Teddy Bear Camp celebrates 25th year

Jack Beebe encourages a fellow day-camper to ride the train at Teddy Bear Camp on Mercer Island. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Jack Beebe encourages a fellow day-camper to ride the train at Teddy Bear Camp on Mercer Island.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

The Island’s only Teddy Bear Camp celebrates its 25th year this summer with songs, colorful baking and games. The summer day camp for 3, 4- and 5-year-olds, which is held at Sunnybeam Preschool, has been directed by Islander Marla Donaldson since the early 1980s. A veteran in child education, Donaldson founded Teddy Bear Camp on the virtues of play.

“My philosophy is the same for summer and school year education: Children learn through their play,” the camp director said.

Once an elementary school teacher for the Shoreline School District, Donaldson currently teaches parent education at Bellevue Community College. Many of her Teddy Bear campers are the children of parents who she has taught at BCC. Others are notified through the Mercer Island Preschool Association and flyers posted at Sunnybeam. This summer, Donaldson has about 100 campers, split between four camps.

“It’s grown in popularity,” Donaldson said. “I can only take so many children. Sessions are usually full.”

The Teddy Bear Camp was born during a time when parents had few summertime options for their preschoolers. While the older children ran off to day camp, Island parents were left to entertain their younger tots at home.

“When we started 25 years ago, there was nothing in the summer for preschool children. There was child care, but that’s it,” said Donaldson, who raised two children on the Island.

Both her son and daughter have worked as Teddy Bear Camp counselors, among a number of other Island teenagers. This year, Donaldson has three camp counselors and an adult teacher helping her with the day camps, which run from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

“I have people, who once were campers, come back to work for me. It has a very nice legacy,” she said.

Keeping to her philosophy of play, Donaldson has boxes full of engaging activities for the young campers, from teddy bear trains to daily cooking projects. The unique theme, she added, brings a bit of tradition to each activity.

“Many activities are teddy bear-related,” Donaldson said. “We have all kinds of bears, everywhere.”

Cooking is another popular feature. Every day, the children create their own unique snacks at the camp. Last Friday, the students gathered in Sunnybeam’s small kitchen to make “rainbow toast.”

For over 25 years, the camp has maintained its beloved traditions while spicing each summer up with new activities, Donaldson said. Whether singing, reading books in story circles or sharing their favorite teddy bears with campmates, the children are encouraged to play. After all, that’s what summer is all about.

For more information on Teddy Bear Camp, contact Marla Donaldson at: (206) 550-4003 or

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