First day jitters at the start of kindergarten are expected, but many families skip the butterflies altogether by participating in Harker’s KinderCamp, which provides a gentle transition into the school’s youngest grade level.
While conforming to the summer format of morning academics and afternoon activities, KinderCamp’s primary objective is to help students become familiar with the Harker environment, and allow them to learn and practice some of the skills needed for kindergarten.
Faculty never lose sight of the fact that this is a first experience for the kids. “It’s very nurturing,” says veteran kindergarten teacher Grace Wallace. “That is my number one goal: for it to be very welcoming for both the parents and the children.”
The morning academics are designed to engage students in learning through games, songs, crafts and manipulatives. “Summer is very hands-on,” says Wallace. “We want to promote learning in an environment that is really enjoyable, one that makes them curious and want to explore.”
On a recent day, the students stacked Fruit Loops in different combinations adding up to the number five, for a delicious take on problem solving and computation. Playdough provided an opportunity to build finger strength and motor control while learning and practicing shapes.
Weekly themes include Pets and the Fourth of July. Cat crowns, puppy puppets, and Uncle Sam hats challenge a variety of motor, computational, and phonetic skills. “I’m a big believer in implementing a skill through crafts,” Wallace says. Hence the patterns practiced in red, white, and blue pinto beans and the puppets printed with three-letter words. There is a lot of learning going on under the guise of fun and games.
Wallace says she feels like she has done her job if the kids “are happy and love coming to school, and feel that they can succeed here socially, developmentally, and academically.”
Gr. 1 parent Trupti Kapadia is glad she took the advice of other Harker parents and enrolled her twins in KinderCamp last year. “The summer is so relaxed and fun that my kids loved school from day one,” she says. “There was really no breaking in period when school started, because they were familiar with the campus and the people.”
In addition to offering an unusually hands-on curriculum, the summer program differs from the school year in that classes are smaller and fewer in number. This provides an opportunity for the children to become familiar with the kindergarten environment when it is less busy.
The schedule is more relaxed as well. During the school year, kindergartners often visit a different teacher for either math or language arts. They have a separate science and social studies curriculum, and they go to P.E., Music, Art, and Library. During the summer, they remain with the same teacher all morning and, while other disciplines are integrated into the curriculum, the focus is on math and language arts.
The students practice more than their letters and numbers, however. “We’re focusing a lot on social skills and listening skills,” says Wallace. “We do it during the school year, too, but summer gives us a chance to really zero in on those. They learn social skills in the morning in the classroom, and they learn them in a different way playing in the afternoon.”
During the optional afternoon program, the youngest campers form their own group, known as the Sparrows, and take full advantage of camp activities, including swimming, archery, crafts, and games. “With the exception of the climbing wall, they get to do everything the big kids do,” says program director Vanessa Bullman.
Of course, some activities look a little different when it’s the Sparrows’ turn. Their swim lessons, for example, are conducted in very small groups, with no more than 3 students per instructor. Also unique to this age group is naptime. Each day, one 45-minute activity period is allocated to nap or rest time. Children are not required to sleep, but it’s a quiet interlude guaranteed to inspire envy among grown-ups.
Perhaps most popular with the kids are the field trips. Twice during each four-week session, the Sparrows don their trademark orange camp T-shirts and head for such destinations as Happy Hollow, the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, indoor playland Jungle Island, and Ardenwood Farm in Fremont.
The Kapadia children liked KinderCamp so much last year, their mother says, that “every day, they woke up and couldn’t wait to go to school. In fact, one Saturday, my daughter asked just to drive by and see the school, even though no one was there.”