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You Really Can Do-it-Yourself: Forming Camps and Clubs

Camp CricketCamp Cricket on kid o info

By Elyse Major

One spring as preschool was coming to a close, I thought, “What will my boys and I do all summer to keep busy and have fun?” Wanting to provide stimulating experiences without the expense of a formal program, I decided to start my own camp. Armed with a background in advertising and public relations, I was compelled to package the idea with a catchy name, a logo (see T-shirt above), an itinerary, even a song! Over a power-lunch at Newport Creamery, my boys and I decided we would name our venture Camp Cricket. Although summer is over, your camp or club can be adapted to your schedule and the current season.

Gathering Campers
I emailed all of my mom-pals. Knowing that even a brief phone conversation can be difficult to have at my home, I had acquired email addresses from other moms over the years. I sent a message pitching the idea of meeting once a week to eight moms. They were in. After all, the camp was really a moms’ group in green and brown (camp) packaging.

Putting It Together
My M.O.: The goofier we all are, the more fun this will be for the kids. And goofy I got! I created a Camp Cricket logo and printed it on iron-on transfers for each mom and camper to put on old T-shirts. I borrowed a preschool tune and came up with quick lyrics (Camp Cricket time is here/It’s time to clap and cheer/For fun and friends and summertime/Camp Cricket time is here). I developed a loose itinerary:

– Meet at an interesting location
– Free play (and chatting)
– A craft
– Campfire circle
– More free play
– Picnic lunch

Meeting on Wednesdays at 10:00 a.m. worked best for everyone’s schedules, so as the coordinator, I sent weekly emails that included available dates for moms to take on–planning all the activities for their selected day. I kicked off Camp Cricket by planning the first two outings.

Salt Jars on kid o infoCamp trip on kid o info

Everyone involved came up with so many inspired ideas that we spent every Wednesday from mid-June through September enjoying summer in Rhode Island. Hands-on activities included a visit to a fire house; making salt jars at Sabin Point Park; decorating donuts (at the now-closed Krispy Kreme); touching sea stars at the Audubon Environment Education Center; and much more. We kept things very inexpensive by picking up free passes at our local libraries, using found objects for crafts, and packing our own lunches and snacks to share.

When it was time for Campfire Circle, each Cricket would find a stick and then add it to a pile. We would sit and take turns answering questions about ourselves (What is your favorite snack and why?) and join hands to sing our song. Around noon we would assemble our picnic blankets into a patchwork and have lunch. As the kids would take bites and take off, we moms could sit, relax, share, and plan.

As summer came to a close, our final meeting was a family cook-out at a state park. We all brought coolers and tote bags filled with supplies to the fire pits, and our husbands trickled in after work. Before nightfall, certificates (“Craftiest Cricket,” “Friendliest Cricket,” “Cricket without a Cause,” etc.) were ceremoniously awarded to each camper. As the kids ran around, all of us felt that we had provided a really special summer not only for our children and but for ourselves as well. Years later, we still talk about Camp Cricket as if it were an actual place.

During the winter months, many of us decided to regroup to form Reindeer Club. We again met weekly but this time after school for about an hour or so. With notice, many libraries allowed us to use their program rooms for our meetings. We planned activities like a Chinese New Year celebration in January that included making paper lanterns; a Valentine’s Day indoor carnival, where kids could play homemade games like fish-for-hearts before exchanging cards; and one library even hosted a story time and craft just for us! Since many moms were probably feeling as shut-in as we were, news spread about our get-togethers and at one point there were about eighteen kids attending Reindeer Club, many of whom I didn’t know!

When spring came, we ventured back outside with Playground Explorers. This club was simple — each week a mom would choose a playground and we would meet weekly after school. It was a fun way to be introduced to different places to play and to stay connected.

Tips for Starting Your Own Camp or Club
– Name your camp or club. It makes it feel real and important to the kids.
– Consider wearing something that makes it clear that you are a group, like the same color shirt or foam visors from a craft store.
– Take photos on as many outings as possible. At the end of the session, burn photos onto CDs for each family to have as a keepsake.
– Do whatever works best: Your camp or club should be as simple or as elaborate as is fun and manageable for you and your group.
– If you don’t know many moms, post a flyer with your idea and email address at family-friendly places like libraries or children’s activity centers.
– Your camp or club can be just yourself and your child(ren). It’s turning your time together into a regular, planned event that makes it extra special.
– Relax, be silly, and have fun making memories.

Elyse Major lives in northern Rhode Island with her husband and 2 sons (almost 6 and almost 8 years old). A “mostly” stay-at-home mom, Elyse works as a communications consultant for Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island. Hobbies include doing crafts with her boys; eating popcorn with her husband; writing; creating home dècor; and most recently blogging (visit Elyse’s blog at http://tinkeredtreasures.blogspot.com/).

Photo credit: Elyse Major

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  • Elyse.
    You’ve been doing this since day one! So surprised to see your name here.
    Great article.

  • I started mommy and me classes for ages 6monts – 6years and now would like to start a summer program. I also will be offering dance and children’s yoga. Trying to advertize for all the different ages are tough and expensive. Any ideas?

  • Great ideas but my problem is getting the word out..I am not good at the marketing of camps aspect…Any ideas besides flyer? If you charge alot of libraries won’t help because they only promote free programs…

  • We did this two years ago. Our kids were signed up for a dance camp that was canceled, to the great disappointment of our kids and the teenager that was supposed to run the camp.

    So we hired her directly along with a 12 year old assistant(paid $5 per day). She used my backyard and prepared daily activities, theater games, dance parties and of course the obligatory end of the week performance. She did lunch with the kids and entertained them 10-2 daily.

    We had 4-8 kids depending on the day and paid her $5 per kid per hour, much cheaper than the camp would have been for us and she made much more $$ than she would have. It was a great experience for all, and the moms involved got a much needed errand break too.

    One of the things I have been thinking about is the fact that teens are having a hard time getting jobs, as jobs they usually get are going to way underemployed adults. So that means you can get great and responsible teens this year! It was a great thing all around, my kids still talk about the year they performed The Cat in the Hat in the back yard!

  • This is a fantastic idea, especially with the economy being in such rough shape. I’m sure parents will be looking for inexpensive ways to enjoy the summer with their kids. I wish I had an ounce of your drive and creativity!

  • This is terrific! Regular camp can be so expensive and after only one week the fun is over. This spreads the excitement out throughout the entire summer, giving the kids (and me!) something to look forward to. Thanks for the inspiration Elyse!

  • Elyse, you are my idol! What a great idea, you are so creative. Maybe this summer we can start the Smithfield Smarties or the Smithfield Smurfs!(see why I need a friend like you – no creativity).

  • What a great idea! I wished I had the courage/time/creativity to create a camp like this one. I know I’ll definitely be a good member, but not sure about coordinating one. Even the idea Anisa suggested is fantastic! My boys will absolutely LOVE it! Thanks for sharing.

  • Oh What fun and great tips!!! I did this as “Grandma Camp” for my very own grandchildren! (I have 11)! I had them for over night so we slept in tents in the family room, made tons of crafts and sang a lot! Before going to our tents to sleep, we watched a movie outside! Boy, the coyote’s sure howled that night! Perfect fun! For our field trip the following day, we made and took cookies to my local fire station (called them ahead of time). They gave us a tour of the station and let the kids jump on the fire trucks and honk the horns! The children loved it!!!

    Maryjane~The Beehive Cottage

  • A friend of mine started a co-op camp with a few of her friends in Philadelphia. I think it worked something like this:
    5 or 6 parents formed the co-op camp. Each planned to organize a week of events (or a mutually agreed upon amount of days) and hosted all the children from 10 – 2 (including lunch). Each week the kids rotated to a different home and the host parent planned the activities. My friend is the creative type so she planned a week of artsy activities and then had the other 5 weeks off! Other parents planned activities that suited their interests or adapted to their space (big or small).

    Creative solutions to keeping the kidos entertained!

  • Great article, so creative and fun.
    I think I need to start a summer craft camp for adults, forget the kiddos!
    Seriously, this is a perfect idea for parents and even baby sitters. Thanks for sharing. I especially love the t-shirts!

  • What a great idea. As a dad who has summers off, I just might start my own “summer camp”. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • I would love to be invited into one of these–I think I am going to have to start one up. This is just perfect. What a lucky bunch of kids (crickets.)