By Sarah Kingon
“If you can move out of your normal experiences and add emotion and fun to learning, you will be more likely to retain the knowledge,” said Reading Camp Coordinator Kary McConnachie. This is the philosophy that inspires those who brought together this year’s seventh annual reading camp that ran from 29 June to 6th July.
The camp sponsors 18 talented children between the ages of nine and 11 from 14 primary schools in the Grahamstown township areas to participate in a week of improving their English and reading skills, through workshops and entertainment.
The camp coordinators ask 14 local schools to submit a list of four of their “brightest, shining stars and future leaders” from which camp coordinators select 18 children they believe will benefit the most from the week away.
“Our hope is that the children will absorb their newfound knowledge and share it with their classmates, neighbours and families,” said McConnachie.
They also signed up 18 adult volunteers, including Rhodes education students, brothers from the monastery, lecturers, teachers and retirees.
Some of the main cogs in the machine include Marian Walwyn, former Principal at Oatlands Preparatory, who does the catering for the camp; Matt Kellen, an American-trained teacher who is doing his M Ed; Brother Daniel Ludick from the monastery; Ntombekaya Myeki, a teacher at Holy Cross School who is a founder member of reading camp; Basil Mills, who works for the National English Literary Museum; and Mary Jane Amick, a qualified nursing sister from Kentucky, who flies out every year for the camp. Amick also raises half of the funding needed for the camp to continue. Other funds come from a range of sources, which vary each year.
The programme includes a structured morning of workshops including pleasure reading, comprehension, writing, reading strategies, phonics, and decoding and encoding.
Afternoon programmes include authors’ visits, obstacle courses, game drives, elephant sanctuary visits and historical walks on the beach. Evenings are reserved for games.
The camp hosts a reunion day in November, to which previous and current campers are invited. “One of the girls [from a previous camp] said to us that the week changed her life perspective. From that moment she decided she would be a success. She now loves writing, reading and poetry and she puts it down to reading camp,” said McConnachie.
Teachers at participating schools complement the reading club’s success. They said children grow in confidence and develop an enthusiasm for reading after the camp.
The idea of a reading camp was started in America, where the founding coordinators of the Grahamstown camp received their training.
McConnachie hopes that in the future they will be able to raise sufficient funding to send volunteers back to America to be re-inspired.