While her friends are yukking it up at Disneyland or the beach, Amanda Hoshaw is hitting the books this summer.
She couldn't be happier.
The 10-year-old spends her mornings feeding her passion for writing with dozens of other fledgling authors at Young Writers' Camp. The three-week session at Cal State Long Beach combines instruction in writing with ice cream, pizza and fresh air--but no homework and no grades.
For the 440 students attending the camp, class is held in the shade of eucalyptus trees, in a Japanese garden, on the rolling lawns of the university quad and in classrooms.
The relaxed atmosphere fosters creativity, and the camp slogan, emblazoned on notebooks and T-shirts, reflects the approach: "Writing at the Beach."
But there also is a serious side. Students see their work published in an anthology and get to read their pieces aloud to a gathering of parents on the last day of camp.
Amanda and her fifth-grade friends call the camp an ideal way to spend part of the summer break.
"At school, you have to do math and science. Here you can just write and have fun with your friends," said the freckle-faced girl. "And you're allowed to talk in class."
Young Writers' Camp is conducted by the South Basin Writing Project, a publicly funded program at the university that trains teachers in writing and literacy.
It is open to all students entering grades 1 to 12, regardless of where they live in Southern California.
The writing camp has built a strong following in the 10 summers it has operated on the campus. Organizers four years ago added Young Readers' Camp for students entering grades 1 to 8.
Both camps are offered twice each summer for three weeks--the writers' camp in the morning and the readers' camp in the afternoon. Each camp costs $225 per student and $200 for their siblings.
The first session for both camps ends Friday; the second session is from July 26 to Aug. 13.
Administrators say that space is still available in the readers' camp for the second session; a waiting list has been started for the writers' camp.
With two teachers for every 20 students, the camps provide the individual attention often impossible in traditional classrooms.
Instructors in the reading camp teach phonics and other skills, as well as strategies to enhance reading enjoyment for students, who get ample time to read books they select.
Instructors in the writers' camp emphasize the process of writing--students create rough drafts, read their stories aloud to classmates, listen to comments and revise their work for publication.
Last week, Teresa Reider walked her fifth-grade students through the initial stage of the writing process during a visit to the Japanese garden.
"Today, we are going to see if you can hear and find your writing voice," Reider told the students.
Reider asked the students to use their senses in their writing, and she had them list all the details they heard, saw, felt and smelled as they walked through the garden.
Reider and several students stopped at a small sand garden with clumps of mossy grass and large reddish rocks rising from neatly raked pebbles.
"What does it look like to you?" Reider asked, referring to the clumps of grass and the rocks.
"Islands," a student answered.
"That's right," Reider said.
Amanda was among the visitors to the Japanese garden. Inspired by the setting, the student from Long Beach wrote a poem that captured the surroundings.
Colorful fish gracefully skimming the water
They seem to form a beautiful painting
The colors swirl together in a multicolored dream
They gently form ripples in the flowing water
They flop upon the lily pads
Reider smiled as Amanda read aloud.
"Some of the children have the greatest imaginations," she said.
Beyond the pizza and ice cream socials, why do students choose to spend part of their summer vacation essentially going to school?
Some say the camp allows them to express themselves.
Others attend because their parents make them.
That's what happened to Gustavo Espinoza.
Last summer, Espinoza's mother had him attend the readers' camp and this summer, the writers' camp, he said. She wanted to provide a constructive activity in place of the television at home.
"I'm glad I came," said Gustavo, 14, an incoming freshman at Lynwood High School who admits he was reluctant to attend both camps. "It's fun once you get to know everybody and do your work."
Gustavo spent one recent morning working on a story about a family trip to a lake in Mexico, describing how his mother, to her surprise and delight, caught a 25-pound fish.
He read the piece aloud to his teacher, Kasey Spencer, who offered a supportive critique.
"I want you to tell me more about your mom being excited. What was the look on her face?" Spencer asked. "I want you to focus on your mom. Is that OK?"
"Yeah," Gustavo said, picking up his pencil, furrowing his brow and beginning that most time-tested of traditions for authors:
For information about the camps, call (562) 985-1696.
* SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA LIVING: Stories about trains fascinate children. E6