A Summer Camp Primer for Pre-School & First Time Campers

San Francisco moms are well aware of the challenges of finding a good pre-school, and then a good kindergarten for our children. However, many are surprised at the logistical challenge of planning their children’s summers. While summer camps do not have admission processes (thank goodness!), they do fill up. Programs for pre-school aged kids are less prevalent than camps for older children.  Starting early will ensure that you’ll find camps at convenient locations, with interesting activities and times that work for you.

monkeysIf this will be the first summer their child attends camp, this adds extra challenges to the camp selection process. The first camp experience is not always an easy transition.  Many pre-school kids experience separation anxiety when starting camp.

While camp can be a nice opportunity for mom to get some things done, you might wonder whether it’s worth the stress of separation anxiety to send your child to camp. But early childhood educators do believe that a good camp is good for kids. Heather Posner of the Bay Area Discovery Museum outlines some of the benefit s of camps for very young kids:

Sending preschoolers to summer camp offers children opportunities for new and more challenging social environments and activities.  When they come to camp it’s similar to school in that kids are getting dropped off, but each week they meet all kinds of other kids and grown-ups.  It helps children develop flexibility and to adapt to different situations as they get older and do more activities like soccer, ballet and even sleep away camp.  Not to mention the fact that camp let’s kids play and be creative in ways they don’t often get to during the school year.

Here are some tips for making it a fabulous experience for your child.

  • Choose camps your child will like. This may sound obvious, but parents sometimes choose camps based on what they want their child to like, rather than what’s most interesting to their child.  There is a camp for every interest – not just music, art, and outdoors – but you can also find pirate camp, super-hero camp, princess camp and run-outside-all-day camp You can encourage your child to expand their horizons later, but for the first camp experience, make it something they already love.
  • Factor in your child’s personality.  If your child has trouble with transitions, find a camp where they stay with the same instructor and same group of kids all days. If your child is very shy and tentative, look at camps with small camper group sizes.  Also consider how many different camps to attend in a single summer.  While older kids may want more variety, the first time camper can avoid more transitions if they attend multiple weeks of the same camp.
  • Find a friend for your child to go with. Most children will be much more eager to go to camp (and leave their moms) if they have a buddy with them. It may be best to just arrange one buddy, if possible.  ActivityHero has a camp planning calendar  that you can share with a friend.
  • Do your homework on the camp. Call the camp director or office staff and ask them about the camp. Ask about the background and training of staff, what the kids do all day and what the day is like. Ask how the camp handles emergency situations, to be confident that they have thought this through. If your child does have separation anxiety or troubles adjusting, you’ll feel much better if you are confident that your child is in good hands.
  • Talk to your child about camp. Start talking to your child at least a week before camp starts, and talk them through the full camp experience, and what to expect each day. Mommy will drop them off at 9:00 and pick them up at 3:00. They’ll play, then get a snack, do story time then lunch. After lunch, they’ll have a rest, play time, and then mommy will pick them up.  It is important to be as detailed and specific as possible. Kids will often fill in the blanks if they are not provided. At the Bay Area Discovery Museum, one young child was terrified to attend camp. It turned out that he thought that he would be staying overnight at the camp and didn’t want to sleep away from home. Your 4 year old may not be aware that sleep-over camps are for older kids only.
  • Keep positive! Remember if you’re nervous or tentative, your child will pick up on it. So stay upbeat and let your kid know what a fabulous time they will have at camp.

Whether your child loves animals, running, drawing or make-believe, you’ll find fabulous programs your child will love. So start planning now and get the camp that’s right for you and your child!

Find camps by age or dates on ActivityHero.

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About ActivityHero

I am blogging on all things summer camp.
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