Bringing Summer Camp Home

May 6, 2020, 10:09 AM by Sara Trautman

Ahhhh, summertime. Flip flops, barbecues and the perpetual question of how to keep the kids busy with enriching activities. For many families, overnight or day summer camps are the perfect ways to check both of those boxes.

But if your overnight camp has been canceled (like YMCA Camp Santa Maria) or day camp isn’t in the cards for your kids this summer or even if you want to build on the momentum of the camp experience once the kids come back home, here are some creative ways to bring the fun, character-developing activities of traditional summer camp to your own backyard. 



Seasoned camp counselors can confirm that one of the top takeaways from camp is responsibility. Not coincidentally, it’s one of the four core values at the Y.

You may have heard of other parents' astonishment as their kids returned from overnight camp with a much-welcome new habit: helping around the house! Or instances of un-prompted dishwashing, bed making and even vacuuming. Gasp!

When asked how to foster responsibility at home, Taylor Jordan, Director at YMCA Camp Santa Maria, had one word for parents and kids: chores. It seems so simple, but setting the new precedent may take some work up front. Learning responsibility early in life pays off big in the long run.

Tech-Free Time

Sorry, parents. This is another tough one, but it's definitely worth the time and energy investment — technology-free time. Much of the magic of summer camp comes from living in real life, and you may be surprised at how much your kids can explore and experience outside a screen. 

Gutting through a digital detox isn't always easy, but once you do it, it can become much more natural for your kids to spend time doing other activities. Many parents of Y campers discover this first hand when their kids return from camp, where phones and the usual technology distractions aren't an option. Kids must re-discover the enjoyment of playing outside, learning new skills and doing hands-on projects. 

Backyard Fun

For kids, fun, friends and adventure hold the real draw of summer camps, and you can bring those things to life right in your own backyard. Backyard adventures provide the perfect filler for the time previously occupied with digital activities. 

The imagination truly is the limit here.

Channel your inner child, and think silly. Think adventurous. What did you love to do as a kid? Research ideas, and use them as a springboard to come up with your own. Capitalize on your child's young, creative mind — let them lead a brainstorming session. Even the most outrageous ideas could lead to an amazing, workable one.

Here are a few more ideas, inspired by the Y camp experience, to get you started:

Make a shelter in the backyard

The perfect activity for adventurous Coloradans! Your child can create a fort that will make the neighbors jealous using just a tarp and a few long branches (or something similar). You can even incorporate an educational aspect by discussing with your child different options for shelter in the wilderness, the importance of retaining body heat and how weather plays an important role in deciding what type of shelter to build.

Practice orienteering

Send your child out on an adventure in your own backyard, or expand the scale to the neighborhood or local open space. Dig out that old compass, and encourage them to create their own map. Discuss the position of the sun and stars and explain how they can use the information to orient themselves. 


Learn a new sport

Have your kids ever tried cricket? Turns out, if you’re willing to invest in a cricket bat (which is readily available online for a reasonable price), the rest of the necessary beginner equipment is easily improvised with a little creativity and rummaging around in the garage. Or they could try spikeball, badminton, croquet or something called kabaddi (which is pretty much an awesome ultimate version of the old standard, red rover). You may even find (or buy) a gaga pit for your kids to enjoy. 

Summer is right around the corner. Grab hold of this opportunity to invest in your child’s development and create lasting memories at home.

For families interested in summer camp, the YMCA of Northern Colorado is running day camps. Rigorous safety precautions and guidelines are currently being developed.