Through games, music and improvisational comedy, the Adventures in Writing Camp - held each summer in Los Altos, Mountain View and other Bay Area cities - aims to expose campers to the joys of writing and inspire a new interest in storytelling.
"(We) set out to create a camp where kids could fall in love with writing," said Jen Hartvickson, co-founder of the camp. "The (camp) is designed to inspire reluctant writers and delight those who already have the bug."
Prior to launching the Adventures in Writing Camp, Jen and her husband, Hans Hartvickson, ran an after-school writing program in Marin County, where participants wrote and illustrated their own e-books. After the program proved successful, the Hartvicksons started a summer camp to share the experience with a larger audience of students.
The couple hopes to change children’s perceptions of writing.
"When people hear writing camp, they often think, 'Oh, no, six hours of writing? That sounds like torture!'" Jen said. "So we use age-appropriate projects … to pique campers’ interest (and) build their skills."
The couple’s innovative approach to teaching writing is rooted in music and improv comedy. The Hartvicksons both believe that these methods bring out the best in their campers and spark a greater enthusiasm for writing.
"Hans and I both love music and see how powerful it is as both a teaching and engagement tool," Jen said. "We’ve been able to incorporate music into the camp, and we often hear that music and dance are campers’ highlights."
They also value principles of improv comedy in their teaching. Hans noted that improv enables campers to "shake loose" and overcome bouts of writers’ block.
"Writing should be fun, and it’s not always taught that way," he said. "Improv leads to laughter and can bring more reserved campers out of their shells."
Ultimately, they hope to develop children’s writing skills and give them an enjoyable experience of writing through a distinctive teaching approach and engaging, interactive lessons.
"Having fun, making friends and creating lifelong memories … is at the heart of everything we do," Jen said.
Developing confidence in budding authors
The Hartvicksons offer three camps, for first-graders, second- through fifth-graders and sixth- through eighth-graders. Each camp runs for two weeks and is taught by credentialed teachers and college students.
In the first-grade program, campers collaborate to create a class e-book and use crafts, music and acting to learn crucial elements of storytelling. The camp is primarily intended to teach foundational writing skills.
Older elementary school students create their own e-books, building on the skills taught in the first-grade camp. The older campers rotate among teachers and classrooms for different lessons and activities. Along with song-and-dance activities, students undergo the process of writing an e-book, through the early planning stages to publishing it online.
Middle-school campers select a topic of their choice to pursue and use their writing skills to create a multimedia project. The curriculum changes each year, rotating among blogging, podcasting and developing short animated films.
Over the camp’s seven years, the Hartvicksons have seen tremendous growth in the students’ confidence and interest in writing.
"Over 90 percent of parents whose child attended camp said that they would recommend (it) to a friend," Hans said. "We regularly hear that children walk away with an improved attitude and more confidence as writers."
Some students have experienced a complete transformation in their skills and interest in writing. Jen recalled a student who found a passion for writing after enrolling in the Adventures in Writing Camp one summer.
"Once a parent called to say, 'I don’t know what you did, but my child went from hating to write to having just won an award for writing at school,'" she said.
In all of their writing endeavors, Hans advises budding writers to look for inspiration wherever they go.
"Look around you - ideas are everywhere," he said. "The trick is to be prepared."
The Adventures in Writing Camp is scheduled for two sessions at Blach Intermediate School in Los Altos, June 18-29 and July 9-20; the site of the Mountain View camp has yet to be determined. Registration is open.
To register and for more information, visit aiwcamp.com.