Squealing with excitement, the sixteen rising kindergarteners at Cornatzer Elementary’s Kinder Camp pass a ball around in a circle. Having fun, they have no idea that they are also practicing motor skills, following directions, cooperating, and getting used to what it will be like in kindergarten.
“Kinder Camp really gives students a sneak peek of what to expect in kindergarten,” said Cornatzer Principal Raymonda Shelton. “It’s a chance for students to see what it is all about, which has been wonderful.”
Funded by a $25,000 grant from the Mebane Foundation, Kinder Camp is offered at all six Davie County Elementary Schools. The program runs for half a day for four days. Around 150 students are participating this summer.
This year, Cornatzer offered three weeks of camp, and Shelton is pleased that two-thirds of the school’s 72 incoming kindergarteners took advantage of the opportunity.
She explained that Kinder Camp was initially designed for students who hadn’t gone to preschool or daycare or participated in structured childcare. “It was a chance to get acclimated to being in a group, lining up, and getting used to a classroom setting. Now we invite all parents to sign their children up. During camp, the teachers review expectations, and students get familiar with the classroom, centers, cafeteria, and playground.”
“Students who attend Kinder Camp become familiar with the building and classroom, meet potential classmates, practice lining up and walking down the hall quietly with their hands by their sides, and learn what to do in the cafeteria. Even though they don’t go through the line during the summer, they still get used to receiving food and learn how to open their milk carton, which is a huge thing in kindergarten,” said Tara Patterson, a 12-year veteran kindergarten teacher and the camp’s leader. “Kinder Camp just eases their transition and makes them more comfortable on their first day of school. It helps the parents too because they know their child has been here before.”
Shelton pointed out that Kinder Camp is equally beneficial for the teachers who familiarize themselves with many of their students before the school year starts.
“Our teachers look forward to it. We don’t have to round people up. The whole team wants to participate because they see its value,” said Shelton. “We are adding a fourth kindergarten class this fall, and that teacher has been able to come to be a part of the camp, too. Throughout these three weeks, all four of our kindergarten teachers have participated, rotating in and out. It has allowed them to get to know each other better, bond, and learn each other’s teaching styles. It’s a type of staff development/team-building experience. They get as much out of it as the students. It’s a great opportunity, and we appreciate it.”
Patterson loves Kinder Camp. In fact, she plans her summer vacation around it. Her daughter, Lauren, who is now in college, has volunteered with Cornatzer’s Kinder Camp since middle school. Initially, it was a way to earn her volunteer hours for school clubs. Now she volunteers because she loves it.
Alli Carter was hired to teach kindergarten during Kinder Camp last summer and found visiting camp for a couple of days and meeting some of the students in her class helpful. “It gave me a better understanding of what to expect for the coming year.” This year she is excited to get to know many more of the students.
Getting to know the students also assists with classroom placement. Patterson shared that one of the hardest things about kindergarten versus other grades is not knowing anything about the students’ personalities, which makes the four days of camp invaluable.
“We’ve already seen some students we want to keep together and others we want to separate,” added Carter.
Skills also play a role. “One of the things I like to find out during camp is whether they can write their name and cut with scissors. During the first week of school, these are big activities that we work on, so the ones who can’t do it will be spread out across the classrooms,” explained Patterson. She also provides practice sheets so parents can work with their children at home before school starts.
While camp includes daily academic activities, it also provides plenty of time for play. A joint training between the preschool and kindergarten teachers revealed a disconnect between preschool and kindergarten. “We realized the time they get for free choice is significantly less in kindergarten than preschool, so we did more centers this summer,” said Patterson.
Although students do practice writing their names, cutting with scissors, learning their basic shapes, and listening to read-a-louds, playing with other students in centers and on the playground is equally important. Students who are socially and behaviorally ready for school quickly pick up the academics.
“Kinder Camp is such an awesome opportunity for students, families, and teachers. We are so grateful to the Mebane Foundation for funding this opportunity. It makes such a big impact,” said Patterson.
Shelton also expressed her appreciation to the Mebane Foundation. “Kinder Camp is a huge gift for our students and teachers, and we don’t take it for granted.”