WESLEY CHAPEL — Five-year-old Ashley Kelley loves kindergarten, and it hasn't even started yet.
"It's great," Ashley said Wednesday while coloring, cutting and pasting triangles as part of an art project. "You get to learn all about everything, and they teach you about everything that you don't know. And that's how I learn."
How does she know all this?
Ashley and about 40 future classmates are spending mornings this week attending kindergarten camp at Seven Oaks Elementary. The program, which costs $80 for the week, helps the youngest children get acclimated to school routines, rules and activities before all the big kids show up.
Assistant principal Shirley Ray called the program, now in its second year at Seven Oaks, a "nice preview."
Ashley put it this way: "My mommy drops me off here because I'm practicing how to learn until I go to my school."
The camp offers parents some lessons, too.
A group spent two hours with the school's reading specialist Tuesday reviewing expectations and learning how to reinforce school lessons with their children at home. They also are getting accustomed to the idea of sending their kids to elementary school.
"A lot of people are scared to leave their babies," Ray said.
Not that most of the children share the apprehension.
"I'm not sad," announced Caden Calta, 5, who said he was excited about kindergarten. "I've been here, like, three days."
"I like it, but I was expecting a little bit bigger classroom," said Nicholas Maldonado, also 5.
The four teachers working at the kindergarten camp constantly reinforced the rules throughout the morning sessions, reminding their students to raise their hand before speaking, to walk not run, to keep their hands to themselves.
"This is really good for them," teacher Michelle Bergmann said of the program, noting that most of the children quickly became accustomed to the school schedule. "I wish all of the kids who are coming to kindergarten could do it."
In addition to getting "the hang of things," as teacher Ginny Lanpher described it, the children also got the chance to practice skills they'll need in school. They worked on letter sounds, writing numbers and counting, and listening to and explaining stories.
Wednesday's theme was the three little kittens who lost their mittens.
The teachers tried to mix sitting and moving activities to keep the kids interested and involved without losing their attention.
"It definitely gets us in the mind frame for the first day of school," teacher Marcie McAmmond said.
The idea of kindergarten camp started at Sand Pine Elementary School four years ago. Seven Oaks and Double Branch elementary schools started their own versions last year.
The concept proved so popular that this year, the Pasco Education Foundation gave grants to launch kindergarten camp at several other schools across the county.
To hear the kids talk, it quickly becomes clear that the camp offers a confidence boost in the weeks leading to that eventful first day of school (Aug. 18, in case you're wondering).
"We are big kids," said Emma Troy, who turns 5 next week. "Today I'm a big kid. Just look at me."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.