There is being stuck at home, and then there is being stuck at home during the summer.
Meaning, summer is just different than other seasons, representing things like free time, and of course, the opportunity to enjoy plentiful sunshine and nice weather.
Thus, families use summer to go on that big vacation or to take care of that big home project. And kids use this time to do things like go to camp, where they make new friends, and learn a new - or master an existing - specific type of skill.
But with the ability to go and do something outside and in groups still up in the air, what is left to fill the summer calendar?
Sure, there are a number of things kids and teens can do any typical day to pass the time while stuck indoors, but they - and you, parents - probably also want to be able to set sights on something bigger; something a bit more structured. Something that brings home that summer camp feeling, only virtually.
Virtual & DIY summer activities
Again, what is it that makes summer special? For many of the 14 million people who attend camp in the US each year, it's socialization and establishing new and valuable friendships, learning new skills, and building character.
So, while summer camp is a big unknown at this point, what can kids do at home to gain such benefits? (Or if needed, some things tweens can be doing this summer, specifically.)
Here are a few virtual and DIY summer activity suggestions to explore as we make our way into May, ahead towards June, and into the summer beyond.
Summer camp (yes, still, just virtually!)
No gotchas here. Kids and teens can still very much get the summer camp experience while stuck at home. A number of traditional activities can’t be replicated, obviously, but when you think about summer camp benefits of building unique interests and developing new skills, socialization, and more, it can all still be achieved from home.
For instance, virtual summer camps bring kids together in small online coding classes, allowing campers to learn from a live instructor, and also with like-minded peers for that much-valued socialization component.
And if you think such an opportunity doesn’t provide enough of a “break” from what kids are currently doing, consider again that these are live atmospheres, where kids can enjoy the company of others just as they would in-person, and learn a new skill to boot.
Journal writing is a lost art that we parents could typically rely on summer to introduce to our kids. The same can be said for crafting the perfect s’more or hitting an archery bullseye, but we can agree the former is a bit easier to implement at home!
So, grab your kids a blank journal, a nice pen, and let them loose; free to write down their thoughts on their summer days. Such writing and recounting can be therapeutic. Not to mention the potential value in reflection after time passes, where kids can look back at their achievements - or at least what they got a kick out of during the summer - for a great boost of inspiration.
Make it virtual: Journaling prompts can cover a wide-range of topics, and kids can simply stick to writing down their day's highlights, or covering one big thing they learned.
Another fun idea would be to set a time for your kids and their friends to get together virtually to share what they've written. You can get creative and assign each child an interlinking prompt—for instance, one child is asked to write about a young boy who sets out on a quest to retrieve a magic potion, while another is asked to write about what the child encounters on their journey, and the last writes the thrilling conclusion. Everyone comes together and shares the epic tale they just crafted!
Competition and contests
Some of my earliest summer camp memories revolve around competition, whether that's rival bunks going head to head to prove which is best, or the many different sports camps attended.
So, you can definitely tap into that piece right now, as many have shifted their programs online, and are doing what they can to help kids stay busy this summer.
Case in point, the annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) has been moved online, and with the decision, Apple is giving young coders the opportunity to take part in the Swift Student Challenge—tasking young coders from around the world to create a level of the Swift Playgrounds app.
Letter writing...you know, with pen and paper
While we are on the topic of lost arts, when is the last time your kids wrote something enjoyable, and of length (that is, before their journaling just mentioned)?
Summer camp letter writing is a timeless tradition, but with kids potentially at home this summer, how can they experience everything it has to offer?
Well, to your kids’ disbelief, they might be surprised to discover the fact that before email, people would actually physically write letters, and would then even spend time and resources to seal those letters in envelopes for shipment across the country!
So, give it a shot, and see how your child takes to penning a letter for a friend they haven’t spoken to in a while, or perhaps to a relative they haven’t seen in ages. If the latter, you might want to spend a minute breaking their shorthand text habits. K? Thx. Ttyl.
Make it virtual: Once your child's letter arrives at its destination, set up a video chat with the recipient for a live reading and reaction!
Crafting for good
Crafting at camp is cool and fun. The good of it is wrapped up in learning a new skill while producing something to take home in the end. The “bad” of it is that usually, those friendship bracelets, potholders, and other little trinkets get tossed aside upon your kids’ return.
So, now that children are at home with creative freedom to create whatever they want, more or less, try a hands-on project activity with something different, and perhaps more useful.
Think 3D printing, or even building their own laptop?
If 3D printing sounds like a route worth exploring, we just posted instructions on how you can 3D print surgical mask extenders that are vital to the comfort of those on the front lines battling COVID-19.
Make it virtual: One way would be to find one of the many live-streaming crafting tutorials happening right now. Another idea would be for your child to document their project process, and then host their own little virtual show and tell with friends.
Talent show (or just a "show" if you're being modest)
Alright, time to get the whole family involved! I know my oldest would love the chance to learn how to do a cool magic trick, and then would get even more excited to present it to the rest of the family, or even over Zoom to friends!
What other secret talents might be lurking in your household? Stand-up comedy routines, animated shorts, and other unique abilities?
To execute, give your kids a time window, say a week, etc. to set out to achieve their talent in the form of a presentable project. That could be one solid magic trick, five minutes of material, a new guitar solo, or something else.
Make it virtual: Again, as you see, most anything can be made into a virtual experience with a little planning and a virtual audience. So, go big, and invite other friends and families to participate while everyone gathers on Zoom.
Campfire stories...that kids create and “tell”
What is it that makes campfire stories so special? The atmosphere, sure, and we will get to that in a bit, but the stories themselves are often new, and better yet, captivating if not thrilling to those listening in.
So, think about how to take this activity home…
One cool thing could be to have your child write their own story. To take it further, they can create an animated short or brief feature with something as easy and straightforward as iMovie, or even a basic, narrated stop-motion video.
Make it virtual: A story is only as good as an audience thinks it is, right? So, find a way to get your child's story out to the "masses" through your different social media channels.
This is what I was mentioning in the intro...normal weekend nights are for board games, but summer? Summer is for a full-blown game show production!
Think at-home jeopardy or wheel of fortune, or something crazier like a classic Nickelodeon game show. For a camp spin, it has to be something akin to Wild & Crazy Kids, right?
If you really want to continue on with board games, how else could you “summer-size” them? Maybe it’s making a huge, human-sized chess or checker board you can put in your driveway and invite neighbors to take a turn while they walk by? Or a life-size crossword puzzle or word find?
Make it virtual: Any turn-based game makes for a good option in terms of virtually connecting your kids with their friends. Maybe it's some basketball and a virtual game of horse, or perhaps a crazy pool diving competition. Trivia, bingo, and pictionary are all great options as well.
Camp yearbook/newspaper creation
At the end of it all, hopefully you and the kids can look back and say, wow, we did a lot, and had a ton of fun. So, while pictures are always fun and easy to reflect on, let’s be honest...you usually don't’ take the time to go through them unless randomly flipping through your camera roll, or reminded of the moment via Facebook.
So, why not put together a camp newspaper or yearbook, full of photos, and write-ups of your different activities?
Perhaps it’s the summary (oh wow, free newspaper title suggestion: “Ryan’s 2020 summer-y: coding, magic, and lots of laughs”) of your kids' quest to learn something new, and how they progressed, with the recipes you used to create those awesome chocolate chip cookies, along with the new campfire story they imagined.
Make it virtual: An obvious tie-in here is to create an online project rather than a physical, in-hand yearbook or newspaper (or both!). Canva has a nice and easy Yearbook maker.
Summer camp is a mindset
The look, feel, and even smell of your child’s favorite camp comprises a lot of what it is that makes the camp experience unique for kids and teens.
It’s the entertainment and enjoyment linked together with imprinted memories that causes them to smile when they look back, and keeps them giddy with excitement as they look forward.
So with the activities above, the goal isn’t to replace summer camp, per se, and perhaps not even recreate it. Instead, set out to provide the opportunity for your children to create new memories by trying new things, sparking interests, and potentially finding hobbies they never even thought they could enjoy.