Believe it or not, summer is just around the corner, or so I like to think on cold windy, snowy days like this at the end of February.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by the time and financial commitment of many summer activities for children yet desire low cost, fun, structured activities that you and your neighbors can be involved in, then creating your own neighborhood craft camp may be a great solution for all.
We first started our craft camps last year by inviting a couple of kids in the neighborhood to join us for Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day crafts during school breaks. It was such a hit that we decided to extend it into our Alphabet Summer.
Although we had nearly 30 children join us and we met on a weekly basis, craft camps do not have to be that so involved and complicated. Craft camps are fun and low cost alternatives to day camps and sports activities. They also build a sense of community that will benefit all who participate. Here are some suggestions if you and your children are interested in creating your own craft camp.
1. Write down a list of the children and families you would like to involve in the craft camps and solicit feedback and suggestions from those families.
2. Determine if you will lead or co-lead the craft camps. You don’t have to do it all. Perhaps another child’s parent has different skills that could benefit the camp. Be sure to take a good inventory of your own skills and limitations.
3. Set up child care for children who are are too young to participate while you are leading the camp.
4. Research crafts and think about your audience, age group, and interests to help you choose your craft activities. Think about the people in your life, their occupations, interests, travels, and hobbies. Perhaps they would be willing to teach a lesson about a skill they have or talk about places they have visited.
We had a teen helper who had recently traveled to Zambia come and show pictures and tell stories about her trip in addition to inviting a friend and her mother who grew up in Zambia to talk about the country. The kids made a zebra craft and we enjoyed the letter 'Z'.
5. Identify helpers such as other parents or tweens and teens. I tried to have at least one or even more tween between the ages of 10-13 help out at every camp and paid them $2 each session.
6. Figure out the dates and times you would like to offer the camp. Look at a calendar and the summer plans you already have in place and check with families who are interested to determine the best days to offer the camp. Allow yourself a lot of preparation time especially in the first weeks. You may want to offer only one camp to see how it goes and then build on that if you have a good time rather than to set up a whole summer of camps.
7. Determine if you are going to charge children to participate and if so how much.
I personally do not suggest making this a for-profit venture as it is likely friends who will be participating. My own focus was to simply pay for craft supplies. If you would like to make this a profiting experience, you may want to offer the camp as a community education class so that you are not soliciting friends for money and potentially hurting long term relationships.
Initially I asked for $10 per child per day to cover food and supplies. If the child’s first or last name started with the letter we were celebrating that week the cost was only $5. The cost was also only $5 if one of the children’s parents stayed to assist with the camp.
Initially I set up a camp for every week on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Our schedule was like this:
10 a.m. – drop off and welcome game
10:15 – first craft
10:45 – snack
11:00 – field trip to park, nature center, drum shop, or flower garden
Noon – free play while I made lunch
12:15 – lunch and clean up
12:45 – second craft
1:45 – free play and pick up
8. We had lots of fun but the program was gaining popularity and I had a hard time saying no to any of the children who wanted to join. The groups of children swelled to 14 one day and I decided to break the day into two shorter sessions without lunch and to drop the cost to $5 per child. We then met on Thursdays with a morning session from 10 a.m. to noon and 1-3 p.m. We cut out the field trip and lunch and focused only on craft time, snack, and play time.
9. If you are planning a whole summer of craft camps, you may want to have a kick-off party at the beginning of summer to spread the news, recruit campers, and build excitement. We threw a root beer float party on the last day of school to celebrate the beginning of summer.
10. Be sure to advise the children to wear old clothes when they are doing messy crafts.
11. Figure out where in your home, outside, or garage that you would like to designate as your craft area. You may want to buy a banquet table (which are usually on sale right before Thanksgiving and garage sale season). Be aware of the messes that will be made, the tables and carpeting that will be stained and do your best to protect them or deal with the mess.
12. Provide filler activities for children who finish their crafts early or do not want to participate in something – print out coloring sheets or word finds, or provide puzzles and games they could play to keep busy.
13. Schedule down time for the kids to just play and have a back-up plan if a craft is a flop or it’s raining outside.
14. Explore your backyard. We enjoyed going for walks around Wood Lake Nature Center, our local park, and through the neighborhood to look at neighbor's flower gardens. We also walked to a local drum shop and learned all about percussion instruments on 'D' day. Be sure to call ahead if you plan to do something like this and ask if they would be willing
15. Set expectations right away with the children and keep them positive such as where to eat and drink, where to do crafts, cleaning up, washing hands, keep hands to self (no hurting others with hands or words). Are there areas of the house that are off-limits? Tell the children that if they are misbehaving their parent will need to pick them up.
16. Gather emergency information for each child so you will know how to contact their parents or a secondary contact in case of an emergency.
17. Only invite children you know well to participate. You may want to consider getting an umbrella insurance policy if you don’t already have one to protect you if a child is hurt in your home.