D.I.Y. Summer Camp for Kids!
Summer camp can be an expensive option, but if you band together with friends, neighbors, and family, you can do it yourself and have plenty of fun activities!
Do It Yourself Summer Camp for Kids!
Imagine two moms, each with a preschooler and a first grader, on very tight budgets. Imagine a sweltering summer heat: much too hot to drag little ones out of the house on errands, much less outside to the playground or even the back yard, for the most part.
Now imagine those desperate moms putting their heads together and coming up with a creative way to occupy their kids during those hot summer months.
What my friend Mary and I decided to do was do a summer camp swap. Twice a week we would exchange kids so that one of us had the preschoolers and the other had the older kids. The preschool house saw a lot of free play time, though there were of course crafts, reading, and directed play as well. But we agreed to have activities very much in the style of a summer camp for our older kids who were bored out of their minds with the desert summer heat that kept them trapped indoors for the most part.
I took on the art projects, finding a painter to study and a project to do that related to that artist's style.
For example, we looked at and talked about the purely abstract linear art of Piet Mondrian, then my daughter made this masterly fingerpainting. I actually remember talking to my daughter and my neighbor's son about how to make their own painting in the Mondrian style:
"See how there is symmetry, so that everything balances on both sides. But then there's a little 'surprise' so that something is out of balance." This was my daughter's offering, with the blue square out of symmetry at the bottom to leave a "surprise" for the viewer's eye to find.
How to Set Up a Neighborhood Summer Camp
How Many Families?
You can do a DIY summer camp on your own with your kids, of course; but that doesn't give you a lot of relief and does add a burden of constantly coming up with cool stuff to do for your own kids, who are probably bored with "just family" already. Two families is a minimum, and I would say maybe four or five is a maximum, unless you are already a close-knit group and know your kids blend well. Also, if you get bigger you'll need more than one mom to keep the kids corralled and on-task (or you could do multiple camps by age-grouping, as described below).
How Long to Meet?
This is dependent on what you want to do, how often you meet, how well your kids play together ... lots of factors. You could meet for two hours, the afternoon, or a whole day.
How Often to Meet?
WEEK-LONG: One mom could take the kids every afternoon for a whole week, then another mom takes them all for a week, and so on; or one mom could take them on Monday, one on Tuesday, etc. This could be done every week for a few weeks, or alternating a free week with a camp week, or just once per month, whatever fits everyone's schedule. (By the way, Monday to Thursday counts as a week of summer camp, in most day camps I've ever seen!)
DAY-LONG: Decide on a specific day (or afternoon, or morning) and rotate one mom taking all the kids for that day, all summer long.
SWAPS: Instead of one mom taking all the kids, you may want to sort them into age groups. If you have only two families participating, as I did, that means kid trades rather than a free afternoon, but it fit our needs for that summer. If you have six families participating, then even if they are in three groups of toddlers, preschoolers, and early elementary, you'll still have plenty of kid-free time.
Art Camp Idea Books
Art activities and games, artist studies, global art, lots more!
Music Camp Idea Books
Music games and activities, composer studies, more!
Types of Do It Yourself Summer Day Camps
This list is as short or as long as your imagination. What do you enjoy doing? Figure out a way to involve the kids, and teach it to them. You can mix and match; each mom could take her own topic and run with it; everyone could teach each topic once ... whatever you all agree upon.
Here are JUST A FEW ideas for broad topics and narrower focuses you could have within the topic
Arts and Crafts: artist studies, teaching drawing, teaching how to paint, different craft each day, etc.
Music: composer and music studies, making instruments, learning to play recorder or drums
History and Literature: learn about the great explorers, the pyramids, the history of medicine, read stories that go along with the period
Science and Math: earth science, biology, insects, animals, physics, math games
Science & Math Camp Ideas
General Camp Idea Books
Around the World Summer Camp
For older kids, a more academic camp can be fun.
One great way to plan a summer camp for older kids, who will sit for a slightly more academic type of camp, would be to do an Around the World theme. This would work particularly well with a week-long camp, but could also be made to work with other time divisions as well.
Choose four broad categories to cover for each country studied, such as People, Geography, Animals, and Culture (art, music, food, traditions). You decide if each mom will do all four categories for each country (this works especially well if the teaching mom is hosting for a whole week at a time), or if one mom will do all the "people" categories and another mom all the "culture" categories for each country (this works great if one mom hosts and teaches on Monday, one on Tuesday, etc).
Each mom comes up with games, activities, coloring sheets, snacks, music, etc, to make a fun camp experience for the kids, based on the country being studied. A good way for the kids to collect and organize what they have learned is for each to create a lapbook or notebook as you go along - these are simple and fun to make, and a terrific way for showcasing learning!
Make It YOUR Camp!
I've given you ideas to get you started; now go with it!
My friend focused mostly on music in her camp. These are some "instruments" she helped our toddler kids create.
No matter what you want to do, you can figure out a way to do it. Have some ideas ready, and call your friends who have kids of similar ages to yours, and figure out just what you want to do. There are simpy tons of wonderful activity books available, so you don't have to scrape together a curriculum on your own. Check out any of the wonderful books I noted on this page, or just type "Usborne" into the Amazon search box and see what you find. You can create a whole summer camp out of just one Usborne book, in many cases!