Camps Add Summer Learning Programs


Kids' summer camps add academic and literacy programs to keep educational skills sharp all year long.

“No more pencils, no more books” . . . hold it right there. Kids may love the sentiment behind the chant that signals the start of summer vacation, but parents should think twice about the effect “no more books” could have come
September. Educators have learned that students can lose up to 2.5 months of reading progress during the summer if they’re not partaking in skill-building literacy activities.

Recognizing this phenomenon, many camps are implementing programs to help combat the so-called “summer slide.” One national effort is the Explore 30 Camp Reading Program, a two-year-old American Camp Association (ACA) initiative that helps camps and youth development organizations jumpstart a reading program. In exchange for encouraging 30 minutes of daily reading, Explore 30 camps can get free children’s books and magazines from leading publishers, incentives for campers who complete reading challenges and activity ideas for incorporating reading into summer fun-and-sun.

Books about camp: PreK-grade 2
Cowboy Camp, by Tammi Sauer 

The Berenstain Bears Go to Camp,  
by Stan and Jan Berenstain
Froggy Goes to Camp, by Jonathan London

Books & bunks

When it joined Explore 30 in 2011, Western Family YMCA Camp Wassaqui (formerly Wahoo) in Newark, DE collected donated books from Y members and hired literary specialist Kristy McCrea to build literacy activities into the daily camp schedule. McCrea sees each of the 400 campers for 30 to 45 minutes a few times per week, runs reading challenges and writing sessions, and leads weekly walking trips to the local library. “In some cases this program gave campers their very first experience with a library outside of school and their first library card,” reports Pamela Kennedy, the Y’s associate executive director. Wassaqui campers have many ways to log reading minutes and earn prizes. Sports campers read local newspapers’ sports sections, and older kids read to the younger groups. “We saw the campers begin to bring in their summer reading books and read them during down times or group reading time,” says McCrea.

Books about camp: Grades 3-5
Runaway Ralph, by Beverly Cleary
The Great Summer Camp 
by Jean Van Leeuwen
The Summer Camp Mystery, by
   Gertrude Chandler Warner 
The Summer Camp Survival Guide, by Chris Pallatto and Ron DeFazio

At Camp Towanda, a 91-year-old overnight camp in Honesdale, PA campers from 6 to 17 participate in Explore 30 and can get tutored in all school subjects. “We have many teachers on staff who encourage overall life skills,” says owner and director Mitch Reiter. To fulfill the camp’s Explore 30 commitment, “During rest hour and free play we announce and encourage campers to read at our library, on the porch of our house or in our pine tree-shaded reading area,” he explains.

Books about camp: Grades 5-8
Holes, by Louisa Sachar
How Tia Lola Saved the Summer, by
Julia Alvarez
Letters From Camp, by Kate Klise
P.S. I Still Hate It Here, by Diane Falanga

Enriching experiences

“Summer enrichment is not about drills and flashcards; it’s about keeping children moving forward in their learning even when school lets out,” says Erin Pudlo, program coordinator at the
Summer Academy at Ursuline in Wilmington, DE. Here, “Children spend the morning engaged in academic enrichment and afternoons are filled with swimming and traditional day camp activities,” explains Pudlo. “Campers are happy to work when it feels like play.”

If your child’s camp doesn’t participate in Explore 30, check to see if your local library or school district offers summer reading books to borrow or purchase, and encourage your kids to take books to camp. Libraries and bookstores such as Barnes & Noble often reward children who enroll in their summer reading programs and reach their goals with a free book or gift certificate.

Books about camp, Grades 8 up
Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best, by Maria Padian
Moose: A Memoir, by Stephanie Klein
Sleepaway Girls, by Jen Calonita

“Camps have always supported reading and literacy — reading has been a popular rest-hour activity for as long as there has been camp,” says ACA CEO Peg Smith. “But Explore 30 brings greater intentionality to the effort. It allows children to retain and further their reading skills while enjoying the many benefits of a summer camp experience that enriches their lives in valuable ways.”

Ellen Warren writes for the American Camp Association Keystone field office serving Pennsylvania and Delaware. Learn more at and


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