Althea Helms sat at a cafeteria table at Bellefonte Elementary School next to her new friend Aurora Thomas on Thursday.
The 5-year-olds were given a carton of juice and a pre-wrapped muffin for a snack.
When Althea got the muffin, she squeezed the plastic wrap so hard, it popped. About two dozen other incoming kindergarteners turned their heads toward Althea to see what the noise was.
“Easy peasy,” Althea said. “That’s all I had to do to get it open all by myself.”
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She was one of 46 soon-to-be kindergarteners at the school who were invited by the district to participate in its annual kindergarten camp on Thursday and Friday mornings.
It’s a tradition that started 11 years ago to help get youngsters into the school groove.
Penns Valley offered a four-week extended learning program, in addition to holding open classroom visitation days for kindergarteners, said Penns Valley Assistant Superintendent Sherri Connell.
“It gets the kids familiar with the school and its rules, and helps alleviate the anxiety they might get on the first day,” said Bellefonte Elementary kindergarten teacher Jodi Proctor.
Thursday included two sessions during which the students met with their teachers and learned to walk in line and how to behave during recess and in the cafeteria.
On Friday, they will take a tour of a school bus that will give them a ride to Bellefonte Area Middle School and back.
“They’re all excited and learning quickly,” said kindergarten teacher Staci Chapman.
The trickiest part of the school day for kindergarteners is usually how to act appropriately in the cafeteria during lunch, Chapman said.
“That’s usually the most overwhelming,” Chapman said.
At a cafeteria activity Thursday, the students lined up to get lunch, got a snack on a tray and sat together at the lunch table.
Teachers helped the kids open their snacks. Opening the juice carton was the hardest.
“Pull the tab near the arrows, and then pull it again to open it, and when it looks like a smile, then it’s ready to drink,” Aurora, 5, said as she was showing her peers how to open the carton. “I couldn’t get it open at first.”
For the children, preparing for kindergarten is an exciting time.
Saydie Murphy, 5, said she went to the store with her grandmother to pick a new dress for the first day of school. She said it’s a dress similar to what her American Doll wears.
Jayvonn Evans, 5, said he was going to tell his mom he wants to go to the store after camp was over and get a Spider-Man backpack for his supplies.
“I need one to hold all my stuff,” he said. “Then I can show my friends. I’m excited to go to kindergarten and meet more friends.”
At Bald Eagle Area School District, nearly 90 kindergarteners participated in the district’s three-day Kindergarten Camp last week.
Wingate Elementary School Principal James Orichosky said it was a chance for the child to spend a day in the life of a student.
“We want to ease the tension for the kids and take care of some of those little things they may not understand yet,” Orichosky said. “They really enjoyed it and it tells me that some of the anxiety will be gone.”
The district started its Kindergarten Camp at each of its primary schools eight years ago, Orichosky said.
For the first time at Penns Valley, the school district teamed up with Cen-Clear Child Services to hold a four-week summer extended learning program that included students who would start kindergarten in September.
Connell said the mission was to get the child acclimated with the kindergarten curriculum beforehand.
“The children loved it and were able to get an idea of what to expect,” Connell said. “We want to make the transition as smooth as possible especially if they didn’t go to Pre-K.”
But there is still some work for teachers to get ready for the first day.
Chapman said teachers are looking over their class lists, reviewing needs of students and preparing a class routine.
Philipsburg-Osceola Area does not have a kindergarten camp.
The first day of school for students at Bald Eagle, Bellefonte and Penns Valley is Sept. 2. State College starts Tuesday.