belmont docent M.J. Bradley, participants will use paints and collages to create their unique "take" on a painting by Melchers' colleague George Hitchcock.

The second project is a first-ever for Belmont's children activities: the creation of a giant co-op mural, based on Melchers' painting "The Race, County Fair." Each child will have a chance to pose by the creation for a photo that they can take home.

"Kids need something to do during spring break--and for those who don't go on vacation, the art camp is a nice alternative," said education coordinator Michelle Crow-Dolby.

"The camp provides children with training that helps them to observe life, and art, and nature," said Bradley.

Preceding the camp, on Monday, two classes will be offered for different age groups: a preschool sculpture class, which will introduce children to ways they can make creations from foam and from clay; and a creative collage class for youths in grades two through eight.

There are other options for families at Belmont, as well. On Sunday, April 11, Belmont will welcome the community to its daylong, admission-free spring open house, with ongoing tours of the home and garden.

The tours will include accounts of the annual Easter parties that Melchers' wife, Corinne, hosted for local children.

One item of local interest will be her invitation list, which includes the names of two little boys: Josiah and Charles Rowe, who would grow up to one day serve as co-publishers of The Free Lance-Star.

FUN AT THE YMCA

The local branches of the YMCA will also be hosting Spring Break Camps for children, dubbed Camp Bonkers. With an eye to the needs of working parents, these weeklong camps, for children from kindergarten through middle school, begin as early as 6 a.m., and host activities through 6:30 p.m.

Participants can come later and leave earlier if they choose.

Activities include arts and crafts, simple cooking, science, character development and fitness activities.

"The kids are continuously moving," said youth director Karla Peot. "And they get to meet kids that they don't go to school with."

Activities at the King George branch in past years have included creating drip paintings and picture frames, cooking waffles and sandwich wraps, and playing kickball, flag football, volleyball and relay races--as well as an opportunity to swim every day.

"It's a fun experience and a safe place for kids to come and play when they're out of school," said youth director Keri Raich.

STAFFORD SPRING

The Stafford County Parks and Recreation Department will also be hosting its spring break camp, now in its eighth year, from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

In addition to playing group games and board games and creating crafts, participants will take field trips to a different local nature site each day.

"The children can't wait to see what we'll be doing each day," said senior recreation manager Sheila Newton. "Parents tell us, 'My child fell asleep in the car, so I know he's having fun.'"

Collette Caprara is a local artist and freelance writer.

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