LAND O’ LAKES — It was a tale that hit home for the soon-to-be kindergarten students gathered around Oakstead Elementary teacher Jennifer Sanchez.
Sanchez was reading aloud a book titled “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn, a story about a raccoon named Chester who is nervous about starting school. His mother helps allay his fears by kissing his hand and telling him that will serve as a reminder of her love for him anytime he’s scared.
These new Oakstead kindergartners will be starting school, too, come Aug. 18, and they will have a “kissing hand” to rely on as well, made from construction paper and decorated with a sticker kissed by a mother, a father or both.
But they also will have something more to prepare them for this next phase of their lives — a sneak peek at their new school.
More than 100 incoming Oakstead Elementary kindergartners visited the school Tuesday for kindergarten camp, an annual event that several schools across Pasco County hold to give those youngest students an early chance to acclimate themselves to the surroundings.
They get to see some of the adult faces they will soon be seeing daily. They see what a classroom looks like and experience — to them — the enormousness of the cafeteria. The idea is that the children will be able to shed their anxieties and the school will no longer seem mysterious.
“I think it’s a good thing for every school to do because it breaks down that fear barrier,” said Loretta Ortiz, one of 10 kindergarten teachers who work at Oakstead.
During Oakstead’s one-day camp, the children and their parents participated in the “Kissing Hand” activity together but later split up so the students could experience something similar to the separation that will come when their parents drop them off for school.
Assistant Principal C.J. Huffman said Oakstead is expecting about 130 kindergartners this year, and 103 registered for the camp.
At the beginning of the day, the students and parents were divided into five smaller groups for their activities, such as listening to “The Kissing Hand.”
Among the children enjoying the experience was Landon Barnes, 5, who came with his parents Darrell and Sandie Barnes.
Sandie Barnes said she thinks the camp is a great idea.
“It’s going to help him with socialization and learning,” she said.
Barnes said she’s a little nervous herself about her son reaching this milestone in his life, but Landon is enthusiastic about school and she figures that’s a good thing.
“He’s going to do a great job,” Barnes said. “He’s very excited about it.”