Start Your Own Summer Camp
7 steps to create a fun summer program for kids at home
3. Set ground rules
This tip comes from hard experience: We didn't really establish any that first year, except that every parent needed to have a theme with related activities (Mistake #2). As far as I know, no one plopped the kids in front of the TV or let them play with matches. But Alicia's daughter got dozens of bug bites one day because we never talked about who was responsible for applying bug spray and sunscreen. Now we remind parents to put it on their kids before they come. It's also a good idea to talk through what will happen if the host has to cancel for some reason. We now make her reschedule on a day that works for everyone. Another important topic: discipline. We decided on time-outs and a phone call to the parent, though luckily that's never been an issue. (It all goes back to choosing the right campers, ones who get along and mostly know to follow the rules.)
Parents should write down important information, such as how to be reached in an emergency and their kids' allergies. (We had everything on one sheet of paper.) At our camp, the children bring their own lunches, but the host provides a snack. It's actually kind of fun coming up with one that goes with the theme. In fire-safety camp, for instance, my campers sprayed whipped cream all over yellow, orange, and red Jell-O cubes. (Get it? They were putting out the fire!)
4. Pick a Theme
The hardest part for me that first year was thinking of a theme. A week before camp, when I was still drawing a blank, Alicia mentioned that her sister had once done a pirate theme. So I went right out and spent $100 at a crafts store on supplies, including costumes, wooden treasure chests the kids could paint, and favor bags for each camper (Mistake #3).
Now I shop at the dollar store and borrow supplies--plus get great theme ideas--from my kids' teachers. I've also figured out that this is a camp, not a birthday party, so you don't need things like goody bags and costumes. I typically spend about $30 on supplies for my host day, including the snack.
You can get theme and activity ideas from practically anywhere, including dozens of teacher websites like Teacherplanet.com, Lessonplanspage.com, or Atozkidsstuff.com. Or think about upcoming holidays. I did a patriotic theme near the Fourth of July one year: We had a parade, sang "Yankee Doodle," and made gorgeous fireworks by dipping plastic kitchen scrubbers in gold and silver paint and then stamping them on black paper.
One of my favorite themes of all time was Alicia's Father's Day camp. The kids filled out a questionnaire about their fathers, made cards, and mixed up a batch of sweet and salty nuts with a note that said "I'm nuts about you, Dad!"