activity - At Echo Shaw Elementary School, students explore books and nature for a week
by: Chase Allgood, Echo Shaw teacher Wendy Seitz listens to Hanna Knotts read during Camp Read-A-Lot.

For eight-year-old Joseph Jensen, being tapped as a line leader for his class at Echo Shaw Elementary School paid extra dividends last week.

The assignment won Joseph, a third-grader in Wendy Seitz's class, the first cup of hot chocolate in the school library during Camp Read-A-Lot.

'Mmmm … this is going to be good,' Jensen predicted as he settled into a folding chair at the beginning of a half-hour period and tried to fit his Styrofoam cup into the chair's cup holder.

Instead, he and his classmates got a warning from media technician Gina Ward, who's organized the camp for the past five years.

'Don't put your cups in the holders, because if you get up suddenly the hot chocolate might spill on you,' Ward advised. 'We want you all to enjoy yourselves.'

Echo Shaw's library was transformed into a woodsy camp setting Jan. 14-18, featuring several nylon tents, camp-style pots and pans and a faux 'fire' to warm up by.

The idea, Ward said, was to encourage students to read wherever they are.

'I want them to understand that you don't just have to read in school - you can read on the bus, out in nature or at your kitchen table,' she said.

Ward, whose family has camped near Pacific City on the Oregon Coast for 18 years, also is a voracious reader.

'I love camping and I love reading, so this is my incentive week for them,' she explained.

Around the campfire

Books about the forest, animals and camping dominated a table along one wall of the library. After Seitz's students finished their hot chocolate and a snack of gummy bears, they were directed to pick a book and begin silent reading.

'In two minutes, you should be glued to a chair or glued inside the tent,' Ward called out.

Hannah Knotts, 8, selected a colorful tome about deer.

'I like books about all kinds of animals,' said the petite, curly-haired girl. 'My favorite book is called 'Horses.''

Another third-grader, Jacob Augustine, transferred to Echo Shaw from Fern Hill Elementary this year. He'd never experienced Camp Read-A-Lot before.

'It's pretty fun so far,' Jacob said as he flipped the pages of a book on rabbits. 'You get a fake fire, and you get to go inside the tents.'

A regular reader, Jacob said he typically sits down with chapter books in the Magic Tree House series by Mary Hope Osborne or the Mercy Watson series by Kate Di Camillo.

'Mercy Watson is a pig who goes on adventures,' Jacob noted. 'They're really cool and funny books.'

Twenty minutes after the children settled down with their books, Seitz had to round them up again. They moved slowly, reluctant to give up their time in the wild - exactly the reaction Ward was going for.

'The kids look forward to this - especially the ones who've never gone camping,' she said. 'I'll probably do it again next year.'

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