Little Kid Camp

For parents of preschoolers, thinking about the summer months can spark moments of sheer panic.


Working parents may worry about who will watch their child once school lets out. Stay-at-home parents may blanch at the thought of finding activities to keep kids entertained every day.


Luckily, there are plenty of summer camp options to keep your 3- to 5-year-old engaged and educated. The trick is finding a program that works for them, registering early and giving them the confidence to strike out on their own.


“Since my kids are still young, I want the camp leaders to be warm, loving and conscious of their developmental needs,” says Mill Valley mom Colleen Donaldson, who has two sons, ages 3 and 4.


One of the best places to look for a preschool camp program is at local parks and recreation departments. Most are reasonably priced, offer half-day sessions for preschoolers and provide a variety of subjects to choose from, such as sports, dance, language immersion and recreation. The camps are often available in one-week intervals, making it easy to give your child a break in between sessions if needed.


“Young kids get burnt out really easily,” says Jordana Freeman, community services manager for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services. “Having that flexibility to sign up for a week here or there is nice.”


Other camp programs are more specialized.


San Francisco’s Kids Outdoor Club offers half- and full-day programs for preschoolers, all geared toward having them explore the city’s natural side.


“Kids at that age, in my opinion, they need the great outdoors,” says camp owner Scott Wilkinson. “Not many parents here in the city have a chance to do that at a level that is slow and calm, where the kids can really set their own pace.”


For kids who have yet to start preschool, camps give a sneak peek at what to expect in the future.


Habitot Children’s Museum in Berkeley enrolls children as young as 2.9 years old in a morning program that is structured like a regular preschool program, with each week focused on a different theme.


“What we’re really hoping to do is give kids a pre-preschool experience,” says Gina Moreland, Habitot’s founder and executive director. “It’s a really great way for kids to see what it’s like to be away from mom and dad.”


Developing a sense of independence is a major aspect of preschool camp experience. Naturally, each child will react differently.


“We have kids who will jump out of their car, and we have kids who cling to mom for the first two to three days when they’re dropped off,” says Wilkinson.


Most camp teachers recommend keeping goodbyes brief and full of optimism. Communicate that they will do just fine. Usually, a clingy kid will adapt within a few days.


You may also want to tell your kids that you’ll be at home while they’re at camp. It may not be entirely accurate, but it gives kids something that they can easily visualize.


Sometimes, however, it’s the parents who experience separation anxiety. They may hover around or drop the whole camp experiment if their child shows resistance.


“The whole thing is learning to let go for the parents. If you’re comfortable with that notion, you’ll have a much easier time,” says Moreland. “There’s a certain point where teachers will say, ‘Your kids are going to be just fine.’”


Millicent Skiles is an associate editor of Bay Area Parent.




Tips for a Better Transition


  • A short and sweet goodbye works best for all. After you sign your child into camp, give them a hug and kiss, introduce them to their leader and tell them to have a great day.
  • Make sure your camper has what he or she needs. Label clothes and lunch box with name, since different campers may have the same items.
  • If you have specific questions about camp or the activities, call before the camp starts; that way you have your answers before dropping off your child on the first day.
  • If your camp is held at a local park or community center, it may be a good idea to visit the spot with your child beforehand.
  • Before the first day of camp, you may want to talk to your child about the exciting things they’ll get to do.


Source: Redwood City Parks, Recreation and Community Services

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