After two years of being impacted by the pandemic, 2022 was when KinderCamp™ returned to normal.
“It felt like the kids got to be kids again,” said Sara Owen, a teacher with the Flagstaff Unified School District and the coordinator of the early education program. “They got to experience the school environment; their parents got to be part of it and we had lots of visitors.”
Those visitors included a pediatrician from North Country Healthcare, who taught the students how to use a stethoscope; firefights just back from battling local wildfires; a nutritionist; and basketball players from Northern Arizona University and Flagstaff High School.
More than 150 preschool-age children in Flagstaff, Williams and Pinetop-Lakeside recently completed the four-week camp, which prepares children academically, socially, and emotionally for kindergarten. During the four weeks, children will learn letters and sounds, numbers and some science while getting used to being part of a classroom community. The program is provided at no cost to families.
In 2020, KinderCamp couldn’t be held due to the pandemic. Instead, organizers created take-home kits for parents and caregivers that included many of the activities typically held during the camp. The following year, KinderCamp was held in person, but on a shorter schedule and with limited classroom visitors.
Each of the guests in the program this year had a special purpose, Owen said. The pediatrician and her team talked about healthy bodies and what to expect when you visit a doctor. A representative from Coconino County Health and Human Services brought a puppet with teeth so the kids could practice good brushing technique. The visit from the firefighters demonstrated that children needn’t be afraid of emergency personnel, even when they were wearing all their bulky gear.
Then there were the basketball clinics with members of the NAU women’s basketball team and the Flagstaff High School boys and girls teams.
“It was just so cute,” said Owen. “They dribbled and they passed and everyone got to make a shot.”
The student athletes made baskets with their arms so each child could do a slam dunk, Owens said, but she noted that some of the four- and five-year-olds came awfully close to making baskets with the real hoop.
The basketball clinics came courtesy of a donation last year from the Phoenix Suns for KinderCamp.
KinderCamp, one of United Way of Northern Arizona’s signature initiatives to Step Up for Our Youth, began in 2005 after a survey identified early childhood learning as a major concern in the region. The initial partnership between UWNA and the Flagstaff Unified School District has grown over the years to include school districts throughout northern Arizona.
The program has been made possible by the generous support of many collaborating partners over the years, which have enabled UWNA to leverage funds to obtain additional support. Thanks to: Arizona Community Foundation of Flagstaff, APS, Arizona Office of the Governor, Coconino County, the Geile Charitable Foundation, the Molly and Joseph Herman Foundation, the Phoenix Suns Foundation, the Phillip K. Lyons Foundation, Supervisor Matt Ryan, Salt River Project, Wells Fargo, Williams Rotary, and many individual donors.