“Best week of my life!” was my son’s response when asked how his week at Camp Manito-wish had been. With those words, I knew that the 16-hour roundtrip to and from the Upper Peninsula of Wisconsin had been worth it. It had been an experiment to see if my 10-year-old was ready to be away from family and friends for a week, and it was a rite of passage.
How times have changed. Our busy lives sometimes don’t permit a sleep-away camp. Our kids have conflicts—year-round sports teams, summer school required to get into an advanced science class in the fall, or volunteer commitments. Parents have conflicts, too, not to mention that the cost of sleep-away camp has increased tenfold since the early 70s. Summer activities have to be prioritized and budgeted for, and frankly, many of us choose a family vacation over sending one child to camp for a week.
An alternative to a weeklong sleep-away camp is hosting a camp yourself, or with family or friends. With some preparation, your home can become a stand-in for the big lodge and bunkhouse of your childhood. Here are some creative ways to bring the camp experience to your neighborhood this summer.
Prepare your home for campers
You will want to plan inside and outside spaces for activities. Cover your picnic table with plastic or oilcloth for crafts. If you don’t want paint on your deck or patio, throw down some old rugs or sheets for protection. Make sure there is an outside hose or bucket of water nearby for washing paint off little hands. String a clothesline for hanging masterpieces to dry, or designate a special area as a drying rack. It’s also important to have a rain plan. Your basement play area will be a good choice for downtime activities like board games, movies or group play. Let little campers know which areas are off-limits, and designate a specific bathroom for use during camp.
Decide whether you want to got it alone or join forces with a friend, family member or neighbor Chances are your friends have children who are the same age as yours. We meet these families at school functions and sporting activities, and their kids have the same interests as ours. What a terrific way for cousins to spend time together too, especially if you live in different communities. Grandparents might also want to get in on the action. My dear friend sends her kids to “Camp GranJan”—a week with cousins at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. The tradition started when the cousins were little, and even though three are in high school now, they still love their week at Grandma Janet and Grandpa Peter’s house. They each have their favorite activities and love the night they all dress up and go out for dinner—giving Grandma a much-needed break from cooking for all those kids! A picture from this treasured week ends up as Janet and Peter’s Christmas card every year, and their friends love to see how the kids—and the camp—have grown.
Choose dates, times and themes
Will your camp be in the morning, afternoon or evening? If you are sharing responsibilities, will you host a week and your friend the next? If so, you might want to pick two separate themes to keep it interesting. If your campers are young, they might take afternoon naps. If so, make it a morning camp when kids are fresh and not prone to meltdowns. You may decide that a whole week is a big time commitment. Why not choose just a couple of days a month to host your camp and let your friend host a couple of days? Working around vacations and other activities will require a sit-down with all parents involved, armed with calendars and smart phones, so block off an hour or two for a planning session.
Plan activities and enlist help
Plan snacks and activities around your theme. There are so many websites that offer tips on camp planning (check out www.familyfun.com). Many sites have great craft and game ideas, and also help with addressing safety and legal concerns. Make sure you have a variety of activities to please all the kids. Give fun trophies for accomplishments throughout the week. You might notice that someone overcomes the fear of jumping off your diving board or tries a food that they might not think they like. Kids love to be recognized, and the smile you get in return will be your prize! Teens and tweens love to help. Your super babysitter would probably love to assist you in corralling kids and organizing the craft table. If swimming is involved, a teenaged certified lifeguard is a perfect choice for a helper. You will definitely need a second pair of hands, and you will appreciate some young energy around when you need a break.
Set a budget
If you are sharing the hosting responsibilities, make sure you divide and conquer. Make a list of camp supplies you will need. If you are including a meal in your day, plan the menu with all ingredients, and add that amount in with your total budget. You may want to take a day to lay-in camp supplies together, splitting everything right down the middle. You may want to charge a small fee for each camper to cover the cost of paying your teenage helpers.
There are so many inexpensive activities you can plan to keep your children active and happy this summer. With a little planning and creativity, you can give the children in your life a fun summer camp experience right at home.