Countdown to Camp!

Activities that prepare kids for summer fun

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This year’s camp season promises to be bigger and better than ever! Parents, take advantage of summer break to send the kids to camp—it’s a unique opportunity for them (and you) to learn and grow in leaps and bounds. To get ready for camp (and get into the summer camp spirit), engage in camp-inspired activities at home. Many of these fun activities double as teachable moments as kids learn skills, get prepared for camp and learn self-sufficiency.

Personalize reusable water bottles. 

Kids should always have a reusable water bottle, whether it’s day camp, overnight camp or a beach day, so this activity will help get your family through the summer. Purchase an eco-friendly bottle for each family member and personalize/decorate with name and favorite decals. 

Learn how to make a box oven and cook things using solar power.

Have a cookout. 

Pull out the camp stove and make a meal on the patio. Your family may have so much fun with this that it becomes a regular weekend routine. Or, take it a step further and learn how to make a box oven for outdoor cooking: www.sandiegofamily.com/for-the-kids/family-science/making-a-box-oven

Pitch a tent in the backyard. 

Pitching a tent is a great lesson in patience and teamwork. Make sure everyone helps! Even if no one sleeps in it, a tent is a fun place to hang out and read or play games for the day.

Have a sleeping bag relay race. 

Sleeping bag relays are something I did with my Girl Scouts in preparation for camp. You didn’t actually think I was going to roll everyone’s sleeping bags for them, did you? We did this relay over and over until everyone mastered rolling and securing their own bags.

Nature Journal Cover 2484

Craft a nature journal. 

Nature journals are a unique way to connect with the outdoors—either at camp or at home. Get instructions at www.sandiegofamily.com/for-the-kids/crafts-for-kids/nature-journal-for-kids.

Cover the basics. 

Before sending your children to camp—even if it’s day camp—there are some basics you’ll want to cover. Now is a great time to teach, review or practice the following, if applicable:

  • Tying shoes
  • Saying (child’s) full name
  • Knowing Mom & Dad’s names
  • Memorizing Mom or Dad’s phone number
  • Discussing buddy system
  • Applying sunscreen (when and how)
  • Knowing own allergies and/or meds

If the kids are going to overnight camp, be sure they’ve practiced sleeping away from parents several times.

Trail Signs

Make trail signs. 

Using rocks, pebbles or sticks, practice making and reading simple trail signs.

Let them pack. 

Parents, please teach kids how to pack for an overnight trip. Use progression like we do in Girl Scouts—start small and work towards more responsibility. When kids are little, give directions such as, “Choose five pairs of socks and eight t-shirts.” As they get older get less specific, but give more information. Such as, “We are taking a five-day trip. Most days will be warm, but it might rain. Put everything you think you need on your bed and I’ll come discuss it with you in half an hour.” It’s a learning process, so praise them for good decisions and gently correct where needed. My youngest daughter was packing without help (complete with her self-made checklist) by the time sixth grade camp came around.

Don’t carry the backpacks!

Our job as parents is to train kids to be responsible, caring, independent contributors to the world. As difficult as it can be to watch children struggle, doing things for them that they can do for themselves actually stunts the growing process. So please, don’t carry your child’s backpack.

We bought backpacks for each of the 10 girls in my Girl Scout troop when they were in first grade. We made sure they had the necessary day trip supplies inside (pen, small first aid kit, nature journal or notebook, hair tie, bandana, water bottle, granola bar, etc.), but it was their responsibility to replenish supplies and carry their own gear. Always. If I was approached by a parent carrying a child’s backpack, that was promptly corrected. The girls carried those backpacks until they fell apart (the backpacks, not the girls!) in middle school. Carrying a child’s backpack may seem like an insignificant gesture, but it’s a wonderful opportunity to teach children responsibility.

Create a countdown to camp. 

Mark the camp start date on a calendar, so kids can see the day get closer. Or, make a paper chain and let kids remove a loop every day.

Celebrate your new summer camp skills by roasting marshmallows and telling stories around a firepit in the backyard. 

Lisa Gipson is the managing editor of San Diego Family and mom to three daughters; she was a volunteer Girl Scout leader for 20 years.

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