There’s no doubt that summer camp — whether it’s a fun-filled day camp, themed experience or overnight camp — is the place for your kids to make friends they might not have ever met, unplug from screens and experience the thrill of trying something new.
This year, camp might be even more important than ever.
“Summer camps provide the optimal context for kids to practice social-emotional learning. The SEL outcomes that result from camp experiences will help young people prepare to thrive in school this fall,” says Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association in a news release.
Plus, the ACA says it knows summertime experiences can help to overcome learning deficits. Decades of camp research have proven that the skills learned at camp support academic performance and are at the core of college and career readiness.
But, most of all, camp is fun!
The fun doesn’t have to stop when the camp ends. We have some ideas to help you build on the amazing things your kids learned and did at camp to help make this a summer to remember. We’ve broken them down into categories.
General day camp
Day camp can be filled with sports, pool time, games and crafts. Most of all, the counselors are keeping the kids busy having fun. So much fun, the kids might not want it to end. You can keep the fun going after you pick them up for the day.
- Learn the campground games they play at camp – and then play them at home. The best teacher? Your kids. 2-Square or 4-Square is always fun, but be prepared to get your steps in for the day. While the kids are at camp, get some early research done — and the real rules since kids are known to make up their own — at Playworks. Our advice, though: Go along with the kids’ rules. Much less crying.
- Water fun. Time to dig out the hose and water balloons for a wet game of toss or a good, old-fashioned water fight. If you don’t have balloons, opt for soaking wet sponges you can pick up the Dollar Store. Find a how-to for making super sponge water bombs at Inner Fun Child.
- When it’s time to chill and have some quiet time, pop in a movie about camp. Our fave: “The Parent Trap.” Now that’s a summer camp – even if you don’t meet a long-lost twin and conspire to switch places all in the name of love. There’s always “Ernest Goes to Camp,” “Troop Beverly Hills” and “Heavyweights.”
- Let’s be friends. Summer camp is great for making friends – and crafts. Why not try your hand at making friendship bracelets for the rest of the family, including grandma and grandpa. Find instructions at The Spruce Crafts, which has 17 patterns to try. That’s enough to fill the rest of the summer.
- Mix nature with a little quiet-time game like Tic Tac Toe. Head outside to find hand-sized rocks to paint with the Xs and Os and use sidewalk chalk to make the driveway a fun board – or really pull out the creativity and find a board from nature. Find inspo at Run Wild My Child.
Kids go to sports camp for a lot of different reasons, but mainly because they love sports! You might also decide on a sports camp to help them improve their skills in soccer, football or golf for the upcoming season and give them more confidence on the field or course.
When they get home, the fun can continue with just a little preplanning on your part. Here are a few ideas to get your started:
- Inspire them while letting them rest after camp by putting on a great sports movie, such as “Rudy,” the story of Daniel Ruettiger who faced down huge obstacles to play football at Notre Dame. While it does have some bad language and drinking, plus a friend’s death, the movie can teach kids a lot about never giving up on their dreams because Rudy does prevail.
- Active kids are usually hungry, so feed them. When it comes to youth sports, the snacks during innings or quarters or at the end of the game are almost as exciting as the game itself. So why limit the snacks to one thing? Create a charcuterie board full of the healthy snacks that often make an appearance on the sideline: chunks of watermelon and orange slices, carrots and hummus or other yummy dips, homemade trail mix, crackers and meat slices, string cheese, pretzels and even yogurt tubes. Wash it all down with a homemade Gatorade. Samantha, a mom of three and food blogger at Five Heart Home, has a copycat recipe to try on her site at Five Heart Home.
- Sit down to dinner and instead of the normal conversation (or silence), plan a dinner (hot dogs and fries of course) filled with sports trivia. Not sure where to start? Trivia 4 Kids has some good ones at Trivia Questions for Kids.
- Set up a relay race with different sports gear and have them demonstrate a skill they learned at camp. Basketball: shoot a free throw. Baseball: Catch a high pop fly. Golf: Putt the ball in a red Solo cup. Cheerleading: Do two backflips or a split (watch out when doing this mom and dad, you don’t want to get stuck in a split, OW!). The possibilities are endless.
- Hit the road for a day trip or weekend vacay to your favorite team’s arena. While some won’t be open, they usually feature statues of sports legends or plaques to explore outside the doors and atmosphere to take in. Bleacher Report has several roundups of iconic sports spots to try beyond the ones you might already know and love. Also, each sport has a hall of fame. The Baseball Hall of Fame as well as the Football Hall of Fame are open for guests with COVID precautions in place.
Kids who love science and math usually love a STEM camp where counselors do their best to keep the learning fun while still making time for those important social skills. STEM camps thrive on creative themes involving technology and engineering plus the science and math. You can build on the week’s theme at home to make camp even that more memorable or try easy-to-do experiments that fill their passion.
- Make a DIY robot at home. Of course there are kits available to make a robot, but what’s the challenge in that? After your kids get all inspired at camp, they’ll want to make their own robot using the ideas they learned. STEAM education solutions provider Makeblock has a roundup of four simple ones to try at Makeblock.
- No one wants a summer filled with screen time after the year we’ve had, but when it comes to coding, that’s what you might immediately think of. Teach Your Kids Code has a fun unplugged coding game that uses a deck of cards, painter’s tape and a variety of small toys the kids already probably have in their toy box.
- Rollercoasters are fascinating to kids who like to know how things work. After the kids have filled up on the concepts of kinetic energy and friction at camp, have them build their own rollercoaster out of paper. Science Buddies, an organization that tries to inspire kids with hands-on STEM projects, has a great rollercoaster activity. After building one at home, put the knowledge to the test by hitting up a real rollercoaster or two. Cedar Point and Great America have a few that will work. Road trip!
- Every kid deserves an ice cream after a long day at camp or once their home from sleepaway camp. While it might be easier to run to the local ice cream shop, STEM loving kids might love making their own instead. Help your camper learn chemistry and physics with a yummy treat at the end. Find a good recipe at Stem Like a Girl.
- As you wind down for the night, stream a STEM movie that will inspire your young engineer. A great pick for boys and girls is “Hidden Figures,” which has some great lessons, including how to push past no and rallying around others. It also feeds our fascination with planets other than Earth. Right now, everyone’s eyes are turned toward Mars as the Perseverance Rover is taking photos and sending them back to NASA. Space Place, an online website powered by NASA and designed for kids, has info about the Mars Rovers and what the mission means to humans.
It’s been a tough year to be a kid who loves to sing, dance, act or even play music as in-person opportunities to perform for adoring audiences dried up and many lessons converted to online. Even artists haven’t really found places to show off their talents. Arts Camp changes that so you want to keep the good feelings going.
- Art is good for the soul. Hit up the Dollar Store or other discount retailers to pick up packages of inexpensive blank canvases and encourage your artist to create, create, create after being inspired at camp. Find a clear wall to hang the art to admire in your private, in-home art show. Gallery lighting for the win.
- Many kids crave an audience. After Arts Camp, encourage your camper to gather up their friends, either the new ones from camp, the fellow artists from school or the kids in the neighborhood to put on a show for the neighbors. Let them sing, dance and perform to their heart’s content. If that’s too lofty for a busy summer, let them put on a solo driveway show for the neighbors, with grandma and grandpa front and center if possible.
- Sidewalk chalk is a superpower. Buy a big bucket of chalk and let the kids paint the driveway and the sidewalk. But don’t let them have all the fun, drop on one knee and summon your inner Picasso. You’ll all be laughing and wishing the moment would never end.
- For a yummy art experiment, whip up a cake or cupcakes to decorate. It’s a great indoor activity when its raining or when the kids need to get out of the sun for a little bit. Need inspiration? Head to Wilton Cake Decorating’s Pinterest page. The family will be drooling and creativity will be flowing. So what if the kitchen is declared a disaster zone. It’s summer!
- Let your dancer kick it into high gear by jumping on the hottest dances on TikTok. Who knows, if you join in, it might even go viral.
Spending time in nature lets kids disconnect from those screens we’ve all grown used to in the last year. They’ll not only meet new friends in person, they’ll also have a chance to learn about the plants and animals of nature. Nature Camp is a great place for kids to gain knowledge about all of those animals they’ve met on family walks and help identify new species of plants in the back yard.
- Plant a miniature or fairy garden (who says superheroes can’t live there, too?). There are kits, of course, but it’s fun to create using the things you can find around your house. For DIY inspiration to get started, WhatsUpMoms offers an instruction video. Let your kid’s imagination run wild.
- Sleep under the stars – or at least pretend to until you head inside to your cozy bed. On a clear night, pitch a tent in the backyard, stock up on the makings for s’mores and settle in to gaze at the wonder above in the night sky. See if you can spot the constellations. The folks at Astronomy have some pretty good tips to help.
- Go on a nature scavenger hunt. Hand the kids and your significant other a list of objects to find on a walk through the woods. Winner gets an ice cream. Don’t forget bug spray, sunscreen (even if you are in the woods) and a bag to carry back your treasures. Up the game by creating an art masterpiece with what you find. Bonus points if your little nature lovers decide to don gloves and pick up trash along the way to help Mother Earth (make sure to really sanitize afterward).
- Nothing stops us in our tracks quicker than seeing a rainbow painting the sky (bonus points for spotting a double rainbow!). Mix a little of nature’s most beautiful colors with science. Make your own rainbow with a sugar science experiment from Little Bins for Little Hands and talk about why you got the results you did.
- If you can’t hit all of the nature and wonder of our U.S. National Parks this year – really who can? — hitch a ride along with Those Park Guys, Jack and Colton, for the “Rock the Park” series where they are on a mission to explore every national park.
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