Homecamping: Keeping Your Child Actively Learning

By Kathy Trainor, Ed.D

Looking for Outdoor Dramatic Play Ideas?


Summer may look different this year. For some of you that means summer camp will be happening right in your own back yard and around your neighborhood. If that’s the case, we’ve come up with some fun ideas to keep your child active while adding in a little learning on the side. 


Get started now. If your child is old enough, solicit his ideas and begin to plan your weekly activities. What are your children’s interests?  What brings them joy and puts a smile on their face? This might be the summer to learn how to ride a bike, cast a fishing line, or paint with watercolors. Your role as Camp Director is to figure out how to infuse a little bit of education - math, language, literacy, social studies, science - into those fun activities. Set achievable goals but focus on the enjoyment of getting there.


Create a flexible schedule and don’t forget to pencil in some breaks and quiet time.  Gather your supplies but keep things simple and use what you have available to you. Prepare your space, canvas your neighborhood for extending your campgrounds. Don’t forget about inside space for a rainy day.


Harness your enthusiasm and jump right in to summer camp at home. This is the time to make fun memories.


Scavenger Hunt

Start each week with a scavenger hunt. List some items that you will need for the weekly activities and have children search for them inside and outside. As they gather the supplies and various items, they can guess what the theme will be for the week. For younger children, use pictures or photos; for older children, use words or clues to the items. This is a good way to build vocabulary skills. Introduce new words for common items to expand on vocabulary such as trowel, habitat, pebble or octagon.


Plant a Garden

Nature has a way of healing the soul and calming the mind.  Find a small patch in your backyard where you can plant some seeds or seedlings and start a summer vegetable garden. Use quick growing choices, such as strawberries, lettuce and spinach, as well as those that will continue to grow throughout the summer. No backyard? No worries. In Errol’s Garden, the community comes together to solve this problem by creating a garden on the rooftop of his apartment building! Watering the garden can be daily routine and you can draw or write about the plants’ growth in your journal. This is also a great place to incorporate children’s literature. There are many books that use nature to help children develop their early reading skills. As the summer progresses, you’ll have fresh fruits and vegetables right from your own garden for your snacks! 


Exploring the Wild Jungle of the Backyard

Children love to explore in the great outdoors. Turn your backyard into an exploration habitat. Gather up your gear and become an explorer to discover what’s right there at your fingertips. What can you discover using a magnifying glass? What’s crawling under those rocks? Go on a bug hunt, count how many you find, record them in your journal and then examine them under the bug viewer before you let them go. Pretend you are an archeologist discovering dinosaur bones and fossils right in your own backyard. There is so much to discover under all that dirt.


Playing a lively game of hopscotch is a fun way to learn about numbers and counting. If you have a large hard surface, use sidewalk chalk to draw the board. On a rainy day, try this inside using a hopscotch rug. For younger children, throw a number beanbag to a matching number and then hop, skip, or even walk to grab the beanbag. Older children can work on addition skills by adding together two bean bags and hopping to the sum. Switch up the hopscotch board and add letters and use matching beanbags. Younger children can use shape beanbags to discover matching shapes and colors. What a fun way to integrate gross motor skills with literacy and math!


Shapes and Letters in Nature

Choose a letter or number and have your child find that number/letter represented in nature.  Turn the adventure into an I Spy game. Does that twig look like the letter L?  Younger children can do the same activity for finding shapes in nature. Can you spy the heart in the spider web? Once a letter or shape is discovered, your child can draw a picture of it in his Camp Journal or take a photo and later create a collage or book of nature photos.  This is a great way to help children strengthen perceptual and readiness skills using nature as your teaching tools.


Obstacle Course

Don’t put those beanbags away just yet – create an obstacle course with several stations to work on those fine and gross motor skills. Fill up recycled bottles with water or sand and create a ring toss station. Next hop over to your own Twister board using colorful vinyl markers or use chalk spray paint to make the colorful circles right on your grass. This is a fun way to figure out colors, body parts, and following directions. Create your own color cube to use with the game. Test your spinning, tossing, and hopping skills with hoops. First, spin the hoop while you count to 10, then toss beanbags in each hoop, and finally hop in and out of the last hoop. Crawl through a tunnel to reach the parachute. Take a seat on your favorite color on the parachute and have a refreshing snack and drink while you get ready for your next adventure.


Afternoon Storytime

Take a break in the afternoon for some quieter activities.  Find a quiet spot or set up a tent to enjoy the summer breezes. Invite your child to select a book from a summer reading collection.  Rollout a mat or a blanket and practice some yoga poses to quiet the mind and heart.  Paint some rocks to create your own mindfulness pebbles or hide them around your neighborhood for others to find.


Wrap up your summer camp day with a few songs or a dip in the pool.  At the end of the day you only have to walk in your back door to get home. And the best part is, you get to do it all again tomorrow!


Make it a memorable summer with camp in your own backyard.


We can't wait to hear all about your summer camp at home ideas!


Kathy Trainor, Ed.D. brings decades of early childhood education experience to her work as an adjunct professor at Arcadia University and currently the Educational Specialist at Becker’s School Supplies. She is a graduate of Arcadia University with an Ed.D. in Special Education and a Master of Arts in Early Education. Prior to teaching in higher education, Kathy was a preschool teacher for over 20 years. Kathy is a mom to five grown children and a grandmother to seven amazing grandchildren who keep her active and smiling every day.