Summer camp is a time for kids to swim, ride horses, canoe and make lifelong friends.
At the YMCA’s Camp Abe Lincoln, it’s also a time for kids to settle down with a good book every day.
Counselor Morgan “Polar Bear” King sat with a group of boys inside a blue, white and yellow tent Wednesday and read a story about a dragon with an injured wing.
In the nearby main lodge, 7-year-old Reee Gibbs read Dr. Seuss’ “Red fish, blue fish” to fellow camper Caidy Dockins, 8, and counselor, Toja Rauch, who comes from Switzerland.
“I like funny things,” Gibbs said when asked about the book. “It’s really fascinating and really fun.”
Caidy said Dr. Seuss books are a good tool to learn about rhyming, especially for the younger kids.
The camp spread over 250 acres in Blue Grass has incorporated 30 minutes of reading time a day for both the day and residential campers.
The goal is to tackle the problem of learning loss that kids sometimes experience in the summer time and gets them fired up about reading, said Zach Klipsch, the camp’s executive director.
“We want them to understand that reading isn’t just a school assignment, reading is something that can be fun and entertaining,” he said. “It’s one thing for a teacher to say it, but it’s another thing for a counselor that they look up to to say it.”
Klipsch said the program began a couple years ago when the Y asked a local library if it would be willing to donate some books for campers.
As more and more books were donated, the program grew from that first box of books to a shelf to a closet and then to a meeting room.
The Davenport Jaycees decided to help by offering to renovate a large room in the main lodge and turn it into a library.
The library will feature new windows, book shelves throughout the room and even some artificial turf on the floor so that the kids feel like they are in nature, Kiplsch said.
On a typical day, he said he’ll see kids reading at the picnic tables under large trees or squeezed together in large, wooden chairs to be read to by a counselor.
At school, a teacher may have 20 to 30 kids in class, so having a discussion about a book or story can be difficult, Klipsch said.
At camp, kids are in groups of five or less and have the opportunity to be engaged by asking questions and talking about what they’ve heard or read, he said.
Fourth-year counselor Lauren Vasicek, 23, said the kids are excited to “mellow out” with a good book and that more and more campers bring books from home.
The counselors get into it, too, and often use funny voices to make it fun for the kids, she said.
Vasicek, a teacher’s aide at Hoover Elementary School in Bettendorf, said it’s important to encourage kids to read in the summer because the farther behind they get, the harder it is for them to catch up.
While the majority of kids at camp pay full tuition, about 20 percent of campers receive some kind of assistance, whether it’s through a scholarship, donations or fundraising efforts, Klipsch said.
The Y also works with Hayes Elementary School and intermediate schools in Davenport to offer scholarships to area kids so that they can go to camp.
Seeing those kids come in and do the normal camp activities, as well as get a chance to read, is the best part of Klipsch’s job, he said.
“Some kids have never really had someone read to them outside of school before, so they come here and really jump on it,” he said.