Keeping Kids Active, Healthy + Engaged Sports

Camp Director Diaries: Camp Tawonga

Camp Tawonga

Camp Tawonga has been a leader in Jewish camping since 1925. They offer a variety of different programs for campers of all ages from traditional camp fun to teen leadership programs, all set in the beautiful Stanislaus National Forest.

Teens can also embark on retreats to Israel, Canada, and other locations. We interviewed camp director Jamie Simon to learn a little bit more about her beginnings with the camp:

Tell us a little about yourself and how you started the camp.

Tawonga has been in my blood since I was eight years old, I was a camper for seven summers.

When I was old enough to be a counselor at Tawonga, I filled out the staff application the first day it was available!  I worked on the summer staff for many years before joining the year round team in 2006.  I grew up a Tawongan but I never thought I would be lucky enough to be working for camp year round!

I live in Oakland, California with my husband, who also grew up at Camp Tawonga.  The values I learned as a child at Tawonga have deeply impacted my professional and personal life.  When not working for camp I love watching sports, enjoying the outdoors, and spending time with friends and family.

Are there any special lessons or experiences you are trying to provide during the camp?

Camp is such a special place for kids and it is my goal that kids leave Tawonga with three things: a positive self image and self esteem, a feeling that they have been a part of creating a cooperative

community and a strong connection with nature.

I hope that their time at Camp Tawonga has shown them that they are uniquely special, they have a loving community supporting them and that they feel inspired to give back to the world.

What surprises/delights the kids (or parents) most about your camp?

Parents are impressed and happy with our customer service; they know that we will take good care of their kids but they are surprised at how well we take care of them.  We have an extensive parent guidebook and make customer service a priority.

We know how hard it can be for parents to send their children away and want to make this the best possible family experience.  We believe that our success at camp comes from the partnership we build with families.

What sets your class/camp apart from the rest?

Tawonga’s location is magical, we are located along the Tuolumne River right outside of Yosemite
National Park.  Campers have an opportunity to go backpacking in Yosemite and explore the beautiful land that surrounds us.

In addition to our location we are a group centered camp. Campers learn skills like team work, compromise, community building and leadership.  Our focus is on the community experience.  Campers leave feeling like they were a valuable part of the community and feel excited to create communities like the one they shared at Tawonga.

Lastly, our staff are excellent.  We have a comprehensive staff training and ensure that staff are always putting the children first. People often ask me, “Where does the magic of Tawonga come from?”, I always say, “The people.”  From the prep cooks, maintenance team, wilderness leaders, counselors and year round staff the Tawonga community is surrounded by people who are intentional, creative, passionate, caring and motivated. I am grateful every day that I get to be a part of this community and create the magic for children.

Camp Director Jamie Simon
Camp Director Jamie Simon

To learn more about Camp Tawonga, check out current schedules, and register for camps check out Camp Tawonga on ActivityHero!


Written by Sarah Antrim

Parenting Resources

Summer Camp Planning

Does it feel like you spend a LOT of time and money planning and sending kids to summer camps? Well, you do. Here is something we put together from the data we have on San Francisco parents and summer camps.
San Francisco summer camp: 2012 factsSan Francisco Summer Camp

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And, here’s some shameless horn-tooting: use our search & summer planning calendar tools to save time, and, check out our discounts page and our free week of camp to save some money! You can even subscribe to our newsletter on the sidebar (look to your right) and get these discounts delivered to your inbox once every 2 weeks!

And, it doesn’t stop there, we give you two sham-wows!!! ok, we don’t. But we do help you find after-school activities during the school year too.

We would love to hear how we can make this even easier. Please tell us!

After-School Activities

Academic Director Diaries: Silver Creek Academy

As the winner of Bay Area Parent magazine’s Family Favorite award for two years in a row, Silver Creek Academy encourages children to think both critically and creatively. With academic courses geared toward small group focuses and teaching students to communicate effectively, Silver Creek produces confident, academically excellent children. Activity Hero recently spoke to Lori Jenkins of Silver Creek, and got some answers to essential questions parents may have.

Q: Tell us more about your class philosophy.

A: Milpitas provides individualized assistance in a small group setting which allows children to feel comfortable and safe while taking risks and learning new concepts, strategies and skills they might not otherwise be willing to learn while being graded.

Q: What surprises/delights the kids most about your class?

A: We really ARE nice and do care about every single child that walks through the door.

Q: What’s your happiest/proudest moment as a teacher?

A:  Receiving compliments and comments from gracious students and parents are my happiest moments.

Q: Is there something students are usually afraid of?

A: Students are timid to tell about their most embarrassing moment in the Public Speaking class.  Eventually they do and everyone has a great laugh!

Q: Which student milestone do you look forward to?

A: I love when the students begin to trust in me as the teacher and take risks.  They enjoy trying problems on their own first before asking for help.  It is so rewarding to see them work independently!  Thinking critically is a skill that has fallen through the cracks.

Q: How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

A: Committed, responsible, kind

Q: What have parents told you, about your class, as something they never expected?

A: A child with speech problems willingly gave a speech in an effort to run for student office after completing our Public Speaking course.

Q: What have parents told you, about your class, that you never expected to hear (it surprised you to hear it)?

A: The classes are “fun!”

Q: What is one important question that parents should ask you before joining this kind of class?

A:  Parents should ask if their child may move to a class that is not in the child’s current grade level.  We strive to meet the needs of each child.  If the child is in fourth grade, but struggling in writing, it is OK to ask that the child be placed in a third grade class.  The same is true for students that are excelling.

Q: What is the one thing that kids can only do in your class and not anywhere else you know of?

A: Take risks and know that they won’t ‘fail’ for doing so.

Q: A tip or technique or any other useful bit information for students/parents?

A: Read to your child, they are never too old to be read to.

You can find out more about Silver Creek Academy by calling them and arranging a tour of either their San Jose or Milpitas campuses. They offer engaging and results-producing classes both during the school year and over the summer.

After-School Activities

Music Master Diaries: Ernest Kinsolving, Fiddle

Ernest Kinsolving is a pro at placing a different spin on the typical music lesson experience. With the San Francisco bay area swarming with aspiring performers, Ernest focuses upon refining skill and inspiring a love of music in a fun and relaxed environment. In addition to the traditional summer camp experience your child may be craving this year, consider some time with private music lessons. Playing something out-of-the-ordinary like the fiddle only adds to the fun and quirkiness of your child’s summer.

Q: Tell us more about your class philosophy.

A: When I was a kid studying music I was actually fired by my piano teacher for not practicing enough.  I don’t think that really

helps much.  Kids (and their parents) are busier than ever and sometimes the only chance a student has to practice is during a lesson. I start from wherever the student is when they walk through the door, even if they’re mostly asleep and forgot to bring their fiddle (it happens!).

Q: What surprises/delights the kids most about your class?

A: I welcome and celebrate what makes them unique – from the student who chooses to never speak during lessons to the one who likes to end every lesson with a Rubik’s cube competition. I expect them all to be different, and I make plenty of room for their individuality.


Q: Which student milestone do you look forward to?

A: I love it when a student comes in and shows me something that they’ve worked out on their own; that’s when I know that they’re excited about what they’re learning.

Q: What is one important question that parents should ask you before joining this kind of class?

A: It’s really a question they should ask themselves and their children: are you here to have fun and explore, or are you here to excel and conquer?  If you’re here to excel and conquer, then you should be looking for someone strict and inflexible, but if you’re here to have fun and explore I’m eager to help.

Q: What is the one thing that kids can only do in your class and not anywhere else you know of?

A: When a young fiddler is too timid with their instrument, I have them concentrate on making the loudest and most horrible noise with it that they can.  They love that…  But I encourage them not to practice that particular skill at home.

Q: A tip or technique or any other useful bit information for students/parents?

A: Something small and actionable: ex: do 5 pushups before and after every meal, soon you’ll be very strong; practice music first thing in the morning when you don’t have to worry about homework. (sorry, these were my best guesses!)

My best tip is this: when you’re practicing a new skill — whatever it is — there is no such thing as a mistake.  What you think is a mistake it just your body telling you to slow down, focus, and try again.  If you can truly see it that way, you move forward much more quickly and happily.

Interested in checking out a private fiddle lesson with Ernest? He’s located in Mountain View, which makes it a great gateway point for both San Francisco and South Bay parents who are looking for a summer opportunity away from traditional summer camp programs. He can even throw in a tin whistle lesson from time to time.