Building strong families doesn’t happen by chance and left untended, relationships can naturally drift apart. If you want to build camaraderie among the people you love while having fun together, check out these tried and tested summer camp at home ideas from Cindy Singleton, and start planning your own Family Camp today! A DIY summer camp may be the best thing you can do to strengthen and give new energy to your family relationships this summer.
Several years ago, my husband and I planned and hosted a lively―and wildly successful―‘Cousin Camp’ for our grandchildren. It was so successful that it became an annual event. But as our older grandchildren morphed into tweens, we faced the challenge of how to make our well-loved camp fun for everyone. That’s when Cousin Camp gave way to Family Camp—think of a week-long camp for kids where parents are invited to come along and join in!
Each year, in preparation for Family Camp, my husband and I choose the venue and plan a host of activities. Then, we invite our grown daughters, their families, and my elderly mother to join us. Our days are filled with games, meals, laughter, and a few bloops and blunders—all perfect ingredients for making memories and binding us together. Even though our families already love and enjoy each other, no other event on our calendars fortifies our relationships like Family Camp.
WHY FAMILY CAMP?
With our busy lifestyles, it’s more important than ever before to find a designated time for everyone in the family to come together. Building strong families doesn’t happen by chance, and left untended, family relationships naturally drift apart. If you want to build camaraderie among the people you love while strengthening multi-generational ties and having fun together, start planning your own Family Camp! Although Family Camp doesn’t have to be hyper-structured, a well-planned agenda helps focus on quality time together. Grab your calendar, and I’ll walk you through how to get started.
Invite Your Guests
Children, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and even great-grandparents make perfect guests! Some of my favorite memories over the years include my mother―now in her late 80s and still an avid family camper―interacting and playing with her great-grandchildren.
Decide On a Date
Especially if you’re working with extended family members, scheduling a family camp can be a feat, but persevere! We plan around kids’ sports and church activities, parents’ vacation time, and every other event that crowds our calendars. But the memories we’ve made at Family Camp are so enduring that every single person is eager to find a date that works. If possible, scheduling Family Camp at the same time each year―for instance, over Memorial Day weekend―is ideal because it makes it easier for everyone to secure the date and plan around it.
Our Family Camp lasts four nights, and everyone leaves wanting more. Although a whole week would be fun, shortening it not only cuts the cost of hosting but also ensures camp ends on a high note. The most important thing is just doing it, so schedule the first date that works for everyone.
Choose a Venue
If a vacation rental is out of your budget or you have ample space at home, try hosting Family Camp there. Any venue will work, but a change of scenery allows Family Camp to double as a mini-vacation. A beach venue offers a variety of opportunities, including sand and pool games, hermit crabbing, beach volleyball, and time for reading or sunning. Family campgrounds often offer a variety of amenities, including cabins, a swimming pool, and built-in activities like miniature golf or outdoor movies. Our family is going to the mountains this year, where we’ll incorporate hiking trips and sightseeing into our daily schedule.
No matter which venue you choose, the most important element of Family Camp is being together, not sightseeing. So, don’t stress too much about where to go. Spend time planning the fun, and you’ll find the location doesn’t matter as much.
Plan the Meals
To help offset expenses and lighten our workload, my husband and I ask each family to host an evening meal. We’ve enjoyed everything from elaborately themed meals to simple pizza by the pool. Some of our favorite dinners have included Mexican Night with a piñata, Hot Dog Night with combinations from around the country, and a Charcuterie Night with various meats, cheeses, and snack items. Other ideas include Breakfast Night, Asian Night, or Barbecue Night. For dessert, consider assembling a sundae bar, a popcorn bar, or a s’mores bar.
At Family Camp, my husband and I make it a point to cater to picky grandkids. It is, after all, a vacation of sorts for our grandchildren, and we want them to feel special and loved. After meals, kids are enlisted to help with cleanup.
Family teams are one of the keys to strengthening relationships at our Family Camp. Before camp, I secretly divide our family into three teams, which takes some serious consideration since our nine grandchildren range from an athletic teenager to a very girly 5-year-old. I mix up families and distribute grandchildren into teams according to their size, skills, and abilities.
Our teams are given color names, but you can get creative or let teams choose their names. We provide t-shirts―purchased from a craft store and designed by our youngest daughter―as well as colored bandanas that can be worn on ankles, heads, or wrists. The team reveal―held on the first night―is a highlight of Family Camp. As family members discover who’s on their team, there’s a lot of whooping, hollering, and good-humored trash talk.
Teams compete for points by playing an array of games and activities, all planned ahead of time and designed to include as many age levels as possible. It’s heartwarming to watch cousins root for each other, sit together, and help each other vie for points. There’s no question that friendly competition strengthens relationships, provides laughter, and reminds us we’re already a team.
Keep the Competition Fun
A poster board chart with activities and the number of points awarded for first, second, and third place is displayed in a visible spot for the duration of Family Camp. (The last activity on the chart is awarded more points, so teams with fewer points still have a chance to stage a comeback.) At the end of each day, my husband and I tally each team’s scores, write them on the chart, and then reveal them to a round of applause and hoopla.
Fair rules are critical for keeping the competition fun. My husband and I learned the hard way to have game rules clearly spelled out and to make sure judging is done with no room for partiality. (For our sandcastle-building competition, we invited nearby sunbathers to act as judges, and they eagerly complied.) Since my husband and I are the official camp hosts, the buck stops with us. In other words, we have the final say in all decisions, which keeps family drama to a minimum.
On the last night of camp, we hold a closing ceremony where the winning team is revealed and homemade trophies are awarded to each team member. My husband and I marvel each year at how excited both adults and kids are to receive a cardboard trophy. By then, the teams have rooted for and supported each other through four days of competition, and they’re cemented in their affection for one another.
Determine Your Activities
Activities can be competitive or not—it doesn’t matter as long as they’re fun. Some of our favorite activities over the years include:
- Card games
- Corn hole
- Sandcastle building contest
- Pool games
- Scavenger hunt
- Hunting for hermit crabs
- Old-fashioned Drop the Clothespin in the Bottle
- Belly flop contest in the pool
- Movie Night
- Relay races
- Minute-to-Win-It games
Build Your Family’s Faith
During our first Cousin Camp, I made it a point to build a Bible story into our daily calendar. At night, I told my grandchildren stories from my childhood with a life lesson at the end. At Family Camp, I have continued the tradition by sharing stories with the kids at bedtime and talking about the Bible at the breakfast table. When it comes to sharing Scriptures, Family Camp presents a natural opportunity to “talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).
- Encourage everyone to come with flexible attitudes and be ready for fun.
- Pack a first aid kit, and include remedies for sunburns and minor cuts and illnesses.
- Shop for inexpensive plastic cups and add campers’ names with either vinyl or permanent markers. This keeps dishwashing to a minimum and saves on disposable products.
- Schedule family photos. We normally dress for a nice family photo on the day we arrive and then take group photos in our camp shirts first thing each morning before activities begin. Everyone knows ahead of time to be dressed and ready.
- Assign one person to be the final decision-maker for game rules. For instance, we allow this responsibility to fall on my husband.
- Have board games or decks of cards available for ‘downtime’.
- Plan meals and gather groceries ahead of time, and assign one person to pick up cold items before everyone arrives.
- Don’t be afraid to use ‘old-fashioned’ games. They have proven to be some of our favorites.
- Get creative about your camp name. We adopted Camp CeCe―that’s what my grandchildren call me―for cousin camp, and the name stuck.
- Bring extra toilet paper.
A Family Investment
My daughters and their families gather with my husband and me throughout the year for meals, holiday events, home projects, vacations, and fun times. But none of that togetherness compares to the time we set aside each year for Family Camp. At Family Camp, nothing is allowed to compete with our focus on building relationships and having fun together. No matter where you have it or what kind of activities you plan, Family Camp may be the best thing you can do to strengthen and give new energy to your family relationships.
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I really want to do this! Thanks for the insights you offer!