This Summer Camp for Kids with Learning Disabilities Operates on the Power of Play


Researchers and educators have long known that play is an important part of how babies, toddlers, and young children learn. But the reality is that play is an important learning tool for older children and adults as well. When we’re having fun, we’re paying attention. And when we’re paying attention to the right things, we’re learning.

Minnesota State University has now found a way to harness the power of play to serve as a cornerstone for a new educational summer camp for children with learning disabilities.

The project started much smaller than a summer camp, though. By partnering with the university’s recreation, parks and leisure studies department, the communication disorders department has been able to offer individualized play sessions before learning sessions at their literacy diagnostic clinic. They’ve found the technique to be very effective in helping children with learning disabilities focus better and learn more during learning sessions.

The fantastic results from the literacy diagnostic clinic sparked an idea for something much larger, and now Minnesota State University is offering a summer camp, called Camp Maverick: Rec N’ Read literacy camp, where students in grades one through six can attend as little as one week per summer or stay for extra weeks, up to the duration of the camp, which is four weeks.

The goal of the literacy camp is to build more than just reading skills, though. Play also helps build social interaction skills and improves the value kids place on themselves.

“Kids tend not to enjoy the reading if they’re struggling with it,” says MSU speech language pathologist Megan Mahowald. “We’ve designed the camp to work on the children’s self-esteem and confidence.”

Each day of camp involves three hours of coursework interspersed with five hours of play. The play is carefully designed to help the children focus and learn.

Parents are singing the praises of the camp, saying it helps their kids not forget vital skills over the summer and that they really enjoy the activities that are hand-tailored to their interests.

Best of all, the camp experience is offered on a sliding pay scale for families that might have difficulty affording to send their children. Camp costs $170 per week, but families earning less than $65,000 per year get discounted rates, and families earning less than $35,000 per year could send their kids to camp for free.

Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?
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