February 22, 2018

Co-op Camps are the Answer

One of the most exciting hallmarks of turning three years old (for Moms and tots alike) is the invitation for budding preschoolers to join summer day camps.   

Spring advertisements tote all the ways tots can fill their summer days making crafts, reading stories, learning new languages, and more—all for a hefty price, of course.  

In the stay-at-home crowd, these drop-off classes wave enticingly in front of wearied Moms.  A few hours of peace while the little ones do something “enriching” is worth the tuition for many families.

My firstborn made all the summer camp circuits before he was even old enough for kindergarten. We’ve spent between $50-$300/week for science camp, art camp, theater camp, sports camp, and more.  As long as he brought home a craft (anything involving fine motor skills), I convinced myself that he was getting something more than he could at home.

It dawned on one friend that “free discovery time” is what our kids already share in our weekly playgroup…and that IS free.  Add a craft, a story, plus other activities that we wish these camps would include, and voila—we can create an improved camp experience for a fraction of the price!

Our friend’s idea enthusiastically grew into fruition, and this summer, our playgroup accomplished the pinnacle of preschool summer camps.  Five families participated, creating a class of six three year old boys, all of whom have been weekly playmates since infancy.   Each mom “hosted” one week, with two 3-hour morning classes at her house, plus a Friday field trip related to the week’s theme.  A second mom “assisted,” while the other three moms scurried off for that precious time alone.

The boys eagerly explored the worlds of pirates, animals, emergency vehicles, cooking, and race cars this summer.  What they never realized was that they were also getting an intensive preschool experience in those three hour segments.  Each camp day followed a similar pattern, starting with circle time (songs, stories, music, math, phonics, sharing, and more), fine motor (writing, multiple crafts, sensory), science experiments, gross motor activities, and geography/social studies, all centered around the weekly theme.  

There was so much going on that the children didn’t even need breaks of “free play,” which we usually left to the very end as the moms reconvened and shared notes.

The benefits of playgroup camp eclipsed our initial hopes.  While none of these little boys had yet been in formal preschool, their attention spans as they worked together far exceeded the length any one would have lasted alone with mom.  By changing up rooms and activities every fifteen minutes or so, it was surprisingly easy to keep them engaged for three hours.  

We all hope for teachers who understand and connect with our children, and nobody better fit that role than their best friends’ moms who have been caring for them in playgroup all these years. Plus, in what other group environment could we expect a 1:3 teacher ratio?  The “teacher” feedback was well-appreciated, and by the end of the summer, each child was well-prepared for preschool.

Teaching was also a blast for the moms!  Preparation was a cross between planning a children’s party and smuggling in all the enrichment that we’d been “meaning to do” with our children but never got around to doing.  Coffee time at playgroup became a show-and-tell as the adults displayed their new ideas and shipments from Oriental Trading Company.  Group planning quickly came together, and we congratulated ourselves as we came up with ingenious new ideas.  (Some favorites: providing each child with a craft tray, which contained messes, cleaned well, and transferred from camp to camp; opening and closing camp with the same “circle time songs” that most had used at a popular music program; etc.)  

Each family paid for their own “hosting” costs, and I don’t believe any spent more than $50. Most of the supplies were already in our craft cupboards, already overstocked with more than one child could possibly use.

Playgroup camp was a tremendous success. For $10/week, our preschoolers enjoyed five engaging weeks of semi-private camp enrichment and fun.  We giggled like schoolgirls as we mapped out plans over coffee, played pirates and racecars alongside our joyful children, and then celebrated our accomplishments by spending that extra money on our summer pedicures sans kiddos!

Think of all the possibilities that a preschool playgroup co-op could bring! 

Lisa is the busy homeschool mom of two little boys, constantly organizing, teaching, or volunteering with some children’s program.  She makes use of her former legal career by advocating for the special needs of profoundly gifted children.  See more of her work on her personal blog page.

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