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Camp shows kids the fun side of writing

Jeremy Heiman

Two years ago, a 10-year-old Aspen boy, given the choice of attending soccer camp or writing camp, chose the writing camp.

It’s a true story. The previous summer, the lad had attended the Summer Writing Camp for Kids operated by the Aspen Writers’ Foundation. He evidently enjoyed writing camp so much that he passed up a chance to go to a soccer day camp.

The writing camp, now in its eighth year, gives kids an opportunity to learn writing from real writers, and to find the feeling and satisfaction that comes from expressing themselves with words. Two-week camp sessions for ages 8 to 11, and ages 12 to 15, will gear up July 31.

“The idea is that writing can be and is fun,” said Julie Comins, executive director of the Aspen Writers’ Foundation and one of the teachers in the camp program. “The focus is less on grammar and punctuation than it is on creativity and expression.”

Kids get enough drilling on the nuts and bolts of writing in school, she said.

Sessions are limited to 18 kids, with two instructors. Comins and former Writers’ Foundation executive director Jeanne McGovern are the main teachers, and other teachers include graduate students and local writers.

Campers work on their powers of observation, spying on people and using what they’ve observed in their writing, Comins said. At camp, they use a blindfold game to develop their senses. They do field trips to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies to do nature writing.

And they have fun. “We really make sure that it’s a camp,” Comins said. “They have time to run around.” There’s also quiet time for writing.

Some kids write poetry, others are more inclined to write fiction. They get a chance to write in whatever form they prefer, Comins said. A songwriting day is new this year.

“If they’re more comfortable in one genre than another,” she said, “that’s fine with us.” Writing, editing and designing a book of creative writing is the final activity in the last week of each camp session.

In Aspen, the camp for younger kids and the camp for teens both run from 1 to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, at the Red Brick School. A Carbondale camp for kids in the 8-to-11 age group also starts July 31. It meets from 9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday, at the Carbondale Community School.

“We started a downvalley camp so that people who live downvalley won’t have to shuttle their kids all over the valley,” Comins said.

The teen camp, for 12- to 15-year-olds, is new this year, Comins said. It was created at the request of a former camper who had outgrown the camp’s age range.

“One girl called one of our instructors and said `Would you please do a camp for teens this year?’ ” Comins recounted. “When teens are asking for it, then we’re on the right track,” she said.

Kids don’t have to be talented writers to attend. Comins remarked that some children are sent because they are already good writers, and some are sent because they hate to write. These kids often enjoy writing by the time they leave, she said.

Some of the kids in the earlier teen-camp session this summer are extraordinarily talented, Comins observed. She said she has no doubt that they’ll go on to writing careers.

Camp costs $175 for two weeks, but scholarships are available for those who can’t afford the full cost. “Any child who wants to come to camp, we want them to be able to attend, regardless of their financial circumstances,” Comins said.

The 2000 Summer Writing Camp for Kids is sponsored by The Thrift Shop, which helps out with scholarships, and the city of Aspen, which gave the program a grant. The Cotsen Family Foundation is the primary sponsor of the camp, Comins said.

The Writers’ Foundation enjoys being able to provide the camp.

“This is one of the most fun things we do every year,” Comins said. We love to see how the kids grow over two weeks.”


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