- Reading Camp: Children from the Bahamas Develop a New Appreciation of Children’s Literature
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Nine-year-old Kenisha, a participant of the July 2010 Reading Camp, summed up her new understanding of the connection between reading and the world around her with the words, “It was fun to read stories about animals, and then take pictures [with a camera] about the same animals we read about.” Before this, Kenisha’s reading instruction in her Bahamian primary school had not taught her that a book could represent her reality. Her school, located in a low socio-economic inner-city neighborhood, was attended by children whose families’ mean yearly income was less that $500 a year. For these children, reading was something that they did in school, but never in the real world. After the summer reading program, when the American teachers heard Kenisha’s comments, they knew that they had spent their summer wisely, and that they had helped children like Kenisha realize the importance of reading, both in their daily lives and for their future education.
During the summer breaks of 2010, 2011, and 2012, Reading Camps were organized for children from a primary school in the inner city of Nassau, The Bahamas. Each summer, the school principal and teachers selected 45 students to attend the Camp; low reading scores on a test designed by the Bahamian National Educational Department assisted in identifying which students would benefit most from participation in the Reading Camp. Activities were held in various classrooms in the school building and included a field trip to the beach each week. The Reading Camp teachers were graduate students from a college in Pennsylvania who were completing Master’s degrees in Education and who had at least eight years’ worth of teaching experience. These teachers had chosen to work for the summer in The Bahamas because their [End Page 67] graduate studies centered on helping children to develop a love of reading. They were sponsored by a non-profit making organization—The Harvest Foundation—which covered the costs of their travel, accommodation, and meals. The Harvest Foundation also donated and arranged a shipment of more than 1,000 children’s books to the Bahamian school’s library. The Bahamas was a particularly important place for the graduate students to expand their own learning since the schools in Pennsylvania have a large immigrant population.
The graduate students (the summer teachers) and the school’s administration agreed upon the curriculum. The summer teachers then directed the day to day activities. The two major goals of the Reading Camp were to immerse the children in literacy and to increase their enjoyment of reading. All of the Reading Camp’s activities were focused toward the development of a community of readers and the establishment of a safe environment where all children, regardless of their familiarity with reading, could improve their literacy abilities. Children’s literature enables children to develop their literacy skills, so that they can come to appreciate how reading can provide insights into their own and into others’ environments, broadening their world. In Bahamian schools, teachers’ focus on reading skills and comprehension is limited to the information contained in the prescribed reading material. Quality children’s literature, particularly if it is relevant to the child’s experience, deepens a child’s understanding and appreciation of reading and competency in language use (Heisey & Kucan 668). Through well-crafted children’s literature about topics which catch children’s particular interest, children improve in reading comprehension, and a desire to read in greater quantity is often instilled (Mullis, Campbell, & Farstrup 12).
At the beginning of the 2011 Reading Camp, the summer teachers decided to select books for the children on the theme of the ocean, following Anderson and Pearson’s claim that existing background knowledge aids children’s understanding of new information (7). The ocean and its animals served as stimulating topics for the students to explore, thus ensuring that the students’ interest and motivation levels would be high. The summer teachers gathered both fiction and non-fiction books which would bring strong content vocabulary to the theme and would allow the students...