Before there were video games and the internet, there were books. Ask a baby boomer what it was like growing up and you'll hear about all of the wonderful outdoors and the magic that a good book has on the imagination.
To reacquaint children with reading and their local environment, Off The Beaten Path, an independent bookstore in Steamboat Springs, Colo., has created a non-profit organization called Book Trails.
Book Trails "promotes reading and writing through outdoor exploration" and was started by the daughter of the bookstore's current owners. After helping her parents run the bookshop through difficult economic times, Emily Krall decided they should take a step back and see how they could both secure their future and increase their involvement with their community.
Krall explains that she "noticed, living in Boulder, Colo., that their communities really rallied around their local, independent bookstore" and she wanted to ensure the same thing could happen to Off The Beaten Path, now the only independent bookstore in Steamboat Springs.
The wish to be more integrated with their community was ever present. Although they had organized have many events, Krall explains that she "always really wanted to start an organization, a non-profit sector of the store" and after discussing it with her parents, she moved back to Steamboat Springs to start Book Trails.
Book Trails was started in December 2011 with the goal of bringing children back to the joys of reading as well as exploring the outdoors. The organization consists of many different events but the main one starting this summer is their Reading on Ranches camp.
The day-camp runs on the basis of a different book each week. The week's themes and activities are based around the book that all the children and adults read together. Each day, they read part of the book and then have the chance to enact parts of the material themselves.
"For a reluctant reader, sitting down and reading a chapter of a book can be so tedious but what if you have the opportunity to read a page but then do something that the character did. That might be a little more fun," explains Krall.
One such week will be about the book Hatchet, written by Gary Paulsen. The book follows events as a young boy is left to fend for himself in the wilderness after a plane crash.
For that week, the children "learn how to build a survival shelter, they also get to learn how to be savvy in the woods and find edible plants, how to purify water."
Sarah Jones, a mother whose children will be attending camp, explains that her kids "are really excited about Hatchet Camp, specifically because it deals with survival skills." She goes on to say that she appreciates Book Trails "because it ties both the literature and the environmental."
Further even than enjoying playing in the woods, the children get the chance to flex their imagination and writing skills. The children "write alternative endings, and they'll have a nature journal that they get to write in," says Krall.
Book Trails's emphasis is on bringing every child to understand the joys of reading and exploring their local history. With this in mind, Krall decided that they should raise money to help children who could not afford to go to camp.
As she says, one of the most important aspects of the camp "was to offer it to every kid, regardless of their background and economic status." In order to do this, they asked artists to create statues of environmental superheroes that would be sponsored by local business and then auctioned off to raise funds.
Thanks to the help of nine local artists and the sponsorship they brought in, Book Trails has raised enough money to send nine children to camp who otherwise would have been left behind.
With biweekly after-school programs starting in the fall, as well as increased programs within schools, Book Trails is well on its way to showing children both the joy and the importance of reading.
Krall explains that they are trying to highlight "the idea that you need to be a well-rounded person, you need to know how to read and write," and the best time to start is as a child.
Book Trails, at its heart, "is all about getting kids who love science, out on ranches, reading and writing, learning about history -- and kids who love reading and writing but aren't crazy about science doing that."
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