Del Mar Union School District operates summer camps so full of kids that the camps are bigger than any school in the district. With 518 in Children's Creative Workshop and 435 in the district summer camp, nearly every room in Ashley Falls School is playing host to the 953 campers, who are all at work mastering the xylophone, painting a birdhouse or singing and dancing the "Tootie Ta" song.
Most of the classroom floors are covered in blue tarp to protect the tile being splashed with the paint and clay, which is so playfully and generously being used.
For three hours each day, campers are submerged in fun. Some educational stuff occasionally sneaks in, but the camps are mostly about exercising creativity and exploring imaginations.
The Children's Creative Workshop (CCW) has been a part of the district for 28 years. It was originally started by a group of parents in the community who had concerns that there were no fine arts being taught in the school. Since then, of course, the extended studies curriculum has picked up some of the slack. This group of parents ran the camp until five years ago, when the director Madilyn Kawasaki died. At that point Charlene Komosinski, the district's director of child care/after school programs, went to the school board to ask that it be continued. She has happily run the camp every year since.
"We have just awesome classes," said Komosinski, who has been with the district for 20 years. "It's just been a great thing, I'm really better for being able to direct CCW. It's a big highlight of my year."
The camp is completely funded by parents' paid tuition and is open to students outside the district. Every year they have students from all over the country. Some are enrolled while they are on summer vacations with family.
The camp T-shirt is designed each year by the screenprinting class. Screenprinting instructor Dale McCloud, who teaches at San Dieguito Academy during the regular school year, said this year's shirt is all about speed and flight with everything from flying robots, to cats with wings-there's even a flying piece of pizza.
Local resident Ruth Pyszcynski helped make a beautiful quilt stitching together the artwork of 20-plus years of camp T-shirts.
McCloud is enjoying spending his summer break with elementary-school kids.
"They're more earnest," said McCloud. "High school kids have to be cool and keep their passion a little more hidden."
Here, that passion is boldly on display, with his young charges eager to show off what they're working on.
The Children's Creative Workshop runs for four weeks and each day is split up into two sessions and kids get to pick and choose which two activities to take part in.
Every room in the school is more impressive than the next. In one, children are learning photography, in another class called "Konichiwa Kids," students are learning the basics of the Japanese language, art and calligraphy.
In a class called "Googly-eyed Pets and Puppets," kids are making animals out of painted rocks: Ladybugs, turtles, mice and even panda bears. In book arts class, kids make a different kind of book every day. They create their own covers, write their own stories and do all their own bindings.
In "Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots" class, kids are making worm compost gardens and decorating their own stepping stones, watering cans and garden bags, which they will fill with their own miniature gardening tools.
In "Cool Kids, Cool Manners" class, Catherine Kaufman (known as the Kitchen Shrink) teaches kids about etiquette. On Monday morning, they were learning how to respectfully answer the home telephone.
Kids entering pre-school attend kinder kids, preparing them for their first big year in the classroom. They get to meet some of the students they will be in class with come fall. The youngsters go on "fossil hunts" in mounds of dirt, make sunflowers out of painted paper plates and create their own Eric Carle-inspired book.
David Skinner, a fifth grade teacher at Carmel Del Mar during the school year, really loves what he gets to do at CCW. Through his teaching sign language, digital movie making and "Skinner's Speed Shop" where kids build soap box derby racers, he's getting kids to focus on fun and really using their imaginations.
"Sometimes that gets lost in the school year," said Skinner. "That part of the brain gets to let loose in the summer."
On Fridays, there is an open house when parents can come check out what's been happening at camp.
"Kids walk out with their arms full, and they're so excited over everything they've accomplished," Komosinski said.
Summer camp, which is separate from the workshop, starts right after school lets out and runs nine weeks though Aug. 14. The camp has an international theme this year and every week takes on a different country or region. Last week was Africa and fifth and sixth graders were making African masks.
Every age group has a name (the third graders are the Path Finders, the fifth graders are the Seekers) and on Tuesdays and Thursdays they get out of the classroom to go on field trips around San Diego.
In addition to the camps at Ashley Falls, the district also runs a pre-school summer camp at the Del Mar Shores property. The camp is unique in that unlike traditional pre-schools, parents can sign up their kids in week-to-week increments. Each week has its own theme, and it runs through the week of Aug. 11.
The pre-school also runs during the year, solely accommodating teachers who are mothers and fathers. It was founded in 1993 by then Superintendent Dr. Robert Harriman, who felt it was important to create a safe place for teachers to being their kids so they could get back into the classroom faster. It's a pretty special pre-school environment for parent-teachers as some of the children are together from the time they are six weeks old to five years old.
"They're like siblings," said Komosinski. "It's just such an awesome thing."
There are still some spaces left in CCW, pre-school summer camp and district summer camp. To find out more, call (858) 793-0071.