Originally published in Atlanta Homeschool Magazine in 2014. This version has been updated and includes Amazon affiliate links.
The summer months mean summer camps for many families, but that doesn’t have to mean signing your kids up for camps outside the home. When my own little homeschooler wanted to “play camp” last summer, we came up with several weeks worth of fun activities to do together at home.
Step one was coming up with a theme each week. Step two meant thinking of fun crafts, activities, snacks and field trips that would tie into the theme. And Step three was simply gathering supplies and pulling it all together. The end result was a month of family fun and learning for a fraction of what we would have spent signing up for any of the camps around town.
If planning your own summer camp at home sounds like fun to you, here are a few ideas to get you started!
Theme: Fun in the Sun
Crafts and Activities:
- Make a pizza box solar oven!
- Cook up some s’mores in your new solar oven! All you need is chocolate, graham crackers, marshmallows (and a little patience). The sun will do the rest.
- Water play outside with buckets of water, toys, and funnels.
- Run through the sprinkler together.
- Play hopscotch using an ice cube instead of a rock.
- Get the whole family together for a water balloon fight in the backyard.
- Draw or paint the story of Icarus flying too close to the sun, and get really creative by adding colored feathers to the wings. (Feathers can be found at any local craft store.)
- Use sidewalk chalk to trace each other’s shadows when the sun is overhead. Make funny or scary shapes, and turn the outlines into monsters or funny people.
- Blow bubbles and see how many you can pop.
- Paint with water. Dip big paintbrushes in water, and paint on the sidewalk, the porch, the car, wherever your creativity takes you. The “paintings” will slowly fade away, which makes for a great opportunity to talk about evaporation.
Snacks: For snacks, think easy, cool, and able to be enjoyed outside.
- Make lemonade together. Here’s our favorite recipe.
- Make homemade popsicles out of juice (or the lemonade you just made). We bought inexpensive popsicle molds for this, but you can also go old-school with the “ice tray and toothpick” trick too. If you want to make the popsicles even more interesting, add whole blueberries or pieces of chopped fruit to the juice before freezing.
- If you have an ice cream maker, whip up some homemade ice cream. Eat as-is, or use along with your favorite cookies to make ice cream sandwiches. If you want to try a delicious, easy ice cream recipe that doesn’t require an ice cream maker, I highly recommend the recipes here. We’ve tried the vanilla and chocolate versions a few times already, and they are fantastic.
- Slice up oranges, and enjoy on a picnic blanket in the yard. This is a good snack to have while reading The Sun Egg (see below).
For Fun in the Sun week, we spent as much time outside as possible. We also stayed cool by being in or near water everyday. Most days this meant hanging at home, playing in the sprinkler or with various-sized tubs filled with water and toys; other days we visited our favorite splashpad, then grabbed some ice cream and hung out at the park. We ended Fun in the Sun camp with a trip to the neighborhood pool.
The Sun Egg, by Elsa Beskow
The Summer Solstice, by Ellen Jackson
The Sun is My Favorite Star, by Frank Asch
Moonbear’s Shadow, by Frank Asch
Sunny Bunny Tales (Max & Ruby), by Grosset and Dunlap
Summertime in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder
Crafts and Activities:
- Paint with vegetables! Chop up a variety of fruits and vegetables (broccoli, carrots, lettuce, star fruit, okra, etc.) and use them as paintbrushes with tempura paint and regular art paper.
- Take a walk through the neighborhood looking for insects, animal tracks, and interesting plants.
- Start a nature journal. This can be as simple as stapling pieces of paper together to make a book. Fill it with drawings of flowers, plants, trees, insects, and animals.
- Go on a nature scavenger hunt and see how many different things you can find. You can draw what you find in the nature journal, or give your kids a camera and let them photograph their findings.
- Plant flowers or vegetables in your own garden, or in pots in your yard. Let your child choose what to plant and help water and care for it as it grows.
- Build a faerie house in your yard using rocks, leaves and other items you find.
- Use a bug catcher to gently hold insects while you study them. See how many different types of bugs you can find. Avoid the stinging and biting ones, and be sure to release them when you’re done.
- If you live near a pond or creek, go searching for tadpoles.
- Pretend to be wild animals and talk about where you’d live and what you’d eat. Choose some animals that might be found in your area and some that would be found in other parts of the world.
- Buy a non-seedless watermelon, and have a seed-spitting contest. Use the melon for snack time.
- Make a fort outside with old sheets, branches, chairs, or whatever you can come up with.
- Consider participating in the GA State Parks and/or the National Parks Junior Ranger Programs. These can be done at home, are full of great outdoor activities, and kids can earn cool Jr. Ranger badges when enough activities have been completed.
- Let your child prepare a fruit salad. Kids as young as three or four can use a dull knife to chop up soft fruits, then mix in fresh berries and banana slices. It will taste delicious, and they’ll be proud of themselves for making it.
- Create a delicious green smoothie. Throw a handful of spinach, 1 to 2 cups of fresh or frozen berries, 1 chopped banana, ice cubes, ½ a cup of yogurt, and 1 cup of coconut water into a blender. Blend and serve for breakfast or for an anytime snack.
- Cut up vegetables and serve alongside a dip made of fresh herbs, the juice of one lemon, 1 cup of plain yogurt, and a little salt and pepper. Just mix and serve.
- Four words: Ants on a Log. Take a slice of celery, fill it with peanut butter (or SunButter), and cover with raisins. You have a classic fun, kid-friendly snack.
Visit the Wylde Center Garden to explore the green spaces, play in the sand area, or have a picnic. Don’t forget to look for faerie houses hidden amongst the greenery.
A visit to the Atlanta Botanical Garden is also a great field trip during Nature Camp week. Make a day of it and spend time playing in the recently renovated children’s garden, grab lunch at the quick café, and explore the garden’s many natural environments. The ABG Gainesville location is smaller than the one in town, and there’s no cafe, but it’s lovely and quiet, and also makes for a nice field trip.
If nature walks around your neighborhood have become old-hat, consider taking a hike at one of the city’s many nature centers. The Chattahoochee Nature Center in Roswell is one of our favorites!
Finally, get out to one of Atlanta’s outdoor farmer’s markets to pick up your fresh, local fruit and veggies for the week. The Decatur market, Tucker market, Norcross market, and Grant Park market are all great.
How a Seed Grows, by Helene J. Jordan
Peter in Blueberry Land, by Elsa Beskow
My Garden, by Kevin Henkes
Sunflower House, by Eve Bunting
The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
One Day in the Woods, by Jean Craighead George
1001 Bugs to Spot (Usborne), by Emma Helbrough
The Leafmen, by William Joyce
Theme: The Night Sky and Space
Crafts and Activities:
- Use black construction paper and metallic markers to create your own space or night sky drawings. (The markers and paper can be found at craft stores.)
- Try camping out in the backyard and listen for nighttime noises. And consider joining in the National Wildlife Foundation’s annual Great American Campout on June 24!
- Stay up late and go outside to look at the moon and stars. Talk about constellations and look for The Big Dipper or the Summer Triangle.
- Make a homemade telescope using lenses and cardboard tubes!
- Play flashlight tag in your backyard after the sun goes down.
- Make homemade Moon Pies. Or pick up one of the Moon Pies you remember from your own childhood online or at the funky Intown Ace Hardware on Scott Boulevard in Decatur. They carry traditional Moon Pies in a variety of flavors.
- For a healthier snack, try star fruit. Just wash, cut off the ends, slice into thin slices, remove any seeds, and enjoy! To double up on the star factor, you can serve it with apples that have been washed, and cut in half or sliced, horizontally, so you can see the star-shape of the core.
- For a wacky, kid-favorite treat, consider trying a pack of Astronaut Ice Cream. This freeze-dried ice cream is vacuum-sealed, and available from Amazon,
The best in-town field trip for Space week is a visit to Fernbank Science Center. They have great planetarium shows for all ages every day except Sunday. Afterwards, be sure to walk around and check out their museum exhibits.
The Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville is also a great field trip destination. In addition to regular and special exhibits, they also have a wonderful planetarium and an observatory.
For a virtual field trip, check out NASA Space Place for fun facts, videos, activates, games, and more.
And finally, if you want to cap off your week of at-home Space camp with an out of town field trip, you can’t beat the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL, just a three and half hour drive from Atlanta.
What’s Out There? A Book about Space, by Lynn Wilson
Find the Constellations, by H.A. Rey
The Story of Orion: A Roman Constellation Myth, by Thomas Kingsley Troupe
On the Moon, by Anna Milbourne and Benji Davies
The Big Dipper, by Franklyn M. Branley and Molly Coxe
Space!, by DK Children