It’s not just about the children. There’s an important reading lesson for parents and caregivers, as well, who attended the recent Raising a Reader Summer Camps with their preschool-aged children — hand gestures and elaboration.
“We want to help parents to continue to read to their children at home, so part of what we do is provide tools to show them how to read the books,” said Liz Russo, program coordinator for Raising a Reader and Summer Camp leader for the El Jebel and Parachute locations in June.
“A lot of parents just read the book, but they don’t ask questions and they don’t point,” she said. Pointing to the pictures in the book and explaining how they relate to the story is as important as reading the words. Asking questions of the children rounds it all out.
On this particular day — June 21 at Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel — the book theme was thankfulness. After reading out loud a book about being gracious, children were asked what they were thankful for: my bed, my dog, my mom, and “being here” were among the answers.
Children and their parents, or in some cases a babysitter, were then given a rock and some paints, and were asked to paint a picture on the rock of what they were thankful for.
Art, dance, various games involving movement and, of course, snacks, were all part of the two-hour outdoor sessions, two days a week, which took place over two weeks in mid-June at locations in El Jebel, Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Parachute.
Raising a Reader (RAR) Aspen to Parachute began in 2003 as an early childhood literacy nonprofit organization focusing its efforts on children from birth to age 5, preparing them for success in formal preschool programs, and eventually kindergarten, by introducing them to books.
During the school year, children in the various preschool programs across the regions and in kindergarten classes are given weekly bilingual book bags to take home with them. Parents are encouraged to read the books to their children and return them the following week, in exchange for a new bag of books.
The free summer camps began in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It started as an opportunity to bring our program to parents, caregivers and children during social distancing, because it was outside and it was a safe way to gather,” Raising a Reader Executive Director Suzanne Wheeler-Del Piccolo said.
It has continued as a means to provide continuous learning between school years, and has grown exponentially. The 2022 summer camps averaged about 30-40 children plus parents at two locations in Glenwood Springs and Rifle. This summer, thanks to a state Circle Grant that allowed the program to expand to El Jebel and Parachute, the program has grown to around 100 children plus 75 parents/caregivers, Wheeler-Del Piccolo added.
“What I find really powerful about these camps is that you’re engaging both parents and children together in learning and literacy activities,” she said. “It’s something they can take and continue in the home environment, and help ensure long-term success for the child once they enter school.”
Using what’s called FocusedKids, a brain empowerment program, the camps provide a weekly lesson for both the parents and children to engage in together. Having the camps outdoors is also important, Wheeler-Del Piccolo stated, because it allows for a more healthy, active setting.
Russo emphasizes to parents that 90% of a child’s brain development happens by age 5. Every moment counts, she said.
“It’s very important that they continue to read to their children in the summer, which can be hard because people are on vacation and sometimes they forget to read a book,” Russo said.
During the school year, students are given a special red book bag to take back and forth to their local library, and regular visits to the library are encouraged during the summer, as well, she said.
“We hope our families leave the summer camps with a greater understanding of the importance of early childhood literacy and skills to use in the home environment, but primarily children having had a fun and unforgettable time immersed in stories, activities and learning with their parents or caregivers,” concluded Wheeler Del-Piccolo.