It's summer camp season! Rambunctious kids ready to learn, grow and have fun fill camp sessions all summer long. As much fun as camp can be, it can also be overwhelming at times, especially for preschool-age children. As a camp director or counselor, you can help.
To ensure you have more breakthroughs than breakdowns, all while inspiring fun, follow these simple rules:
Select age-appropriate outings/activities: Small children won't fare well on an outing to an art museum where touching is off-limits. The same is true for a park with equipment meant for older kids. Before you book any group outing, ensure it's age-appropriate for your tykes.
Eat before you go: A well-fed preschooler is a happy preschooler. You don't want to arrive at your destination with a handful of hangry (hungry + angry) kids. Have snacks before you go or plan a lunch break for everyone while you're out to ensure all are properly fueled.
Talk about sharing: Young children are still learning this important skill, so continue conversations about how it's important to share, both with other children in the group and other kids who might be attending the activities with their caregivers. Everyone needs to get a turn on the slide or with the exhibit activity.
Buddy up: Shepherding groups of easily distracted preschoolers calls for some special safety precautions to ensure no one gets lost or left behind. Determine a system for head counts and conduct them often. Also, encourage kids to buddy up so they help keep track of each other, too.
Head out early: If possible, start your day with the big camp activities or excursions. Preschoolers often have the most energy at the start of the day. Afternoons can be tricky, as many may still take naps or require quiet time to recharge. Mornings help avoid meltdowns.
Don't rush: Allow extra time for little legs to travel and little hands to explore. Preschoolers who feel rushed may push back with anger or feel overwhelmed and cry. It's best to plan extra time for activities rather than have to rush through them and end up with a group of disappointed kids.
Set expectations ahead of time: Small kids in particular need structure and direction. If you're heading out for a camp activity, talk about expectations the day before and again right before leaving. This gives kids a good idea of what they can expect to see and do, and what will be expected of them in regard to their behavior.
Take breaks: Long field trips can be taxing on some kids. You may find throughout the day that different children need breaks from the action. Encourage staff to take children who look overwhelmed to quiet places for a break. For example, most children's museums have book nooks for quietly reading and relaxing.
Bring a safety kit: Always pack extra supplies for kids and include a first-aid kit. From an extra shirt for the kid who somehow found a mud puddle to a bandage for the child who scraped his knee, you'll be happy you have supplies on hand to handle business so you can move on with the fun.
Camp is fun but it's also overwhelming. If you're a director or counselor at a summer camp for preschoolers, consider these smart tips for ensuring order and enjoyment.