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Field Notes: Camp Read-a-Rama: Learning to “Live Books”

Chief: Hey Nick.
Nick: Yeah!
L: Hey Nick.
N: Yeah!
L: Are you able to Gruff?
N: Gruff-a-what?
L: Are you able to Gruff?
N: Gruff-a-lo.
N: My fingers are excessive, my ft are low, and that is how I Gruffalo. [Nick dances]
All: His fingers are excessive, his ft are low, and that is how he Gruffalos! [Everyone mimics Nick’s dance]
All: Gruff-a-lo, Gruff-Gruff-a-lo.
Gruff-a-lo, Gruff-Gruff-a-lo.

So goes a Harambee Time (Harambee is a Swahili phrase which means “coming collectively”) — the way in which we begin the day at Camp Learn-a-Rama. This camp for youngsters ages 4 to eleven makes use of youngsters’s books because the springboard for all different camp actions, together with songs, chants, video games, subject journeys, and exploration. After singing the Gruffalo tune, campers calm down on the ground to take heed to an animated read-aloud of The Gruffalo image e book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, a couple of trickster mouse and a legendary (or is it?) monster. Capitalizing on its recognition with younger readers, I used The Gruffalo to adapt a tune I realized as a baby, thereby giving youngsters a musical connection to a e book they already get pleasure from. This full-immersion literacy method that I’ve been cultivating for Camp Learn-a-Rama since its inception in 2009 is the most effective reply I’ve discovered to fight “summer time slide,” the three-month studying loss skilled by youngsters who lack summer time enrichment — particularly youngsters of poverty and minority populations who usually have restricted or no entry to academic summer time applications.

The idea of Learn-a-Rama started in 2001 as a service studying outreach undertaking for my Clemson College youngsters’s literature college students, all of whom had been schooling majors. After we decided a theme (examples through the years embody “Mad Hatter,” “Animalia,” “Learn-a-Rama in Your Pajamas”), college students ready interactive small-group read-alouds; created compelling dialogue questions; and deliberate hands-on actions associated to the books we had chosen. Through the ninety-minute applications, youngsters participated in two e book teams; on the finish, each youngster obtained a free e book so as to add to his or her dwelling library. (We additionally served a wholesome snack at most applications.)

Camp Learn-a-Rama co-founders Rachelle D. Washington and Michelle H. Martin. Photograph: Amelia Hare.

In 2008 I met Dr. Rachelle D. Washington, a Clemson colleague and assistant professor within the Faculty of Training, and she or he embraced my imaginative and prescient to increase the mannequin by making a summer time camp for South Carolina youngsters. I delivered to the partnership a PhD in English, specializing in youngsters’s literature; an concept; a love of the outside from years of Lady Scouting; and a whole lot of songs, actions, and different methods of getting youngsters engaged in studying by way of play. Dr. Washington introduced a PhD in language and literacy schooling; years of expertise in early literacy applications, Head Begin, and classroom instructing; and a bunch of scholars desirous to take part in our camp’s pilot. After I turned the Beverly Cleary Professor for Kids and Youth Providers on the College of Washington in Seattle in 2016, it gave us an opportunity to broaden camp to the West Coast.

Totally Engaged Programming
A very powerful hallmark of Camp Learn-a-Rama — and the mantra for employees — is “100% engagement 100% of the time.” We additionally imagine that “lifeless time will kill your program,” which ends up in our filling each second of each camp day with participating actions. We’ve got had as few as two and as many as eight weeks of camp programming, and every week includes a theme and a e book or set of books. Earlier themes embody “Learn-a-Rama Rocks” (each geology and music; books we used included If You Discover a Rock by Peggy Christian and Barbara Hirsch Lember), “Inform Your Story” (autobiography; Neil Gaiman’s Happily, the Milk), “Splish Splash” (water; Moist Canine! by Elise Broach and David Catrow), and “Let’s Have a Ball” (all issues spherical; The Nice Ball Sport by Joseph Bruchac and Susan L. Roth). The geology actions for “Learn-a-Rama Rocks” in Seattle included visiting a seashore to construct rock rainbows and rising borax crystals. Music-related actions featured performances by a guitar trio and a nyckelharpa (a Swedish instrument) participant, and making maracas out of sunshine bulbs.

Photograph: Michelle H. Martin.

Every morning after Harambee Time, campers rotate by way of hands-on exercise stations. For example, in the course of the “Inform Your Story” theme, creator Ann Haywood Leal led the campers by way of writing and illustration workout routines; we used story apps for digital storytelling; Eva Abram, a teller with the Seattle Storytellers Guild, advised the campers Aesop’s Fables; and Roger Fernandes (whose Native identify is Kawasa), a member of the Decrease Elwha Band of the S’Klallam Indians from the Port Angeles space of Washington State, advised campers conventional tales, together with a favourite in regards to the Basket Girl (who eats youngsters!).

At noon, throughout DEAR Time (Drop The whole lot and Learn) campers, workers, and special-guest volunteers unfold out all around the camp area for targeted studying time. We preserve a studying tent pitched inside and fill the camp library with theme-related books, books donated by pals of Learn-a-Rama, library books recommended by native librarians, and books the campers request. We dangle up butcher paper for campers to document what they’re studying. In two weeks, our thirty-six campers in 2017 collectively learn 173 books (not counting re-reads).

Dedicated to Variety of All Varieties
Camp Learn-a-Rama has all the time sought to host programming in places the place youngsters are most topic to summer time slide. Though it’s a fee-based program (with the quantity geared towards middle-income households), we’ve got by no means turned a baby away. In 2017 we held camp in downtown Seattle at an inexpensive housing complicated for previously homeless households, and a number of other youngsters from a close-by homeless shelter additionally took half. Two church buildings funded camp for all campers. We’ve got held camp in colleges, church buildings, neighborhood facilities, and in lovely wild areas, however we all the time search to serve youngsters from numerous backgrounds (racially, ethnically, economically, educationally, neurologically, and so forth.), which has usually meant offering breakfast for youngsters who come to camp hungry and preserving a stash of clothes for many who can’t afford a swimsuit, hat, or different primary clothes gadgets.

Throughout DEAR time, visitor Glenn Hare reads from The BFG. Photograph: Michelle H. Martin.

Having numerous campers means supporting the studying wants of the seven-year-old who got here to us studying the seventh quantity within the Harry Potter sequence in addition to the ten-year-old who reads at a second-grade degree. We all the time create mixed-age teams for actions. When a preteen who doesn’t learn properly shares a e book with an emergent reader, it helps the older youngster really feel profitable in methods she or he usually doesn’t when studying with friends. We additionally preserve a one-to-five ratio between counselors and campers, which ensures time and area for campers and workers to construct relationships — as a result of relationships are one of the vital highly effective and lasting impacts of Camp Learn-a-Rama.

Camp Learn-a-Rama runs finest not solely when the campers come from numerous backgrounds however when the workers members do as properly. Though we intentionally hunt down counselors who’ve been educated within the research of youngsters’s literature on the faculty degree, we additionally make a concerted effort to rent individuals with all kinds of experiences and from completely different backgrounds. Final summer time we employed workers from Russia, China, and varied areas of the U.S. (together with the South, the Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest), with experience in music, dance, theater, overseas languages, artwork, crafts, images, aquatic actions, varied applied sciences, cooking, and extra. Some workers members recognized as straight and cisgender and others recognized as queer; some had been hyper-athletic and others had been pleased to only sit and construct sandcastles with the campers. We additionally normally have a counselor-in-training (CIT) program for college students ages fourteen to seventeen. (The CITs don’t depend within the ratio of workers to campers, however their additional fingers contribute an important deal, and the on-the-job-training stands them in good stead for future employment in youth applications.) Whether or not workers or volunteers, all Camp Learn-a-Rama workers and CITs have to be dedicated to the 100% engagement mannequin.

Analysis
Whereas Camp Learn-a-Rama doesn’t have interaction in direct instruction in studying, we’ve got seen firsthand the optimistic influence that our immersion method can have on campers’ enthusiasm for studying, their fluency, and their willingness to have interaction with new literary genres. Dad and mom have reported that camp improved their youngsters’s attitudes towards studying, which regularly makes buying studying abilities simpler. Kids have additionally shaped a way of neighborhood round studying and brought elevated “possession” of their very own studying. For example, a few of the campers have began e book golf equipment at their colleges, wanting to ascertain their very own neighborhood of readers (extra particulars at read-a-rama.org/analysis).

Future Plans
Dr. Washington and I’ve been deliberate about sustaining the standard of Camp Learn-a-Rama by rising it slowly and ensuring workers members have adequate coaching. However we do imagine Camp Learn-a-Rama provides a superb mannequin for full-engagement literacy programming, particularly for youngsters in underserved communities. We’ve got plans for “scaling up” to allow extra communities to learn from this mannequin. This may contain offering coaching nationally for librarians, lecturers, and workers of youth and neighborhood organizations each face-to-face and on-line and growing curriculum supplies that may allow this system to be replicated anyplace.

* * *

On the finish of every day Camp Learn-a-Rama finishes simply because it begins, with a read-aloud and a hearty dose of music and motion:

Hey there, Fatima, you’re an actual cool cat,
You’ve obtained an entire lot of this and an entire lot of that
So stand proper there and shake your rear,
And present us the way you do the Chiggy Cheer.
Palms up, chiggy chiggy, chiggy chiggy,
Palms down, chiggy chiggy, chiggy chiggy,
Bamboo, chiggy chiggy, chiggy chiggy,
Bamboo, chiggy chiggy, chiggy chiggy!

From the March/April 2018 difficulty of The Horn E-book Journal.

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