Forget Sleepaway, Here’s Camp To-Stay

(a COVID-conscious alternative to summer camp)


When you ask kids about their favorite things to do in the summer, you can often predict some of the items on their lists. Swimming, eating snow cones, having cookouts, and of course, taking a break from school. Another activity that many kids place at the top of their list for summer plans is Summer Camp.

Unfortunately, this year is unlike any other that we have experienced. Due to COVID-19 many camps are closed for the year and spending the night away in a cabin while making new friends just isn’t an option.

If your kids are bummed by this turn of events, consider this option: creating a summer camp at home!

Now you may be thinking, “that’s cheesy. My kids roll their eyes when I even break out a single dance move. If I try to pretend I’m a camp counselor, they will probably run to their rooms and lock their doors!” And maybe this is true… but maybe, just maybe, you’ll actually make some memories worth keeping. They may roll their eyes, but they may also get the message that you care enough to make the summer at home one of the best summers they have ever had.

You might be thinking, “summer camp at home just sounds like a lot of work.” Well, it might take some effort on your part but it doesn’t have to feel like work. Also remember, this would be YOUR project. You can make it whatever you want it to be!

So, if I’ve convinced you to look into this crazy idea, keep reading for some inspiration on what you can do to create your own family camp!

How do we get started? 

  1. Set aside one week where your kids know it will be free of routine school work. Games, family time, and fun will be the priority.
  2. Make a schedule/camp itinerary that can balance the needs of home life with the priority of creating a camp experience for your family.
  3. Make it official in a fun way! Examples: come up with a creative camp name, create homemade tie dye t-shirts with your camp name on them, use name tags and let the kids decorate them, hand out a list of “camp rules” with fun and serious requirements, as well as the “camp schedule” so that they can get excited about what is going to happen. This is a way to affirm that they can count on it happening and it isn’t just a hypothetical fun idea (see example template). 
  4. If you have some close family friends who you are comfortable getting within 6 feet of, invite them to join your summer camp for the week! 


Let’s consider what kids love about summer camp:

  1. The break from everyday responsibilities and the mundane lull of summer
  2. Creative activities and the chance to be physically active
  3. Yummy snacks
  4. New experiences
  5. Learning new things about themselves and the world around them 

It’s not such a daunting task when you just do your best to include each of these aspects in your summer plans! As you consider the 5 categories of what kids love about summer camp, how can you incorporate them in your itinerary every day of Summer Camp? Here are some ideas and suggestions:


The break from everyday responsibilities and the mundane lull of summer

  • Do your best to limit the daily chores for this one week out of your summer. Remember, if your kids were away at their usual camp, there are certain responsibilities that would be put on hold. As far as the important things that NEED to be done, be sure that those are separated from what you count as “camp time.” 
  • Dress up like a camp counselor with a whistle, shorts, tube socks, and your homemade camp shirt. 

Creative activities and the chance to be physically active

  • Create homemade camp t-shirts out of tie dye and fabric paint. 
  • Have a drawing/art contest where everyone wins a unique prize that compliments their specific art piece.  Examples: “most colorful”, “most funny depiction of a dinosaur”, “best job staying inside the lines”, “most detailed”, etc.
  • 3 legged race or a sack race.
  • Write inspirational messages on the sidewalk or at a park using chalk.
  • Play some outdoor games. Here is a great list of ideas: 
  • If you have sports equipment, set aside some time to play at home.
  • Plan some time in the water: sprinkler/have a water balloon fight/ swim in the pool (if you have one).
  • Go hiking or exploring in the woods. 

Yummy snacks 

  • Let your kids eat some junk food snacks that they might not get to eat regularly. 
  • Make dinner simple like it would be at camp! Chicken nuggets and tater tots are a great combo! You might want to add some fruit to provide some more healthy elements. Watermelon and strawberries tend to go over well at “real” camp. 
  • If you have a grill, hot dogs and hamburgers are a great option and you may even want to make them more than once during camp week!
  • For dessert, you can create an ice cream bar with lots of choices for toppings!
  • Is there a shaved ice truck in your area? A short trip for a treat might be a welcome break from home snacks. 
  • Popsicles. Lots of popsicles after hot outdoor games. 
  • If your family enjoys mornings, maybe make pancakes for breakfast once or twice during the week. Again, fruit and yogurt is a yummy and healthy addition! 

New experiences

  • Build a fire in your backyard and roast marshmallows while telling stories before bedtime.
  • Build blanket forts and then eat lunch/dinner inside them.
  • Think of one person near your home (neighbor, family friend, someone who is going through a difficult time, grandparents, etc) who you would like to do something nice for. Then take them a gift (while maintaining social distancing). Maybe bake them a treat? Create a craft as a family to give them? Write letters for them? Mow their lawn and plant some flowers?
  • Do a scavenger hunt.
  • Take camp photos and create a scrapbook of what you do that week. 
  • Learn a new skill like crocheting, sewing, gardening, cooking, wood working, painting, changing a tire, etc.


Learning new things about themselves and the world around them

  • Watch an age-appropriate movie about an important topic and then have a reflective discussion time as a group.
  • Sit together and ask fun “get to know you” questions that you may have never thought to ask before. Examples: What’s a place you’ve always wanted to visit?  What is something that you look forward to when you become an adult, Who is someone you admire and why? What is something that you want to get better at?
  • Have an “affirmation time” where you take turns telling one person in your circle what you love about them. You could do a different “camper” every day.
  • Make a list of things that your family wants to do better in the coming school year. 
  • Talk about healthy self-care and helping each other take care of themselves and each other. What might that look like?
  • Have all of your “campers” create a collage that describes themselves. You can use poster boards, magazine clippings, print things off the internet, draw pictures, make lists. And then let them talk about what they created. 
  • Maybe choose a biblical story or character attribute and study it from a biblical perspective during camp week. You could also find a children’s/teen bible study that you go through as a family during camp week. Make sure that discussion time involves some up-beat and fun questions to keep everyone engaged.  

Making your own “Camp-at-home” might sound ridiculous, or at the very least, like a lot of work. But going the extra mile during a summer as strange as this one might yield the most rewarding results, as you watch your kids enjoy something new about time at home and learn more about who they truly are. And traditions often start in strange ways, you might have to have more summer camps in the years to come!


  • Bryanna Ruesche