We are saving up for a big trip, so I opted out of sending my three children (ages 8, 5, and 3) to any summer camps or programs this year. And then I started to panic. What would I do all summer with them? How do I make sure my son does not wind up playing video games all day long? I am not crafty or creative, and I’ve never been the type of mom to want to sit on the floor and do puzzles all day … so what would we do?
I started researching activities for the summer and came across several DIY Summer Camp ideas. I thought the idea of an at-home summer camp was pretty ingenious. With a little pre-planning, you can keep your kids entertained and in learning mode, and not break the bank to do it. These seven tips can be easily adjusted for any age group, and there is plenty of room for creativity and flexibility.
1. Set Some Achievable Goals
Everything is easier when you know what you are working towards. What would you like to achieve by the end of the week/month/summer? Perhaps you and your child want to write a short book or story, run a 5K, learn a language, learn how to play a musical instrument, or read a certain number of books. Have a brainstorming session with your kids to determine their interests and incorporate them into your goals (and be sure to include plenty of reading).
2. Make a List of Daily Required Activities
OK, so that doesn’t sound like much fun! But the fact is, before the mice can play, they should do their daily chores. Incorporate a job list that is age-appropriate for each child. These should be short tasks and have everyone do their jobs as a group. Turn on some music and make it a clean-up party. If your kids need extra motivation, get some cheap “rewards” at the dollar store and have a treasure chest for them to choose from when the daily list is done.
Do the chores relatively early in the day, so that you don’t forget or lose motivation. Not only does this help instill a sense of responsibility and ownership of household responsibilities, but it also helps you get these tasks out of the way first thing so that you are not worried about your “to-do” list and can enjoy the days’ activities.
3. Use Daily Themes to Guide Your Activities
Part of every day should include some variety of activities … physical activities, reading/writing, and ways to move towards accomplishing your goals. To help you get all of this in your week, pick a day of the week to focus on each of these areas. As an example, your week’s themes could look like this:
- Make Something Monday – Mondays focus on building with toys or blocks, craft projects, art projects, sewing, writing stories, making new recipes in the kitchen, or anything related to using your brain to create something new.
- Travel Tuesday – Pick someplace fun to go! These don’t have to be major trips. Focus on taking adventures to new places, or go to the park, a museum, splash pad, lake, zoo, and so forth. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. You could go to a nearby park and have a scavenger hunt, as an example.
- Wondering Wednesday – Take all those questions your children have been wondering about, and try to find the answers. Make a list of their biggest questions and curiosities and plan activities to attempt to help them discover the answers. Good activities include scavenger hunts, scouring educational sites, science experiments, and so forth.
- Thankful Thursday – You can use Thankful Thursday to do activities to teach your children about gratitude and giving back. Perhaps visit a homeless shelter, or collect and deliver goods to a place in need. You could coordinate a litter pick up with other families, or visit a nursing home and sing to the residents. There are many ways to conduct gratitude challenges over the summer.
- Fit Friday – Focus the day on physical activities. Take walks and bike rides, go swimming, play tag or catch, or other fun outdoor activities. If it’s too hot, do family dance parties (you don’t even have to buy expensive dance games – you can find many fun dance game songs on YouTube.) Make it an active day and perhaps close the day out with a Family Movie night to relax after all your hard work.
4. Incorporate the Library and Plenty of Reading and Writing
Don’t let your child forget everything they’ve learned by not having them read or write over the break. According to the U.S. Department of Education, students lose up to two months of math and reading skills over the summer. Kids should be reading every day for 20-30 minutes. This can be on their own or listening to stories read to them. The Richland Library system has a really great summer reading challenge to motivate your kids to read more.
5. Include Lots of Fun Educational Activities into Your Daily Schedule
Here are some great sites:
- Scratch is a tool that teaches kids to be creative, reason systematically and work in a group. The user can program their own interactive stories, games, and animations — and share them with the community online.
- Scholastic is chocked full of activity ideas — covering reading, writing, outdoor activities, math, science, food … you name it. They have pages of free printables as well — great FREE activities by age range to keep your kid busy!
- Meet me at Midnight by the Smithsonian. If your kids liked the movie Night at the Museum, they are going to LOVE this! This is an animated program that takes you on tours and adventures of museums at night — when all the adventures come alive!
6. Keep a List of “Extras”
Have a list of things that can be done when you can’t think of anything else. You can even put these on slips of paper and store them in a mason jar – “The Bored Jar” for your children to choose from when you’ve run out of activities. These can include online reading or math games, playing a board game with siblings, extra reading or writing, painting or drawing, etc.
7. Be Flexible
Summer should be fun. A schedule that is too rigid may stress everyone out. Allow plenty of time for friends and movies and other relaxing activities.
The best part about your own summer camp at home is that it is inexpensive and it’s really not all that difficult to set up. You can use what you already have available to you, incorporate some of your kids’ friends into the activities, and stay busy without breaking the bank. Best of all, you and your kids will be learning all summer long.