Everyone knows that summer day camp can be great for school-age kids and their families. Camp gives kids the opportunity to make friends, learn new skills, have adventures, and get some exercise. It cuts down on screen time by getting them outdoors and encouraging active play. It also helps working parents who need childcare during the summer months.
But did you know that summer camp can be beneficial to your preschooler as well? Many programs take children as young as 3 years old — and while this might sound too young, there are some pros to consider, especially if your child will be entering preschool or kindergarten in the fall.
Summer camp can provide a preview of school, particularly for children who haven't been to daycare, according to whattoexpect.com, the official website of the bestselling book and brand What to Expect When You're Expecting. The transition from laid-back, flexible days at home with a parent or caretaker to the relative structure of a classroom environment can be challenging. Summer camp can introduce kids to concepts like following a schedule, learning group rules, taking responsibility for their belongings (backpack and lunchbox), and getting along with other children in a group setting.
Summer camp can also be a great "practice run" for kids who don't have a lot of experience being away from Mom and Dad. After all, being dropped off for a day full of fun and friends might seem a little less daunting for kids (and their parents) than going to the first day of school. While schools tend to have stricter policies about school drop-off (I was only allowed to walk my kindergartner to her classroom on the first day of school – after that, no parents allowed in the building), camp counselors are likely to be a bit more lenient about those first few goodbyes.
Camp is a great way to introduce your preschooler to new activities and skills. Many day camps include water play or swimming lessons. Other camps may focus on specific sports, like soccer or gymnastics. Your kids will have fun while practicing important skills like teamwork, coordination, self-confidence and learning and following rules. They might even enjoy the new activity enough to continue it beyond summer camp.
Camp is also a wonderful opportunity to introduce your child to a whole new group of friends. Young kids sometimes have limited peer group exposure – their social circle may only include a handful of friends from daycare, a play group or their neighborhood. Summer camp, like school, allows children to practice making friends and interact with kids from diverse backgrounds. It also gives children the freedom to make friends independently, instead of just making friends based on convenience or proximity.