Create a Summer Camp in Your Own Backyard

If your child is staying at home this summer, learn to create an at-home camping experience.
By Shama Davis
Nov 06, 2012



Nov 06, 2012

Summer camp can build a child’s confidence, independence, and ability to work with others. But if it’s beyond your budget, try this plan to recreate the learning experience at home.

Recruit Campers

Reach out not only to the parents of kids your child knows, but to others in your community. Assembling kids that don’t know one another well gives them the opportunity to come in with a clean slate and helps reduce cliques. Shoot for kids within a two-year age-range, a balanced number of boys and girls, and around six to 12 campers.

Plan the Schedule

If you’re not able to devote two straight weeks to camp, designate a day throughout the summer to meet. Host your camp at different homes or a local park or pool to add variety and to share responsibility between parents. Assign two adult “counselors” for each day, and recruit teen siblings to lend a hand. Choose a main theme or activity for each gathering, and build a backup plan of indoor games and crafts in case the weather doesn’t cooperate. Sasha Giordano, mother of a 3, 8, and 11 year old, recommends these kid-tested activities:

Outdoor Activities:

  • Use cones, chairs, jump ropes, and balls to create an obstacle course. Split kids into teams for a relay, or time kids for individual awards.
  • Send kids on a treasure hunt with clues leading to five to 10 locations. You can bury the “treasure” in a sandbox if you have one.
  • “Paint” the patio furniture with soapy water and giant brushes from the hardware store.
  • Trace body outlines with sidewalk chalk, color them in, and then use a little water to turn them into paintings.

Indoor Crafts:

  • Create camp T-shirts with paint pens or fabric paint.
  • Decorate craft paper to make a summertime or camp mural.
  • Craft puppets with socks or paper bags and use them in a puppet show.

Build Camp Spirit

On the first day, brainstorm a camp name and craft a mural, flag, and T-shirts. Take a group photo that you can turn into printable postcards for campers to send to their relatives.

Ban Media

Collect any handhelds and cell phones from campers when they arrive, and make sure you’ve planned at least four to six activities so that no one gets bored and ends up in front of the TV or the computer. If your campers aren’t engaged, move on to the next activity.

Camp Out

A backyard or campground sleepover will be the highlight of the summer. If you can gather kids around a campfire for songs, stories, and s’mores, all the better. But, if not, pitch tents in a circle and tell (not-too-scary) ghost stories.  

Get Outdoors

Camp wouldn’t be camp without romps through nature. Lead a scavenger hunt to collect leaves, flowers, stones, etc. Incorporate these treasures into a craft activity like making cards, stringing jewelry, or arranging a collection.

Break Bread

Camp food is memorable — often for the wrong reasons. Offer healthier takes on camp food, like veggie chili or turkey hotdogs. Have campers help you prepare a picnic or barbeque for their families on “visiting day” or to celebrate the end of summer.

Removing the Parent

The biggest challenge of hosting your own camp may be keeping your counselor hat on. You may want to assign disciplining your child to your co-counselor. The camp learning experience hinges on your child being just another kid and resolving conflicts on his own.

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