MANKATO — Staff in the communication disorders department at Minnesota State University have seen the difference play can make when working with children with learning disabilities.
The department started partnering with the college’s recreation, parks and leisure studies program this school year to offer personalized play time with children before their learning sessions at the literacy diagnostic clinic on campus. The result was children who were less antsy and more ready to learn.
Now the two departments will expand their partnership into a full literacy summer camp combining reading and writing with recreational activities.
The Camp Maverick: Rec N’ Read literacy camp for children going into first through sixth grades will run for four weeks starting June 5 at the college. The weekday camp will consist of three hours of reading and writing exercises to go along with five hours of daily recreation activities.
MSU speech language pathologist Megan Mahowald said the camp, which children can attend for anywhere from one to all four weeks, is informed by her department’s own observations showing the benefits of play in child’s learning process.
“We tend to get them in a better space just physically and mentally to be ready to learn,” she said of adding play to the equation. “So that’s where this whole idea came from.”
Up to 30 children can attend the camp each week. About 10 have signed up for at least one of the weeks so far.
Mahowald said the ultimate goal for the camp isn’t just about making gains in the children’s reading and writing skills. Sometimes the children need to build self-confidence in themselves first, which the recreation portion of the day can work on, she said.
“Kids tend not to enjoy the reading if they’re struggling with it,” she said. “We’ve designed the camp to work on the children’s self-esteem and confidence.”
Abby Martin, of St. Peter, signed up her son, Corbin, 11, for three weeks of the camp after seeing the progress he was making at the campus diagnostic clinic each week. Corbin, who has dyslexia, loves Pokemon, lizards and reptiles. Before his reading and writing sessions, MSU students in the recreation, parks and leisure studies program would tailor playtime to those interests.
“When he first started they didn’t do the activity part of it, but they added it in and he’s always more than willing to go,” Martin said. “The students are really good about thinking about him.”
The idea of expanding his once-per-week sessions into an all-day summer camp was exciting, Martin said. She said she’d have Corbin attend all four weeks if he weren’t going to be out of town for a week in June.
“It’s hard to see your kid struggle but when there’s help and you see them enjoy it, it’s really nice,” she said.
Jenny Kortuem Freier, of Madison Lake, signed up her son, Max, 6, for all four weeks of the program. The camp will help Max, who just completed kindergarten, brush up on his reading and writing skills before next school year, Freier said.
“I just want him to have some extra support through the summer so he doesn’t lose those skills going into first grade,” Freier said.
As a speech pathologist herself, she said she’s fascinated in potential connections between playing and learning. The camp, then, might reveal better ways to connect with children struggling with reading and writing, she said.
“Helping understand what helps (Max) learn can help me understand what helps all children learn,” she said.
The camp will be offered on a sliding-pay scale for parents. Full cost is $170 per week, but families with household incomes less than $65,000 are eligible to pay lower fees. Households earning less than $35,000 can have their children attend for free.
”We want parents to pay what they can pay and make sure we’re available for all kids in the community,” Mahowald said.