Summer camps are the perfect way to keep your kids learning and engaged over the long summer break, but they’re more than that too. They’re a way to get kids out of the house, meet other kids with similar likes, and have some fun. They’re also a way for younger children (and parents!) to test the waters of going off to school or care programs without their parents. Tacoma and wider Pierce County are home to several summer camps, large and small, but the Children’s Museum of Tacoma offers some of the best around. Driven by fun, imagination and play, the camps at the Children’s Museum of Tacoma are designed to spark your child’s interests and help them collaborate with other kids their age in new learning experiences.
“There are many things that make our camps unique!” says Playscape and Program Manager Alysia Jines. “First of all, we are lucky to have our camp room and the Museum to explore during our summer camps. Secondly, we tailor each day of camp to meet the kids where they are in their learning journey. Lastly, above all, we value play as a big portion of our day since play is a child’s work and is so important to a child’s development.”
The Museum offers several camp topics, including art, STEAM, adventure, cooking and storytelling. Each camp offers different sessions divided by age, and camps are offered on one of two campuses – either at the Museum itself at 1501 Pacific Avenue in downtown Tacoma, or at the Hoyt Campus at 2708 N. Union Avenue, Tacoma.
“Activities vary from camp to camp, depending on age and theme,” explains Jines. “For example, we explore color mixing and a variety of art mediums in art camp. In cooking camp, we use real kitchen equipment and tools to create meals to taste, smell and share. In STEAM, we become scientists and make hypotheses on what we think will happen when two different substances combine, like vinegar and baking soda. Every camp revolves around the children’s interests and often the plans change to focus on the collective children’s sparks.”
Each camp has 12-18 kiddos, two museum staff members, as well as volunteers to keep the camps fun and engaging. The camp rooms change depending on the age of the campers, but usually include books, sensory toys and non-prescriptive setups to drive young imaginations.
Camps are divided up by age, but do include a few ages in each one – so kids ages 2-3, 3-6, and 5-8 are grouped together. This, “creates a sense of community where the older friends can help be a leader to the younger friends and the youngers have natural helpers in the older campers,” explains Jines. “This ‘parallel play’ is very important to children’s development as it helps create empathy and communication skills.”
And, yes, you saw that right. The youngest age group includes two- and three-year-olds, which is fairly unique in the Tacoma area, where there aren’t a lot of camps for toddlers. Understandably so, as toddlers are not the first age group you’d think of when you think of summer camps, and yet the Children’s Museum of Tacoma offers toddler camps in all of the same topics offered to pre-school and school age children with the exception of storytelling.
“We like to honor where children are and help encourage their independence. Our staff is trained to be the first classroom experience for these little friends, and help to make that transition to independence as smooth as possible,” says Jines of toddler camps. However, if your little one isn’t quite ready to be dropped off, you also can talk to staff and work out a plan to stay with them for a day or two and help them transition.
If your toddler is totally fine being dropped off, but you as the parent or caretaker feel a little nervous, the museum staff have your back in that situation too. “Our staff is always available to talk through classroom activities, or answer any questions. We really want to do what is best for each child and family, and make sure to meet children where they are developmentally.”
Children in toddler camps are not required to be potty trained, but kids in the pre-school and school age groups must be. Toddler camps are short and run from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. each day they’re offered. Pre-school and school age camps are from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. each day and while a snack is provided, kids in these camps must also bring a sack lunch.
Registration for summer camps opens in later March 2019. For more information, visit the Children’s Museum of Tacoma’s website.