8 Backyard Summer-Camp Themes With Plenty of Activities

If summer camp is taking place in the backyard this year, we’ve got ideas for theme weeks filled with activities and games to keep your kids learning and busy.

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Backyard Summer Camp Ideas

If you’re running out of ideas for keeping your kids busy this summer, we’ve got several theme-based activities to keep them excited and engaged. Choose a theme for a week or just a few days, and focus all your activities, games and even snacks on that theme. Involve other parents and see what activities you can do together, even if it’s virtually. The key to staying on-task is to create a daily schedule just like at regular summer camps — exercise at 8:30, breakfast at 9:00, outside activity 9:30-11:30, etc. Make sure to leave a little extra time for transitioning and cleaning up between activities. Schedule field trips to parks, beaches and nature preserves for mornings when those places are less likely to be crowded and too hot.

Pro Tip: If you need ideas on electronic games, books, movies and podcasts, go to CommonSenseMedia.org. They provide independent age-based ratings and reviews on thousands of titles for the K-12 audience.

Learn More: How to Make Exercise Fun for Kids

Nature Week

Get outside and discover the ecosystem in your backyard. Start by creating a nature journal and have the kids list and draw pictures of all they see in your yard — squirrels, birds, worms, ants, etc. Talk about where these animals live in your yard — underground, high in the trees or hidden in the shrubs. Get a bug catcher so you can capture a few specimens and spend some time studying them. Go to a park or nature preserve. Before you go, make a scavenger hunt list of things you’re likely to find — common trees, birds, critters and bugs as well as fun items like smelliest plant or the ugliest bug. Don’t limit your outdoor activities to daytime, as some of the best bugs come out at night; find a place to go stargazing or on an owl prowl. Call the park before you head out — they may have educational materials you can use. If your kids are older, a scavenger hunt may sound silly to them. Get them interested in a roundabout way with beginner’s guide books to birding or bugs. Learn about being a science citizen; the annual bird count takes place in February but there may be other ongoing activities in your area.

Make one of these nature projects or crafts: Bug hotel, terrarium, leaf prints, pressed flowers, birdhouse or a birdfeeder.

Start a garden. Even if you’ve only got a windowsill, you still grow plants by using vegetable scraps. It’s easy and doesn’t take a long time to see results.

Find More Ideas: The Best Apps to Use to Get Your Kids Interested in Nature

Theater Week

Have the kids create a performance then use a teleconference program like Zoom or Google Hangout to show it to friends and family at the end of the week. Try a puppet show, sing-along or play. Even if their friends can’t be physically in the play, they can be virtually present. Just have your kids and their friends perform different acts of a play from their home or have each child act out their favorite nursery rhyme. Having friends involved will keep your kids interested. And as a bonus, conference call software like Zoom can record it all for you. If the kids are old enough, they can write the play. Provide them with simple ideas so they don’t spend too much agonizing over a storyline. If they’re younger, have them act out a familiar play, story or their favorite book.

Introduce older kids to some different film styles like silent movies or musicals. Download a few apps – stop-motion, green screen, special effects or sound effects – and let them create their own movie.

Allocate time to create props, costumes and the stage. During the week, play virtual games of charades or karaoke with friends to sharpen their acting and singing skills.

Get the How-To: How to Make a Portable Puppet Theater in a Doorway

Mystery Week

Create a neighborhood scavenger hunt and include the neighborhood kids, too. If you have kids of various age groups, make a few versions of the hunt. For little ones, keep it simple: for example, “find a green mailbox or a blue door.” For the older set, make it a bit more complicated. Have the kids mark the house numbers on their scavenger hunt scorecard.

Play detective. Start with a riddle — preferably one with a secret code — to find a common object around the house, then plant a chain of clues until they solve the mystery and uncover the prize. Then reverse the roles and have them create a detective game that you have to solve.

Create laser mazes in a hallway or playroom using crepe paper streamers and painter’s tape. Award prizes for maneuvering the maze without touching one laser, best belly crawl and most unique maneuvers. For tweens and teens, try an at-home escape room game. There are many virtual escape rooms with themes like Minecraft or Harry Potter. Some are by subscription and others are free.

Try an online game like Brain Chase, a six-week treasure hunt game where the kids do weekly math and reading challenges based on their difficulty level. Kids also submit journal entries that receive personalized feedback from teachers. The cost is about $100 and it takes about 5 to 6 hours per week.

More Ideas: Our Favorite Items Under $50 to Entertain Babies + Kids at Home

Pirate/Beach Week

Plan this one for dog days of summer. Set up water games, obstacle courses, a kiddie pool, super soakers and sprinklers in your yard. A DIY slip-and-slide is not that hard to make and should keep them entertained for hours. Gather pirate costumes and treasure chests and see if you can score a large amount of cardboard to build a backyard pirate ship. Let the kids paint and decorate the ship. Use craft paper to make pirate hats and let your swashbucklers decorate them as well. A treasure hunt will be necessary; think about how much fun you’ll have making the map. If your kids are too young to follow a map, fill a few large buckets with sand and hide toys in there or in their sandbox. To top off the week, insist that everyone talk like a pirate!

Other activities to try: Giant soap bubbles, water balloon pinata, wet sponge toss, and don’t forget to serve shark-themed treats and tropical-inspired snacks.

Find More Ideas: Battle Summer Boredom With DIY Backyard Water Games

International Week

Here’s a chance to teach kids geography and ancestry. Start with a large world map, perhaps one they can color in. Focus on a different continent each day or concentrate on a handful of countries or states. Make cuisine while listening to music from the spotlight country or region. Compare where you live to the country you’re studying, discovering details such as the most common names in each country, what the school buses look like, when they get summer vacation or the most popular sport. Draw and color flags from your focus countries and hang them all over the house. During downtime, read the original book Around the World in 80 Days or watch one of the many versions of the movie. Look online for exercise classes in different languages to get kids moving and simultaneously introduce them to the sound of a new language. Many popular kids' shows can be easily found online in a variety of languages.

Play geography darts: Hang a large map on a blank wall or on the outside of your home. Have the kids pull names of a country or state from a hat, and then use a foam-dart gun to hit that destination.

Get a map of your town or area and teach kids how to use a compass while out walking or even when you’re driving them around. Explore the world of geocaching for a great way to get tweens and teens out of the house and off their screens.

Get the How-To: DIY Wall Art: Make a Custom Corkboard World Map

Sports Week

The kids may not be able to play traditional sports with their friends, but they can still get some exercise and enjoy a little friendly competition. Invite friends to play games via teleconferencing; parents can set up the rules, timeline and prizes beforehand. Here are a few ideas:

Do like the NBA did during quarantine and hold a virtual H-O-R-S-E competition. Have a parent at each location with a tape measure and a roll of painter’s tape mark shooting locations and distances. Let the kids wear the colors of their favorite team or player. If you’ve got several players, create a bracket to keep score.

Set up a series of Minute-to-Win-It party games where each player has one minute to complete a challenging but somewhat silly task — like using a straw to blow jellybeans across a table, stacking cups, or carrying an egg on a spoon across the yard. These types of games don’t require a lot of athletic ability so they may be good for a variety of age groups.

Host a virtual dance party with friends. Set up colorful lighting, have the kids dress up in crazy costumes (the tackier, the better) and encourage unique dance moves. Practice some choreographed line-dance moves beforehand to impress your friends.

Gift a set of DIY bowling pins to neighbors and friends and have a virtual competition. Have the kids take turns knocking over the pins, like you would in real bowling. One adult may need a second device to display the score.

Find More Ideas: Summer Backyard Water Games for Kids

Science Week

Start with a few basic chemistry experiments like make your own lava lamp, slime, Play-Dough, cloud-in-a-jar and more. Most of these projects are budget-friendly can be made with items from your pantry.

A garden is a perfect way to learn a little biology and earth science. If you haven’t done so already, plant a garden. Even a sunny windowsill can be turned into a kitchen garden with a few herb plants, or you can grow new plants using vegetable scraps.

Teach your kids a bit about physics and cause-and-effect by building a Rube Goldberg/mouse-trap-style game. There are plenty of examples online, and again, these are budget-friendly because you can use household items and toys you already have.

Make one of these classic science experiments: a potato clock, sundial, whirlpool in a bottle, volcano, crystal geodes in eggshells, or a marshmallow catapult. Make the experiments sweeter by using candy. Every kid loves a Mentos and cola rocket; also try making DIY rock candy, a s'mores solar oven or watch gummy bears expand by placing them in salt, water and vinegar.

Have the kids learn a couple of magic tricks. Sleight-of-hand tricks can help sharpen fine motor skills and teach them about optical illusions. Have the kids practice in front of a mirror, or take a video of them doing the trick so they can watch it to improve.

Hold a virtual science fair at the end of the week. Invite your kids’ friends to make science projects as well and then everyone can present them via video conference. Don’t forget to invite the grandparents to watch.

Find More Ideas: 20 Fun and Easy Science Experiments for Kids

Build-It or Craft-It Week

If you've got both left-brain and right-brain kids you probably already combine STEM activities with arts and crafts. There are plenty of great building and craft kits available for kids of all ages and interests, but here a few more ideas that builders and crafters can do together.

For a budget-friendly option, obtain some large cardboard boxes to create forts, cars, dollhouses and puppet theaters. (Find out ways to weatherproof those cardboard creations too.)

Do art projects that involve chemistry and physics, like sun prints, centrifugal-force spinning art, recycled crayons and make your own paint.

Play magnetic bingo or magnetic scavenger hunt. Give the kids big magnets then create a bingo card with magnetic items on it or make a scavenger hunt list with all things magnetic.

Pinterest and YouTube are full of simple projects that fly – paper airplanes, rockets, catapults, hovercrafts, rubber band helicopters, kites and the like. After the kids have made their flying machines, hold an Olympics to see which one goes the highest, longest, is the most attractive, etc. NASA.gov has plenty of activities including instructions for building rockets and mobiles, plus puzzles and games for aspiring astronauts.

Teach kids about coding, whether you create the code and have them break it or vice-versa. For older kids, do mathematical codes. Also introduce them to binary codes, braille and Morse code.

Find More Ideas: Kid Crafts and Activities

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