How to create a do-it-yourself summer camp for kids

Published: Saturday, Oct. 10 2015 5:17 a.m. MDT

Saren Eyre Loosli's children enjoy mountain biking as part their summer camp.  (Saren Eyre Loosli, Power of Moms) Saren Eyre Loosli's children enjoy mountain biking as part their summer camp. (Saren Eyre Loosli, Power of Moms)

Last year we finally got summer right.

We always spend most of July doing family trips and family reunions, but before last year, June and August had typically ended up being either boring or stressful.

One year, we tried just lounging at the pool and doing whatever came up. After a week or so, we were bored and frustrated and started scrambling for more playdates and day camps to join.

The next year, I ran the kids around to a bunch of classes to keep them busy, but I found the classes to be mediocre at best, and felt we were wasting our time and our money while stressing ourselves out with trying to get to certain places at certain times.

Then the following year, I actually conducted classes for the kids and all their friends. Doing our own tuition-based summer school with classes of 10-12 kids was so fun but so much work!

Saren Eyre Loosli's children and their friends visit the Spiral Jetty off the shore of Great Salt Lake for a Saren Eyre Loosli's children and their friends visit the Spiral Jetty off the shore of Great Salt Lake for a "Take a Trip Tuesday" activity. (Saren Eyre Loosli, Power of Moms)

So last year, I decided not to take the kids to classes all over town and not to invite the whole neighborhood over for classes. Instead, the kids and I came up with our own plan for the “Loosli Learning Adventures Camp” that lasted throughout June and the parts of July and August when we weren’t traveling.

Together, we brainstormed a list of things that would be good to do each day to keep our bodies and brains active and our house clean. Then we brainstormed a bucket list of fun activities we’d like to do together. We ended up with a good list of six “ Must-Do Daily Activities” that the kids agreed to complete individually each day (usually in the morning) and a list of ideas for group activities (or “Daily Adventures”) that we’d chip away at (usually in the afternoon).

Saren Eyre Loosli's children work on their Saren Eyre Loosli's children work on their "Wondering List." (Saren Eyre Loosli, Power of Moms)

Following are some details on what we came up with:


Each morning, we began the day whenever we woke up (usually by around 7:30 a.m.), had a leisurely breakfast that finished by around 8:30, and then did our individual activities for a couple hours until lunchtime. They did the stuff on their list, and I got a couple hours of work done for Power of Moms — with a few interruptions here and there — but they became quite self-directed after the first few days. Here’s what we decided would be on the kids’ required individual daily activities list:

  • READING: Read for 20 minutes. (Some read for longer — that’s fine!)
  • WRITING: Write a page in your journal. Write about whatever you want. Write a story, write about what happened yesterday or pick a writing idea from a list of writing prompts we’ve got. Younger children can work on learning to write letters.
  • PHYSICAL EXERCISE: Do a physical activity. It can be individual, or it can be done as a group — ride bikes or scooters, play tag, go for a walk, play at the playground, jump rope or shoot hoops.
  • PRACTICING: Work toward one of your summer goals by practicing a skill for 20 minutes: piano, basketball, guitar, typing, etc. Each child has their short list of skills they want to develop.
  • HOME: Do a job from the job list. We have a list of five-to-10-minute household jobs that need to be completed each week (i.e., dust the living room, weed one flower bed, vacuum the stairs, wipe down the kids’ bathroom sink, etc.).
  • EXTRA: From the approved list of ideas we brainstormed together, pick an extra activity to do on your own or with siblings. For example, do online reading or math games, play a board game with siblings, do extra reading or writing, paint or draw, or work on learning Spanish. We’re loving the free online program Coffee Break Spanish, which offers 15-minute lessons.
Saren Eyre Loosli's children visit a local bakery to learn how break is made as part of a Saren Eyre Loosli's children visit a local bakery to learn how break is made as part of a "Thinking Thursday" activity. (Saren Eyre Loosli, Power of Moms)

The kids and I created simple charts that could be printed out for each week where they had checklist of what they needed to do each day, and then on Saturday, they got paid $.25 for each thing they’d accomplished that week (so they could make $1.50/day for doing their 6 things or $7.50/week for doing the 6 things each day for the 5 week days). They saved that money up for a big family activity at the end of June. We went to an amusement park, and they needed to save $35 each to help pay their way on that.

Here are the kids working on their reading point:


My daughter felt like writing a book report for her writing point one day:


The kids don’t always look THIS happy when they do their “home” point, but it has resulted in a pretty clean house through painless 5-10 minute tasks for each kid each day:



One of our Power of Moms readers sent in a great idea for having specified days for different things. We used her idea to group our long “bucket list” of brainstormed activities into categories for fun family activities each day after the kids finished their “must-do’s”:

  • Make-it Monday: Building projects with K’nex and Legos or the wood we have in the backyard for the kids to use in building forts, craft projects, art projects, a visit to the library to learn about artists and inventors and engineering. Art and building and invention are big things in our family.
  • Take a trip Tuesday: The park, a museum, a bike ride, a field trip to a historic place, a factory tour, a picnic, a friend’s house, etc. We often invited other kids or other families along.
  • Wet Wednesday: Swim, go to a splash pad, play in the sprinklers — often with friends and neighbors.
  • Thinking Thursday: Research something from our “wondering list” — a list of things we’re wondering about. Last summer we had a great time finding out how to make yogurt, how cars are made, where baby carrots come from and how monster trucks work thanks to YouTube, Wikipedia and library trips.
  • Friend Friday: Everyone can have a friend over. It's nice to do it all at once and protect our family time during most of the rest of the week. Plus, we always have Family Movie Night on Fridays.

I love being my kids’ teacher. I mean all moms are their kids’ teachers in many ways, but it’s great to do it in a little more formal way sometimes. I so admire moms who home school. While I don’t know if it would be the right thing for us longterm, I feel like summer’s the perfect time set up a special sort of summer “home school” where I can teach my kids about things I really value and love while we really enjoy each other’s company.

QUESTION: What are your ideas for making summer fun, fulfilling, interesting and non-stressful?

CHALLENGE: Sit down with your kids to talk about what they’re excited about doing this summer and what they they think everyone should be doing to keep their brains and bodies and the house functioning well. Create your own family “Learning Adventures Camp” if you want!

This article is courtesy of Power of Moms, an online gathering place for deliberate mothers. Learn more about the Learning Adventures Camp here.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company