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An At-Home Summer Reading Camp

Katherine Sokolowski

Many teachers find ways to earn some extra money throughout the summer. I have friends who teach summer school, coach, tutor, and pick up odd jobs. I have chosen another route -- hosting a summer reading camp.

My camp began over ten years ago. Another teacher and I thought it would be fun to have kids come over and have some type of reading enrichment, while supplementing our salary at the same time. Our camp underwent many incarnations. We had two-week sessions that ran Monday - Friday right after school got out. We shortened it to eight days and ran Monday - Thursday. We tried one-hour blocks, ninety minute blocks, and two-hour blocks. We tried various ages. Some years we had themes like reading and art or reading and cooking, and some years we just focused on reading.

When we both had children, summer reading camp moved to the back burner. It was resurrected a few years ago, when my son Luke at the end of first grade asked me to have one for his friends. My colleague who I originally began the camps with had then moved on to another school, so I began planning again by myself. I realized I was a different teacher than I was ten years ago. Having students read the same book or a theme activity was no longer my focus. Enthusiasm for reading and choice came to the forefront of my planning. I have Luke to thank for getting the itch to start again.

Reconsidering Reading Camp

This year I completely changed the way I thought about camp. Before I had it condensed at the start of summer for a two-week stretch. To be honest, I did that because it gave me more freedom for the rest of the summer. But when I began planning out the camp and thinking of the reasons I was holding it, I kept circling around the same reason -- to keep kids reading. Having a two-week camp to kick off the summer wasn't going to hold much water come July. So I decided to hold camp from 9-10 a.m. on Tuesdays through June and July. I sent fliers home with all exiting 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in my district. My goal had been to have ten campers. I figured that was a manageable size.

The response I got was terrific. I quickly reached my ten campers (plus two more -- my own sons). I could have opened up another session but decided to keep it small. The group is a diverse one -- nine boys and three girls. The age breakdown is as follows: one entering 2nd (my son), five entering 4th, one entering 5th, three entering 6th, and two entering 7th.

I have had a lot of questions asked via Twitter and my blog about the logistics of running a camp: where do I have it, how much do I charge, and is my school involved. I charged $80 per camper. For our area that seemed to be in line with other enrichment camps. I do give them a snack when they are here. I have it at my house because it makes it easier. I live in the same small community where I teach, and most kids know where I live already. The school had no connection to the camp other than I passed the fliers out at school, after obtaining permission from our superintendent. The supplies have been pretty minimal. I purchased tiny composition books for the kids to keep track of books read this summer. I brought probably two hundred of the books from my classroom home and have them housed in an armoire in the living room where we meet.

And meet we have. We're preparing for our third session of camp this week. Most students are already on their third book since camp began. I wrote my cell number in the front of their notebooks. They are welcome to text me if they need more books during the week, and I leave them on my front porch to pick up. I've also talked up our local library's reading program so they can get books there as well.

A typical camp starts out with kids trickling in around 9 in the morning. I quietly meet with each child about what they read last week. My laptop is open to Booksource for anyone who needs to access our database to return a book or check a new one out. When everyone has arrived, I have some type of minilesson. We've been focusing on comprehension strategies to begin. Then there is some time for independent reading while I confer some more. We have also had guests that have Skyped in such as Ame Dyckman who wrote Boy + Bot. She sent ahead bags with Frisbees and bracelets for the kids to have after our visit. The students were so pumped to "meet" a real author. Towards the end of the camp session I do our read aloud. Right now it is Marty McGuire by Kate Messner. We will be Skyping with Kate in July.

My goals for this camp have already been surpassed. The 12 kids are so excited about reading. Even in the first two sessions I have seen an increase in book buzz as kids connect over books they have read and recommend to each other. I am overjoyed when I go to the pool to see the reading campers come up to me and share their surprise over what happened in a book they are reading. I am grateful to my educator friends for the support they have put behind the camp. From authors agreeing to Skype about their books, teachers agreeing to Skype about their summer reading plans, to a teacher donating books to the camp for the students to take home and keep! It has been amazing. But the real reason I think I am willing to take on an additional job in the summer isn't really about the money; it is about emails like this from my wonderful camper, Torrey:

"Oh my gosh. I went into Wonder thinking it was just a book. But now I know that it is so much more. It is a life lesson, a truly amazing read. Wonder made me think what I would do if Auggie came to my school. Most people would say that they would be like Jack. But most people would be like Amos, or Henry. Going with the pops (popular kids) and not doing what's right.

Wonder kind of reminds me of a sign in the middle school. What is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always popular.

Is R. J. Palacio going to write more books?"

Isn't that what we want from our students? To connect to books at a deeper level? Having a summer reading camp has allowed me to branch out of my own grade level and help kids learn to love reading. It is an endeavor I highly recommend.

Katherine Sokolowski

Katherine Sokolowski has taught for over 15 years in elementary schools, and currently teaches fifth grade in the same small town in central Illinois where she grew up. She regularly writes about teaching on her blog Read Write Reflect.