Science, Art, and Language at Al-Bustan

How the time flies! It seems like just yesterday that Al-Bustan summer camp opened for its 2012 session. Serving as camp manager for the first time, I was very pleased to see the excited faces of youngsters, learning and experiencing Arab language, culture, and so much more. At Al-Bustan, instruction in Arabic infuses every aspect of campers’ experience, offering a truly unique environment.

One memory that I am sure to hold onto was the Friday of the second week. Michele Gilbert, a science teacher we were lucky enough to have join us, was helping campers complete and post a large, vibrantly colorful mural. The mural formed a paper canvas that covered an entire classroom wall. It was emblazoned with children’s depictions of all different sizes sea creatures. A massive giant squid graced the top, a killer whale swam near the bottom, and nearly every space in between teemed with all forms of sea life. It was an impressive and fun combination of art and science, but there was another aspect of the project.

As the campers drew and colored, they also learned and practiced the names of their animals in Arabic. They labeled each animal in English and Arabic, practicing the names for each other. Ms. Gilbert encouraged them, as they begged for the chance to add another, favorite sea creature to their growing work of art. The piece grew and grew along, with campers’ knowledge of Arabic. Eventually, when every spare space on the paper had been filled, Ms. Gilbert enlisted the help of some campers to post the mural with pride on the wall of the science room. It is a tangible representation of Al-Bustan’s unique combination of Arabic instruction with all manner of other fun-filled activities and subjects.

Thanks to all the campers, families, and staff members that made Al-Bustan Camp 2012 such a success!


Reflections on Camp from an Arab Parent and Teacher

لا استطيع أن أوصف شعوري كأم أولا …سعيدة جداً بما أنجزه أولادي بهذة الفترة القصيرة و شعورهم بالسعادة و الفرح والبسمة التي ترسم على وجوههم  صباحا كل يوم لدرجة أجد صعوبة يومياً في نهاية الدوام للعودة للبيت. فهم يتمنىون لو يقضوا النهار بأكمله لما يلقون من جو عائليا و متعة و فرح للإضافة لسعادة لا توصف لقدرتهم على التحدث و الغناء باللغة العربية .

وحزينة من جهة اخرى لما بقي من أيام معدودة في المخيم الذي تعلم اولادي منه الكثير فلا حاجة  لأخذ أولادي الى الشرق الأوسط ليتعرفو على التقاليد العربية و البلاد العربية بعد الأن. أصبح أولادي الأن فخرون بلغتنا الأم و أصل أجدادهم و أهلهم . 

وثانيا كمعلمة ،سعيدة بمعرفتي بأشخاص و طلاب …أدهشوني بذكائهم و قدرتهم على تعلم لغة صعبة و مواهبهم التي توجت بأعمال عظيمة نالت إعجاب المدرسين و زادت الأولاد ثقة و طموح ، هكذا هي الايام السعيدة تمضي بسرعة ولكن تبقى ذكريات لا تنسى.
دانية بوادقجي


I can’t begin to describe my feelings… First, as a mother, I am very happy with all that my children have accomplished in this short period, and how much happiness, joy, and extra smiles I have seen on their faces every morning, so much that it’s difficult for me at the end of the day to take them home.  They want to spend the whole day at Al-Bustan Camp because of the familial environment and the joy that they experience.  I feel an incredible happiness at their ability to speak and sing in Arabic. 
I am sad on the other hand that there are only a few days left of Camp, a program where my kids have  learned so much, such that I don’t  feel a need to take them to the Middle East anymore to learn about the Arab world and culture.  My children have gained a pride in their mother language and the heritage of their grandparents and relatives. 

Additionally, as a teacher I am pleased to have met so many new people and students. They have amazed me with their intelligence and their ability to learn this hard language, as well as their talents in producing creative works that have gained the admiration of the teachers and increased my children’s self-confidence and ambition.  Thus, these happy days have quickly passed, and yet they will remain unforgettable memories.
Dania Bawadekji
Arabic language assistant teacher and mother of two campers ages 5 and 6 years

Arabic Alphabet Quilt Project in the Making

The traditional arts and crafts of Morocco represent myriad and diverse techniques. A group of campers have been incorporating some of these processes in a collaborative textile project, led by teaching artists Tremain Smith and Samantha Taifi. They used resist dyeing with henna inspired by Berber textiles to produce a contemporary visual celebration of Moroccan traditional arts, representing each letter of the Arabic alphabet.

The project began with resist wrapping and stitching yarn onto silk squares using beans and dental floss to produce various designs. The campers then dyed the squares in vats of different strengths of henna. They unwrapped their squares to reveal unique designs and patterns created as a result of the dyeing process. Next campers used basic felting and embroidery techniques to embellish their squares with a letter of the Arabic alphabet in wool and yarn. Now the campers are in the process of adhering all the squares together to create a complete Arabic alphabet in textile form. 

A Delicious Taste of Morocco at Al-Bustan Camp

On July 11, campers and staffers were delighted to receive a visit from the chefs of Argana Restaurant in Landsdowne. It was an excellent opportunity for campers to literally taste this year’s camp themes. The chefs from Argana came on the recommendation of our Arabic teacher, Brahim El Gabli. Brahim, a native Moroccan, declared Argana one of the few restaurants in the Philadelphia area where he could “really savor” the authentic cuisine of his home country.

On Wednesday, when campers packed into the drama room to see (and taste) examples of Moroccan cuisine. The day featured harira – a spiced soup made with tomatoes, chickpeas, and vermicelli – and what may be Morocco’s most famous dish: couscous – a fluffy dish made with semolina and steamed vegetables. The chefs brought in samples of ingredients they use to prepare the dishes and described the time-honored processes to produce such delicious dishes. Ingredients were introduced in Arabic and English, allowing staff and campers another opportunity to practice their language skills.

When the presentation was complete, the moment arrived that all the campers had been waiting for. The large pots emitting enticing aromas from the back of the room were brought to the front, and children and staff alike were invited to sample the harira and couscous. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive, as children not generally inclined to eating vegetables cleaned their bowls, asking for seconds and thirds. Our guests made sure no one went away hungry, and everyone enjoyed getting a taste of what Morocco and Argana Restaurant had to offer.

Day 2 / Week 1 Camp

Hello again Al-Bustan community!  Today was an exciting energy-filled day where every last camper was asking for more… at least in poetry!  I was already exhausted after the first day and wishing that I had the campers energy.  Luckily with the help of my amazing camp counselor, Reem, the groups and I pressed forward, collected our energy and put it into our varying poetry projects.

We opened up the classes with some zany writing and coloring that got the campers engaged in the project they began working on today.  For groups A & B, we had them create their own poetry journal in which they decorated with both a free art exercise and with a replicated drawing of the object they brought with them to share.  These objects will come to represent the things we carry with us and the campers, through the use of drawing, interviewing, letter writing, and of course poetry, will begin to see their object a bit differently than they did at the start of camp.

We began to ask ourselves the questions of what is similar to our object, what does it mean to us, what does it mean to describe something without revealing too much, and what is ironic about the object or even what our assumptions are.

This is one of the many great things about poetry, it extends beyond the walls of words and formulaic ideas.  We can make poetry through the use of varying art forms as a way to both understand other mediums better as well as to make our own poetry more meaningful and honest.

With Group C, we practiced a made-up form of poetry called Illot Mollot in which we participated in a free-write exercise and every minute or so, students shouted out a random word that we had to work into our work in progress piece.  The purpose of this exercise is to get students to first, get out of their own way and next to be ready for anything that happens.  A wise person once said to me that it was like being able to receive the best curve ball and at least make contact. When students become accustomed to dealing with unfamiliar things, they become more confident in situations that are unfamiliar to them in the world or even on our beloved standardized tests.

Once we got through the zany writing about sugar, food, floss, abstractions, and cake we were able to focus on what it was about these pieces that are poetic.  How does writing about a floss carrying warrior have to do with an afterlife or end of the world (an actual student piece) or how talking about nothing but Jolly Ranchers lead to the importance of repetition in any literary piece.  Tomorrow we will begin examining pictures of the student’s travels and begin writing travel journals that will be modeled off of Ibn Batutta’s own writing.

Until tomorrow!


Hello Community,

This is Ellie and I have resurfaced after a semester long teaching program with a different set of students at Northeast High School in Philadelphia.  What an experience where a number of students eloquently displayed their poetic talents.

Now, I have the fortunate pleasure of sitting in with the teen group on the Arabic class here at Al-Bustan’s Summer Camp.  We are learning how to greet each other, a few different dialects, and the language that is spoken in the community.  Talk about the need for repetition!

I even participated for a for minutes until my heartbeat raised in frequency and I let the kids shine at the pronunciations…

That’s the thing about a raise in heartbeat frequency, all campers experience it in the first few days and it is good to know this even as a camp teacher.  The nerves of meeting new people, the fear of mis-pronouncing words or even drumming off beat, are something that actually brings everyone closer.  And now that I have experienced this on Day 1, it is off to the races tomorrow!

In the poetry class for the K-5 groups, we are going to experiment with varying forms of creative writing about an object that we take on our travels (local or beyond our community).  The Jr. High group are going to create travel journals from our own experiences modeled off of Ibn Batutta’s travels. And finally, the teen groups will experiment with their own forms of contemporary poetry based off of the experiences Ibn Batutta had experienced during his travels.

Through all groups, I am excited to experiment with the creativity and colors that are represented by Ibn Batutta and Morocco.  It’s going to be a magical time with the students!  And don’t forget about out performance at the end of camp, it is an experience that will change the lives of everyone involved!



P.S. Check back often for students’ sample writings and pictures!