Do you remember the days of summer camp? Those carefree, summer days filled with fun when you’re connecting with old friends and making new ones too? Camp feels like a respite from learning when, in fact, so much learning is happening!
During the early years, a child’s main job is to play. Summer camp offers a time for purposeful play in a setting that provides structure and fun with other kids. So what should a parent look for in a summer camp for preschool-aged children?
Each family has its own approach towards screens and rules for how much or how little access their children will have to tablets, TV, etc. Because your children are likely allowed some screen time at home, look for a camp that doesn’t add to that by having regular screen-time built into their program.
Structure and adult guidance is a good thing. Structure encourages a child to build routine habits such as hanging their tote bag in its place, putting toys away when they’re finished playing with them, and throwing their garbage away after lunch. Adult guidance helps a child learn sequencing and how to follow one and two-step directions for an activity. Still, a child’s imagination is most open and creative when they’re offered materials to create something – with no directions for how the end result has to look.
The benefits of outdoor play are well-documented. While you need to take precautions against sunburn, nothing beats sunshine for making Vitamin D – a vitamin crucial in the development of strong bones and a strong immune system. Outdoor play also provides greater opportunity to build gross motor skills as kids run, climb, hop and maybe even dig. The great outdoors offers limitless opportunities for creativity!
Half day camps are age appropriate when it comes to preschoolers. Whether it is camp or school, kids are “on” when they’re away from home. Adults know how tiring it can be to perform at work all day – kids are no different! Half day camps allow them to come home and take a nap, or simply have down time to play at home.
The benefits of summer camp are numerous, but maybe it isn’t an option for you. Don’t underestimate your ability to nurture the same learning at home! To be clear – purposeful play is not play that has meaning for us as adults; it is open-ended play that enables children to imagine their own purpose in what they’re doing. One of my favorite examples occurred one day at my preschool.
Kate, age 4, was happily threading beads on a string. “What are you making?” I asked. Kate explained that it was her mom’s birthday. “Mommy’s getting dressed up for dinner with Daddy, so she needs a pretty necklace.” When is Mom’s birthday, I inquired? Kate looked across the table to her friend, Megan. “My birthday is tomorrow!” Megan exclaimed. Oh, how the girls giggled as they told me Megan is the mommy and Kate is her daughter. When left to themselves, creativity will naturally bubble up. The story gives purpose to their play.
Whether you’re planning for play at summer camp or at home, remember to make time for purposeful play.
Check out our Summer Camp Directory to find the perfect experience for your kiddo.
By Mary Ostrowski