The Scarborough School Department is touting its new Kindergarten Kamp as a way for kids to get a head start, particularly for those children who need a boost in terms of school readiness.

The camp, which is offering two sessions this summer, is designed not only to increase literacy skills, but also to give kids the opportunity to experience what school is like in a more informal, fun environment.

The goal of Kindergarten Kamp, according to Anne Lovejoy, principal at Eight Corners School where the program is operating, is to provide kids with “highly structured activities” and an opportunity “to work with numbers, number sense, early literacy and other pre-academic skills to boost their readiness for kindergarten.”

The first session of Kindergarten Kamp is now under way, but a second, three-week session will be offered beginning on Monday, July 20, and Lovejoy said there are still some spaces open for the free program, which also includes transportation and a daily snack.

Lovejoy said the camp is a variation on the Kindergarten Jumpstart Program, which the Scarborough schools have offered to parents for the past two years, and that it’s open to any incoming kindergartner in town.

The difference between Jumpstart and Kindergarten Kamp is that the camp runs for 12 days, instead of 24, and the focus is more on exposing kids to what school will be like, rather than on basic literacy skills, Lovejoy said.

She said the Kindergarten Kamp, which is staffed by teachers in the district, as well as volunteers from the Foster Grandparent Program, also offers a “broader curriculum that includes activities with reading, writing and math.”

Mary Stuart-Hillman, the Kindergarten Kamp coordinator, said this week the idea for the camp was to give kids “an easier time coming into kindergarten.”

She said in addition to the academic aspect, students are also learning bus etiquette and are becoming familiar with the school environment.

Stuart-Hillman said what’s great about this age group is that “they are eager to learn” and “will say anything that comes into their heads.” On Monday students at the camp were engaged in a variety of tasks, including a focus on the number 5.

While the Kindergarten Kamp is brand new, Lovejoy said the school department has had great success with the Jumpstart program, saying, “We have seen significant gains with kids that continue to keep them at or above grade level through first grade.”

She said that this summer the school department “decided to try a different model from Jumpstart” for a couple of reasons. First Jumpstart was originally designed for areas of the state that don’t offer access to high-quality pre-schools, but Scarborough has plenty.

Secondly, Lovejoy said, “Many parents didn’t think their children needed a long-term program before school and (wanted) a shorter version. (So), we decided to go with two sessions and add other content areas such as math and writing.”

She said the Kindergarten Kamp was designed for kids “who know many, if not all, of their letters and sounds – kids who have attended pre-school and have basic literacy skills.”

Overall, Lovejoy said, the intent behind the camp is “to give kids an opportunity for experience and exposure to kindergarten. They get to meet new friends, new teachers, be in a new school environment and ride a bus.”

She said that any incoming kindergartner was welcome to register for either the Jumpstart or Kindergarten Kamp program and, “no one was picked or excluded. Everyone who registered was given a spot in a class.”

Lovejoy added that “parents have raved about the Jumpstart Program for the last two years,” and she expects similar success with the Kindergarten Kamp.

In all, she said, “The staff are well trained and the kids have a lot of fun while learning. It is a great way to start school for any child, but especially for those who do need a boost.”

Anne Gabbianelli, director of communications for the Maine Department of Education, said this week that the term “school readiness” applies to both academics and social and behavior readiness.

In the new Maine’s Early Learning and Development Standards report, which was issued in March, the department says that school readiness is based on social and emotional factors, along with language and early literacy and numeric skills.

In the report, the Department of Education also acknowledges that, “positive early childhood experiences improve developmental and school readiness outcomes, increase K-12 achievement and contribute to higher rates of high school graduation,” overall.

And, according to the department, kids entering kindergarten should display a number of both social and behavioral skills, along with a variety of academic skills.

Among those are being able to use socially appropriate behavior with peers and adults, such as helping, sharing and taking turns, along with the ability to complete tasks with increasing independence and maintaining concentration despite distractions.

In addition, academic skills, such as demonstrating an understanding of the conventions of English grammar and usage when writing or speaking are seen as critical, as well as the ability to apply words learned in classroom activities to real-life examples.

Other skills the Department of Education says students entering kindergarten should display include, appropriate book-handling skills and knowledge of print conventions; the ability to use math-related skills, such as sorting, counting and matching; and the ability to describe, sort and classify shapes.

Getting ready to do the “gummy bear dance” are Gabriel Huntington, Gwen Fowler and Emily Huang, back row, and Jayden Glaude, in front. The pre-kindergartners are enrolled in Kindergarten Kamp at Eight Corners School in Scarborough.Staff photo by Kate Irish CollinsDylan Sawyer colors a drawing of a cherry pie during a Kindergarten Kamp session at Eight Corners School in Scarborough Monday.Staff photos by Kate Irish CollinsJoshua Gammon, left, and Joshua Polisner, right, react to a joke.