Host a Summer Camp at Home

Keeping children active and entertained all summer long is easy with our at-home summer camp guide. Gather the kids and enjoy a fun summer vacation without ever leaving the driveway!

Fun at-home camping activities for kids.

Our summer vacation guide has more fun ideas than the most dedicated camp counselor. Here's to a fun summer!

Backyard Campout: Kids love pitching a tent no matter where it lands. Set up your own or jury-rig a pup using a sheet stretched over a rope tied between two trees, with rocks to hold the corners. If local laws allow, add some fire. Now you're ready to sing campfire songs and play flashlight tag. Don't forget the ghost stories!

Drive-in movie: No matter how old you are, outdoor films are a treat. The easiest arrangement is with a laptop, projector, and either PC-powered speakers or an adapter that plays music through your car radio. (Many libraries rent projectors.) Set up the projector on a table or on the roof of your car, stretch a white sheet over your garage doors, then show the movie while the kids are sitting in the car and chowing down on popcorn. If you have a station wagon, turn the car around so that kids can stretch out in the back, or borrow a friend's pickup and spread blankets on the bed.

Backwards day:  Who says we have to eat cereal in the morning and put on our PJs at night? Introduce your kids to Backwards Day. Wake them with "Good night," then give them a breakfast of ice cream and mac and cheese—in that order. As the day progresses, see how many things you can do backwards, from watching a Christmas movie in the morning to taking a hike at bedtime and going to bed in your clothes. For the best effect, make the day a surprise.

Make your own mini golf: For kids, building their own course is almost as much fun as the game. Use whatever materials you have handy. Make a ramp from loose bricks and aluminum siding; lay an old pipe or a roll of wire on its side for a tunnel. Create water hazards by burying plastic buckets and filling them with water. Stick flowerpots in holes marked by sticks with paper flags to catch the balls. (Don't want to dig? Stakes or tipped and weighted plastic cups are fine targets.) Young kids might do better with croquet mallets and balls, but older kids can use regular golf clubs and balls.

Affordable Summer Fun for Every Age

Keep the kids' boredom at bay with these smile-inducing activities.

Game mash-up: Everyone wants to play something different? New York City gym instructor John DeMatteo has a solution: Pull out all your sports gear (balls, bats, goals, flags) and challenge kids to invent their own game.

Make a yearbook: Commemorate summer-camp-at-home: Pick up an album and basic scrapbooking materials from a craft store or bookstore, then add photos and mementos (pressed leaves, Popsicle sticks, Band-Aids). If you've got techy types, have them create the books digitally; offers a range of free downloadable backgrounds, templates, and embellishments. Assign older kids roles like page designer and photographer. Don't forget to leave time for new BFFs to write in each other's albums: "Stay cool, QT! C U @ school."

Peep roast: Marshmallow roasts are less about the sugar rush than the parent-approved opportunity to play with fire. Up the excitement by serving Peeps, which, when heated, puff and expand in unpredictable ways. The resulting menagerie embodies two kids' fascinations at once: the cute and the gross.

Picnic around the world:  Each week, take a virtual field trip to a different foreign country. Let kids choose their countries and do a little research to plan a menu and learn a few native phrases. After lunch, play games like "Down Down Down" if you're going to Australia, or Tiggy Off Ground" if you're imagining a day at Windsor Palace  (see for more international games). Don't forget music: Check out the playlists at National Public Radio's World Music online archives for great tunes.


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