The countdown to weeks filled with carefree days has expired. For most Colorado children, summer is here. But, as kids reach for swimsuits and sandboxes, learning is often pushed aside. To keep them on track, Steamboat Springs-based BookTrails is bringing together much-desired summer adventures with page-turning reading camps for a unique learning experience.
In 2012, Emily Krall launched BookTrails, a nonprofit that promotes a love of literacy, and their Reading on Ranches camps—held on Routt County ranches throughout the summer—are the crowning jewels of their programs. Each camp is built around a multi-sensory model, mixing reading with hands-on activities that focus on heritage and the outdoors. Krall, a former environmental educator for the Thorne Natural Science School, says all the activities tie-in literature without making it feel like summer school. “We bring the story and characters to life while tying everything to the environment, ” Krall says.
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At American Girl Doll camp, participants fashion a hiking sling so their doll can accompany them on walks. Harry Potter campers play quidditch across ranch fields and learn the healing properties of plants. At Camp Splash, participants catch aquatic insects and fish along waterways of the Yampa River. Tomb Raider Campers write stories in hieroglyphics. At Hatchet Camp it’s all about outdoor survival, while Little House of the Prairie readers make cornbread and draw maps. Get the idea?
Outside the purview of these campers, learning is happening. In 2011, Krall’s parents (Susan and Ronald)—the owners of Steamboat’s Off the Beaten Path independent bookstore—shared concerns at the dwindling interest in books among young people. Not only were their concerns accurate, but the larger picture shows that literacy rates among children across the U.S., especially those who are raised in poverty, remain low. A 2014 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that 66 percent of all U.S. fourth graders are reading below proficient levels. Krall’s plan to combat the decline: engage the kids.
For each camp, there is an equal mix of reading and activities, along with a peer-mentoring system for strong readers to help those who struggle. The program employs 10 seasonal staffers, rounding out a ratio of three-to-one students-to-teacher. Krall said she wants to show the campers that no matter where they are, a new discovery isn’t far away. “Opening a book is the fastest way to take an adventure,” Krall says. “We have witnessed the power of exposing children to nature who have never stuck both hands in a muddy stream bed, run barefoot through a meadow, or cooked dinner on a roaring campfire.”
This summer, 29 Reading on Ranches camps will accommodate more than 200 participants from preschool to middle-school age, offering half-day to week-long learning opportunities. Three of the most popular camps are also being staged in Edwards through the independent bookstore, the Bookworm of Edwards. And, BookTrails has serious aspirations to expand the program to other parts of Colorado. If Krall has her way, Colorado is going to be overrun with bookworms in the near future, and that’s pretty cool.
For a complete listing of camps and registration info, visit steamboatbooktrails.org.