I discovered a volunteer opportunity late in the spring when I attended a symposium at the Library of Congress. One of the attendees mentioned that she's part of The Reading Connection, a nonprofit that creates environments that encourage reading for at-risk children. Part of what they do is send volunteers to read aloud to children at shelters, transitional housing, and affordable housing. The organization was expanding into Maryland and I jumped at the chance to do read-alouds for kids again. It's a once a month, year-long commitment, which is manageable compared to the 18 read-alouds I did per week for four-plus years!
I'm on a team with five other people and we read-aloud at the same location every month. We're still trying to figure out how to plan our read-alouds, if there's going to be a team captain, what the themes will be, etc. Our first read-aloud was led by an experienced volunteer from another location. She helped us decide the theme and the crafts, and the day-of she was our captain.
We chose a camping theme and I took it upon myself to get the books. I knew the age range of the kids was going to be from toddlers to eight or nine, and possibly older. Not having worked with this demographic before, I wasn't sure what it was going to be like in terms of attention span, background knowledge, and general level of interest. I chose a variety of books, hoping to find something that would work. I've included the notes I sent to my teammates as we were trying to decide which books to read. In the end, the experienced volunteer chose the three titles in bold and they worked out well (the oldest child was in third grade).
The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Our National Parks by Barb Rosenstock
I like this one quite a bit and I think it would be a great selection for the whole-group read-aloud. It is a bit on the longer side, but it's informative and pretty entertaining.
Into the Outdoors by Susan Gal
Ladybug Girl and Bingo by David Soman
The storyline incorporates not only what families do during a camping trip, but blends in some humor. I think the key to this one is that it tells the story well from a child's perspective (for example, she thinks she's wandered far away from camp, but she was really within view of her family).
Stella & Roy Go Camping by Ashley Wolff
When We Go Camping by Margriet Ruurs
This is a good one for small-group reading. There are hidden animals on each page blended into the background, and you're supposed to look for a squirrel as well.
Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping by Peggy Parish
Word play is always fun, but it can be hit or miss with the younger kids. Having to explain too much about the double meaning of words/phrases takes away from the humor. Maybe 2nd or 3rd grade and up?
Camping Day by Patricia Lakin
This would work for the younger kids because it's rhyming and the text is pretty short.
Another good choice for small-group reading. There's a lot of detail in the illustrations so it could take awhile to get through it.
CAMPING AT HOME: All three books are geared towards preschool age children.
Bailey Goes Camping by Kevin Henkes
This book and Lucille Camps In deal with a younger sibling being left behind while their older siblings go camping. But the young one finds things to do at home that are camp-like and just as fun. I think we should read one of these so the kids can get ideas of what they can still do indoors even if they can't go camping themselves.
Duck Tents by Lynne Berry
Lucille Camps In by Kathryn Lasky
To set the mood, we brought in a real tent to read in, which got the kids really excited since most of them had never gone camping before ... maybe a bit too excited. It took a few minutes to get them to settle down, but once we separated a few of the kids they all listened attentively. The toddlers grew tired of the books pretty quickly and came out of the tent, drawn by the allure of markers and blank pieces of paper. Another volunteer and I kept the little ones occupied while three volunteers read whole-group. So, unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to read to the kids this time around but I'm hoping to get a turn next month. We also have the option to read in small groups after reading a book or two as a whole group, so we may pursue that option in the future, especially if we have some really young kids and older kids.
After the read-aloud we made a couple of crafts: campfire art and a camping lantern made out of a peanut butter jar. I also created camping-theme bookmarks for them.
Coincidentally, while I was working on compiling these books, CBS Sunday Morning ran a piece about surveying species among California's Redwoods. That made me think about how the DC area is has lots of National Parks, including Rock Creek Park. Re-reading The Camping Trip That Changed America reminded me of my family's brief visit to Yosemite a few years ago.
[Yosemite Valley and Half Dome]