Day camp: school vacation with fun and learning

Adult walking with two children in forest
Adult walking with two children in forest

Day camp: school vacation with fun and learning

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

School vacation looms large, to the delight of pupils everywhere. Considerably less excited are hardworking parents who might find themselves in a bind as to how they can possibly look after and amuse their children while juggling work responsibilities.

While day camp is a great option for many, sometimes there are no places available or other factors that limit a child’s ability to attend. A possible solution to the childcare dilemma is to team up with other parents in the same boat and take turns giving kids the adventures of their lives. While much of the time the young folks are happy just left to their own devices, structure to a day is the backbone upon which we all thrive, adult and child alike.

The day camp experience is special because it presents both learning opportunities and relaxed fun. Without the pressure of grades and deadlines, kids can grow and explore areas of interest. Hands-on activities and group efforts hone vital life skills.

Parents who suddenly find themselves in the impromptu role of day camp counselor might find filling the hours of the day a little easier when there’s a wide-arching theme to work around. Here are just a few ideas to help guide your merry band’s adventures and create lasting memories along the way.

MythBusters: This long-running science entertainment TV program shown on the Discovery Channel puts myths, rumors and popular beliefs to the test by means of conducting countless fun experiments. Not only did the results confirm or disprove a hypothesis; a whole lot of fun was had along the way. Start with a premise of your own and go from there. Can you really fry an egg on a sidewalk? How long can a Twinkie stay buried? Will a tooth dissolve in sugary cola overnight?

Country spotlight: Explore a new culture by choosing a country nobody in your group is familiar with. Listen to its music, cook its staple dishes, learn a traditional dance, make a typical craft and read out loud a story set in this land of wonders. Learn how to say hello, please and thank you in the language. Through the wonders of the Internet, tune in to some actual programming shown in the country. Know someone who hails from that country? Invite them over for snacks, a talk and sharing photos of daily life in their homeland.

Acts of kindness: Speak with your charges to learn about the issues that matter to them. Talk about ways in which even small actions can help. Environmentally conscious kids might enjoy putting on gloves and gathering trash along a nature trail or water’s edge. Would the elderly residents of a nearby senior home enjoy an impromptu concert performed? Could the on-base library use a team of helping hands to alphabetize their shelves on a rainy afternoon?

Nature watch: Combine observation with experimentation to see what encourages the creatures in your midst to thrive. Design a variety of different bird feeders and fill them with different types of food—which birds flock to what? Photograph them and upload their images on Google Lens to learn their names in both the local language and your native tongue. Go on a nature walk and keep a log of the animals you spot or the traces they leave behind from fur to droppings.

Building projects: Should you be lucky enough to have some space to call your own, embark upon an ambitious group building project. First design, then set out to build with wood, branches, boxes or other materials on hand. Try an obstacle or a mini-golf course, dollhouse, teepee, carp pond or off-road track for racing radio-controlled vehicles. On a hot sunny day, head to the beach and create a massive sand sculpture.

Celebrity spotlight: Channel obsessions about a singer, band, actor or social media star into a day of research and learning. Each child gets the chance to choose the personality of the day. Find out where this person comes from and follow his or her rise to fame. See who can most successfully memorize the lyrics to a song or the dialogue to a scene on TV. Sing karaoke. Learn a dance routine based on the performer’s song or choreograph your very own. Post your moves on TikTok.

Survival skills: Practice the skills that are likely to come in handy in the event of getting lost in the woods or stranded on a desert isle. Feel free to act out the scenario for added authenticity, as long as it won’t give your charges nightmares! Build a lean-to shelter, identify north by observing moss growth on the trees, weave a rope hammock or use a wet sock to cool down a bottle of water.

Fashion week: The possibilities here are endless, starting from personalizing a mask with fabric pens, beads and spangles to completing a small embroidery project such as a scented pillow. Have everyone bring an old white t-shirt and devote an afternoon to the wonders of tie-dying. Make hats with yarn and plastic bottles. Weave friendship bracelets or daisy necklaces.

Art projects: Use each day of the week to create a new and wonderful artistic creation. For example, take a photo and cut it up into the same number of parts as there are children present. Each works on his or her own individual section, and at the end of the day, the parts are assembled into a creation representing the group’s effort. Explore other art forms such as pouring, in which paints are dripped onto a canvas which is then tilted to create an abstract effect. Paint a wall mural.

Life skills week: Foster independence with age-appropriate activities, from braiding rope to pumping up bike tires or greasing a chain. Play shopkeeper and learn how to correctly make change. Think of what’s for lunch, set a maximum budget, make a shopping list, pay at the self-serve check-out, create your meal and do the washing up together.

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