Jodie Lynn, a syndicated parenting columnist who lives in St. Louis, says, "Creating an at-home camp environment is an excellent way to interact with your kids, learn how good their communication skills really are, find out things that they become overwhelmingly interested in, save money, and best of all, create lasting family memories."
Here are some ideas to make your at-home camp different, educational and exciting:
Pick a theme
Yours can be a theme for the week or a new theme each day. Consider a Hawaiian luau with water games and playing in the sand. Serve fancy drinks with umbrellas. Learn the hula, crack a coconut. Or try international day, where you learn about different countries and sample different cuisines.
Check your stress at the door
Get organized this weekend in terms of food, activities and shopping for supplies. "Keep in mind that the planned event should be fun and not necessarily sticking to hard, fast rules," Lynn says. "Eliminate high expectations and stay flexible."
At some point, let each kid take the reins, even if only for an hour (say, they get to plan what you do for a craft or an outing). "Role-playing is an excellent way to enhance your child's imagination, creativity and promote self-esteem," Lynn says. "Leadership skills can become immensely polished through role-playing, or perhaps enlighten parents into intricate mini-details of certain areas where a child needs additional help."
Make a T-shirt
Every good camp begins with a really cool T-shirt. Have your kids make their own by buying cheap tees at the dollar store and decorate with fabric paints or markers. Come up with a name for your camp and put that and the year on there.
Make a scavenger hunt out of it. Create cards ahead of time with photos (or, especially great for early readers, words) of things they might find on a trail: a cardinal, a clover, a squirrel, a turtle, a brown leaf, etc. Have your kids mark off the item once they spot it.
Try to have a craft every day of the camp. It can be as simple as drawing a picture of the day's activities or a little more elaborate like a keepsake box, decorated with everything from stamps and stickers to ticket stubs and photos.
Plan simple games.One idea is a question jar. Decorate a jar or any container and fill it with questions written or typed out. Some ideas might be: my favorite color and why, where I'd love to travel, my favorite animal, what I would do with $5. Give each child a turn to pull questions from the jar and answer them.
Make lunchtime learning time. Kids can learn a lot about following directions, reading and math by working from a recipe. Even if your campers are young, they'll get a kick out of stirring some ingredients together. You could also use this time to introduce new foods to your kids. For example, choose an Indian food day and teach your kids about the spices that go into making those dishes. Or choose a new fruit or vegetable (maybe a papaya or eggplant) and make two or three dishes with those ingredients. Older kids could even create their own recipes.
Organized games are great. Soccer only takes a ball (you can make goals out of driveways or garage doors) and kids of all ages can play. Or try jump rope or hopscotch or even four-square. But if you really want to get creative, grab all your sports equipment — the bats, the nets, the balls, the hockey sticks — and put it on the lawn and tell your kids to make up their own game.
For at least one night, consider pitching a tent in your backyard, or even in your basement. Build a fire (if codes allow) or use your patio fire pit, roast marshmallows, play a harmonica and tell ghost stories.
Try something new, maybe horseshoes or badminton. Or go treasure hunting with metal detectors. Set up the sprinkler in your yard. Have a water balloon toss. Or set up a mini obstacle course.
Field trip fun
The zoo, local botanical garden, museums, farms, science centers, etc. offer obvious choices for field trips. But also try some places you may not have thought about, such as an animal sanctuary or nature center.
Cap off a great week with a talent show. You could have your kids sneak away and plan one for you, or you could help them put on one for the neighbors. It can be as simple as singing the alphabet or as elaborate as a one-act play. Either way, give them a box of props (try old hats, scarves, bags and Halloween costumes) and let their imaginations do the rest.