By Jeanna Baxter White
At Cornatzer Elementary’s Kinder Camp, sixteen rising kindergarteners squeal with excitement as they pass a ball around in a circle. Little do they know that amidst the fun, they are also honing essential motor skills, learning to follow directions, and adapting to the kindergarten environment.
Principal Raymonda Shelton describes Kinder Camp as a sneak peek into the world of kindergarten, offering invaluable preparation to eager students.
Thanks to a generous $25,000 grant from the Mebane Foundation, this enriching program is available at all six Davie County Elementary Schools, with approximately 150 students participating this summer.
Acclimating Little Learners
Cornatzer Elementary offered three weeks of Kinder Camp this year, and Shelton is delighted that two-thirds of the school’s 72 incoming kindergarteners took advantage of this opportunity. Initially designed for students without preschool or daycare experience, Kinder Camp helps children acclimate to group settings, classroom routines, and essential social skills. Today, the camp welcomes all parents to sign up their children, offering a comprehensive orientation to the school environment, including the classroom, centers, cafeteria, and playground.
Tara Patterson, a veteran kindergarten teacher, and the camp’s leader, explains that Kinder Camp is instrumental in easing the transition to kindergarten. It allows students to familiarize themselves with the school building, meet potential classmates, and practice daily routines like lining up and quietly walking down the hall. Even simple tasks like learning how to open a milk carton become significant milestones in kindergarten. “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.”
Connecting Students and Teachers
Kinder Camp isn’t just beneficial for the students; it also plays a crucial role in familiarizing teachers with their incoming pupils. The entire team of teachers enthusiastically participates in the camp, recognizing its immense value in fostering teamwork and staff development. As Cornatzer Elementary plans to add a fourth kindergarten class this fall, teachers have appreciated the opportunity to collaborate, bond, and understand each other’s teaching styles through their involvement in the camp.
Patterson loves Kinder Camp. In fact, she plans her summer vacation around it. Her daughter, Lauren, who is 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, who was hired to teach kindergarten during Kinder Camp last summer, found visiting camp for a couple of days and meeting some of the students in her class invaluable. “It gave me a better understanding of what to expect for the coming year.”
Kinder Camp also assists in optimizing classroom placement by allowing teachers to assess students’ personalities and academic skills during the four-day program.
“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 extends her support to parents by providing practice sheets for children to work on at home before school starts, enhancing their confidence and readiness.
Combining Learning and Play
While Kinder Camp involves daily academic activities like writing their names, cutting with scissors, learning their basic shapes, and listening to read-a-louds, it also provides ample time for play. Patterson explains that a joint training with preschool and kindergarten teachers revealed a disconnect between the two grade levels. To address this, Kinder Camp incorporates more play-based centers to maintain a balance between academics and free-choice time. Playing with other students in centers and on the playground is equally important since students who are socially and behaviorally ready for school quickly pick up the academics.
A Precious Gift
Kinder Camp is truly an awesome opportunity for students, families, and teachers. The Mebane Foundation’s generous funding has made a significant impact on preparing young learners for success in kindergarten and beyond. Shelton and the entire school community express profound appreciation for the Mebane Foundation’s unwavering support, acknowledging Kinder Camp as a precious gift that lays a strong foundation for the students’ educational journey. “Kinder Camp is a huge gift for our students and teachers, and we don’t take it for granted.”