Remember the simple joys of being a kid in summer? Catching fireflies past your bedtime. Splashing in puddles after a summer rain. Swimming until your toes shriveled up like prunes. And discovering the power and magic of your own words at creative writing camp.
Although creative writing may not be the first activity that comes to mind for summer fun, more than sixty kids in our region found out that writing can indeed be a personally rewarding and enjoyable activity at one of the three young writers’ camps sponsored by Appalachian Writing Project this summer. We were especially blessed this year by a generous grant from the Slemp Foundation that enabled us to expand our programming and reach even more students than in years past.
Our goal was to provide an experience for students to have fun with writing in creative ways that can sometimes be limited in a regular classroom setting, while at the same time developing crucial writing skills. Although I was initially challenged in staffing a couple of the camps with teacher consultants (particularly not knowing what the final enrollment would be), each camp ended up with a wonderful team of AWP teacher consultants who developed excellent, engaging activities for their students. Their enthusiasm for writing was so contagious, it was quickly adopted by the children, and based on evaluations from students, parents, and teacher consultants, the camps were a rewarding experience for all involved.
The students were not the only ones who benefited from our young writers’ camps. All of the teacher consultants expressed that the opportunity to teach the camp had been personally and professional rewarding. Several teachers worked with age groups they do not normally interact with in their regular teaching jobs, and they picked up new teaching ideas working alongside other excellent teachers.
As camp director, I had the pleasure of visiting all three camps, and it was interesting to note how each camp took on a different personality based on the leadership and the needs of the students participating. “Wild About Writing” was offered to children in grades 1-4 at Dryden Elementary School in Lee County June 9-13 and led by Hope Hart, Lynette Johnson, and Amanda Roberts. Originally, Hope had planned to “split” the week with Amanda, but she had so much fun teaching the camp that she volunteered to come back the other days. The school principal commented how thrilled she was to see the camp reaching several students who could especially benefit from extra instruction. On the final day, I was excited to see parents working with their children to finish their haiku booklets before the final presentation. The teacher consultants expressed that they had watched many of the children “blossom” with a new confidence about their writing over the course of only one short week.
The next week, June 16-20, “Write Into Summer” camp was held in Wise County at Wise Primary School. This camp was broken into two age groups, with grades K-4 led by Michelle Edwards, Melody Mullins, and Hope Hart, while Steve Gardner led the grades 5-8 group. For the most part, these writers seemed eager to write and enthusiastically embraced all the creative writing activities their teachers had planned. Many of the writing activities for the younger group combined artistic illustration, while Steve led the older group in experimenting with digital forms of writing.
Meanwhile, over in Bluefield the same week, the “Write for Your Life” camp was held at Bluefield College. Tammy Williams worked intensely with the younger age group in creative writing, while Rob Merritt led the high school students in an exploration of both personal writing and academic writing. It was evident during my visit the last day how the students had come to view themselves as “real writers” and bonded as a writing community. In fact, my first impression when I arrived was of two small girls in the foyer area very earnestly offering each other feedback as they “workshopped” each other’s stories. Later, as I observed the older students’ discussion, I was equally impressed at the respect they exhibited for each other’s ideas.
The culminating activity at each camp was a presentation for parents. This opportunity to share their written work seemed to validate its importance for the students, and a sense of pride and accomplishment illuminated their faces as they read. The quality of the writing was impressive, from the simplest words chosen by a first grader to compose an acrostic “name poem” to a complex plotline developed by a high schooler. I hope the lesson learned was that everybody can be a writer and that everybody’s ideas are valuable and worthwhile. And of course, that writing is fun.