Start Your Own Summer Camp
7 steps to create a fun summer program for kids at home
Want all the benefits of camp--like having your kids entertained and out of your hair--without the wallet--draining cost? Get a few parents together and organize your own.
When I first started looking into morning day camps as a way to break up the summer for my daughter, I nearly gagged at the cost. So my friend Alicia and I came up with a better idea: We'd recruit other parents and create our own. Our plan was for each parent to host for one day. Then our kids would spend the rest of the week rotating to the other parents' homes. The best part? It would be practically free.
Three years and six "Mom Camps" later, my daughter still loves our creation better than any of the traditional camps she's attended. At sessions hosted by fellow moms (and one dad!), she got a tour of a real fire truck, went on a backyard insect hunt, and learned about different countries on a pretend trip around the world. The camp has helped build community and saved us hundreds of dollars. What's more, planning each year's version has become a highlight of my summers, allowing me to tap my creativity in ways I haven't since my own long-ago days at camp. Sound fun? Here's how to do it.
1. Decide on a structure.
The more campers you recruit, the more free days you'll have, but you also need to consider how many kids you can handle. So take a tip from the experts: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a ratio of one adult to no more than ten 6- to 8-year-olds.
Our camp ran for a week, with five parents taking one day each. You could also do it, say, every Monday for five weeks. Or eight working parents could agree to host for a week each in the summer, creating a camp that's two months long. That's more ambitious, but think of savings on childcare!
2. Choose the right campers -- and parents
Figuring that the ideal camp would be made up of kids close in age who already knew each other, Alicia and I started by asking neighborhood kids. It worked for us, but there are other options: A friend of mine created a wonderful camp with parents from her daughter's kindergarten class.
One thing we didn't consider (Mistake #1) was the dependability of the parent. You don't want one of those laissez-faire types who's not going to take the responsibility seriously. One year we had a parent who sent her child to camp all four days and then bailed on her day to host. Obviously, we didn't invite her back the next year.
On the other hand, we learned not to assume working parents wouldn't be interested. Plenty of them turned out to be willing to take a day or a week off in exchange for free childcare the other days.