For others, it’s a matter of are we scheduled for the quintessential summer experiences of sleep-away camp and sports activities. And, for all of us, we look for enrichment that provides our kids with an experience to remember, to make the most of summer, and to, perhaps, prepare them for things that they will learn in the next school year.
At the Utah Museum of Natural History, we offer over 40 summer day camps, offered one week at a time, but designed to meet the needs of different family schedules. The program has been running for over a decade and, as a mom with three girls whom have taken oodles of the camps, I’d say the Museum staff has a solid program that kids like.
But this is also the time of year when my phone starts ringing / my email starts buzzing with mom’s of younger kids wondering if their child is ready for camps. Bearing in mind that I’m only a mom — not a psychologist, educator or behavioral expert — here are my two cents worth about Day Camps:
At UMNH, we offer half-day programs starting for kids who will enter Kindergarten in the fall. Some of these kids are still 4 years old when the summer begins! It is common for parents to wonder if their child is ready to stay at the Museum for 3 1/2 hours. Our summer camps are structured — but not as structured as a pre-school class or daycare program. And they are informal — but not as informal as being at home. So, is your child ready?
Some parents will schedule their child for a Spring Break Camp to test if their child is ready for a day camp experience. At UMNH, we offer Spring Break camp during the Salt Lake School District scheduled spring break. Parents can schedule just one day (or half-day) to get a sense both of the UMNH programs and their child’s readiness. You can see the types of programs we offer based upon last month’s camps at www.umnh.utah.edu/springbreak.
In talking with UMNH Camp Director, Shelli Campbell, we understand that for many kids, even beyond Kindergarten and First Grade, this is a first time away from home in a situation outside of school. Our program staff and camp teachers are trained and equipped to welcome kids into the program, especially on that first crucial day.
Shelli told me about David (and though this isn’t his real name, he’s a real camper from last year):
“David is such a cute kid, but he was extremely scared to leave his mom on that first day, and, actually, for several days after that. David’s mom had prepared us for this, so we made a point to introduce the teacher to David and his mother right away.
“The camp teacher, experienced in these situations from teaching in a formal classroom, got down to eye level to meet David. She explained how excited she was to have him in camp; went over the activities for the week to help him envision how much fun we would have in the camp. Mom, David, and the teacher toured the classroom before the rest of the children came in.
“Because David’s mom shared her concern with us in advance, we were able to work together to make sure that David knew what was happening, where he was going, when he would have snack time, and what time his mom would be back. And we welcomed David’s mom to stay in the room for the first 15 minutes on the first day.
“He was fine that day. We went through the process of welcoming him by name each morning, and making sure that he knew what was happening that day. There were a few days over the summer when he was sad or very shy. On those days, the teacher communicated closely with the mother to assist in the transition.
“Overall, I find that once the parents are gone and the child gets into an activity, the kids do just fine during the camp. Often times, it’s the parent that has a harder time leaving — as I’m finding out first hand now that I’m a mother.”
Bottom line? Know your child. Set realistic expectations about the camp experience. And work with the camp program staff. There are some amazing programs around Utah and the staff have worked with literally thousands of kids over the years. Talk with them. Make sure that you are comfortable in the program, the staff, the facilities. And then work with your child to make their time away from home, even if for a few hours, a positive and enriching one.
Next? Sleep-away camp!