Camp Family Fun

Eight years ago, our family set out on a midsummer cross-country odyssey that we will likely never forget. My husband, children, and I piled into our high-top van and drove from our home in Austin, Texas to upstate New York, into New England, then Canada, Old Quebec City, Chicago, Nauvoo, Winter Quarters, and Lincoln, Nebraska. And after some thirty days and 8,000 miles on the road, we returned home tired and yet refreshed and notably closer as a family.

I’d like to say that our family takes trips like that every summer, but money doesn’t grow on any of the trees at our house. Fortunately, it is possible to craft summers at home that, while not so spectacular in scope as that particular summer, can leave families feeling closer and more relaxed at summer’s end. Here are just a few of the things we do each summer to create what we have come to think of as our Camp Family Fun.

Create Theme Days

Typically ours go something like this: Monday is Baking Day; Tuesday and Thursday are Field Trip Days (to the zoo, a museum, etc.); Wednesday is Arts and Crafts Day; and Friday is Sports Day. This does not mean we don’t bake on any other day of the week (there are too many aspiring chefs and bakers at our house for this to be the case) or that we don’t play sports on, say, a Monday. It’s just that on Baking Day we cook or bake something extra special and more time intensive, perhaps some decorated sugar cookies. And on Friday, we may play several sports, perhaps soccer, tennis, and then basketball.

In addition to these theme days, I periodically surprise my kids with an Off Day. On Off Day, my kids have permission to stay in their pajamas all day if they want to as well as permission to indulge in sweets for breakfast (cinnamon rolls, donuts, etc.). And we try to avoid chores to the extent possible. Such days serve as a welcome change of pace and a wonderful morale booster for Mom and the kids.

Become Tourists

When I was a teenager my family lived in the Washington D.C. suburbs for just two years. We knew we wouldn’t be there for long so we made the most of our time there by visiting an astonishing variety of historical and cultural sites in the city.

As a parent, I keep those two years in mind when I plan our summer activities. What sites and events would we not want to miss seeing this summer if we found out we were going to be moving in the fall? Don’t forget your camera!

Explore Your Region

Draw a ninety-minute radius around your home and do some research with the help of maps, the Internet, etc. to determine what locations you’d like to visit. The ninety-minute radius keeps outings to doable day trips rather than the more expensive, preparation-intensive overnight trips.

Choose a Summer "Major" and "Minor"

We work with each of our children (those old enough) to help them pick two areas of focus for the summer—one as a “major” and one as a “minor”—in academics and life-skills. For example, our eleven-year-old daughter loves to read and is passionate about ancient cultures; this summer she will likely choose reading a variety of books as her major and the study of Egyptian history and culture as her minor.

This same daughter talks of being a chef someday so she may choose cooking as her life-skills major this year (in which case, we would encourage her to master six or more main dishes of her choosing along with creating well-balanced, visually-pleasing meals overall) and perhaps money management as her minor (strongly encouraged by Mom and Dad). Our local library and websites such as ldfr.com (Latter-Day Family Resources) provide excellent resources for our children’s studies.

Schedule Family Service

If you make family service a priority, your kids will, too. But don’t just pick something for everyone to do; make your kids part of the entire process.

Begin with a family home evening to discuss needs outside the family about which your kids feel strongly (is there a friend from school who needs something, a family raising a disabled child who would like some company, an event they heard about that needs volunteers, etc.). Brainstorm a list of possible opportunities of service, spend the next week researching the possibilities (with your kids’ help), and the next week, decide on your family’s service activity.

Make watching television or a DVD an event.

I don’t know about your household, but at ours, it could be so easy to let a sizable portion of our summers be consumed by television if we’re not careful.

Strive to make viewing television or a DVD an event rather than allowing it to be a constant. Renting or borrowing a DVD from the library and scheduling a time to watch it as a family can turn the activity into an event instead of a habit.

Have Kids Create Their Own "Boredom Busters Guide"

It’s important that kids have some downtime where they can learn to take responsibility for their own fun and entertainment. For years, it seemed that inevitably, sometime during any given week of summer, one or more of our children would announce they were bored, as if we, their parents, should solve their boredom problem.

A few years ago, I invited my kids to become their own problem-solvers by challenging them to come up with a list of twenty-five or more things they can do to entertain themselves when they get bored. They post their lists in their rooms where they can refer to it anytime they’re in need of inspiration. It’s fun to see what they include on their lists—everything from painting toe nails to using blankets to build forts in the living room.

Focus on Spiritual and Emotional Growth

One of our goals this summer is to help our children strengthen their personal testimonies and prepare for missions. We will seek to do this through informal discussions and by sharing mini-lessons from Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service.

Our other goal is to nurture greater love in our home among siblings. Schedule one-on-one time each week for each son or daughter to spend with each of his or her siblings. Let the kids decide what activities they want to share during their special one-on-one time. This has helped our children get to know and appreciate each other in ways they never would otherwise.

Schedule One-On-One Time with Each Child

As is the case with one-on-one sibling time, my husband and I have found that one-on-one parent-child time helps us to get to know and appreciate our children in remarkable ways. Not surprisingly, such parent-child time is easier to come by in the summers when there are fewer scheduled activities tugging at our time and attention.

Children thrive on having Mom or Dad’s undivided attention. We’ve found they will share things with us—their worries, their joys, or their questions—that they might not otherwise share if we hadn’t spent exclusive time with them. Out of necessity, we plan activities that cost very little or, even better, are free. Playing tennis at our neighborhood courts, packing a small picnic to go for a hike in the woods, or catching a dollar movie are favorites.

Record your memories as you go.

Encourage your children to document their lives in words. Summer allows for more time to create journals or scrapbooks. Teach children to focus on writing about the details of their summer days with attention to the senses (sight, smell, taste, etc.). Tell them to record not only the facts of their days but to write about how they felt about those activities. (How did you feel when that baby gorilla tapped on the window at the zoo? What was it like to spend one-on-one time with your little brother today?

Also consider arming your kids with a disposable camera throughout the summer so that they can have some images to go along with their words. You might even help them discover a hidden artistic talent!

During the school year, we stay especially busy with school and after-school activities. Take advantage of summertime to slow down and become more conscious of creating good memories with your children. Allow for more spontaneity with activities like an unplanned trip to the park or an all-afternoon board game. Most of all, enjoy each other’s company and make the most of the summer that is before you, here and now.

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