by Beverley Paine
I’ve planned and organised a few camps in my time, including complex ones that combine parent sessions, conference programs, specialist activities as well as simple bush camping retreats. If you are planning your first camp and want to keep it simple but still fun, engaging and inviting, the best advice is to keep it simple – sometimes it is difficult to keep them small, especially if you advertise them through your local or regional home education networks!
For a first camp I'd say aim for autumn, make it a caravan park that has lots of natural areas and good tent sites (some powered, some unpowered - not many caravan parks seem to cater to for tents anymore, so be choosy). Cabins will increase the number of people who will come - some with little children don't like camping and some who have disabilities find it too difficult. Access to hot showers also boosts attendance!
Weekends are good because it allows working partners to attend. Mid-week is great because parks are usually less full... especially during the tourist season.
An extensive playground and trees suitable for clambering over or sitting in the shade under are essential. If the weather is going to be at all warm, water play is a good idea - either a pool, creek, beach, but remember that you can create safe water play areas with sprinklers, plastic sheet water slides, etc if the park allows that.
Children love to play chasey and hide and seek - keep that in mind when choosing a venue. Safety is a big concern, but look for areas that have lots of neat places that encourage fantasy play.
Start each day with a morning circle for everyone. Some people will do yoga, etc before the circle, but if everyone comes together and play a few circle games that really helps people to meet each other. Plus it gives an opportunity for everyone to have a say what they'd like to do that day - plan the games and any activities, say if they are going on an excursion (fishing, walking, etc) and invite others along.
If the camp has a communal kitchen, plan to use it for cooking meals. It is so much easier for everyone to prepare their own, but you can pool food for one celebratory meal without too much hassle. Using the camp kitchen brings everyone together. For a short camp I would simply use the BBQs and see how inventive we can all get with recipes and menus!
Quiz nights are hugely popular. They don't have to be elaborate, like the ones local clubs do for fundraising. They can be less 'academic/intellectual' and more physical, role playing, etc. If two families live close to each other they can take on organising this - better if a couple of parents take on this responsibility as it is a reasonably sized task!
If everyone who goes brings an activity to share - and it could be as simple as getting a game of french cricket started - you will have enough to fill every day. Someone could bring a box of books and a rug for a reading nook under a beach umbrella... Networking beforehand allows for brainstorming ideas like this.
I personally like the idea of everyone wearing name labels for the first few days. An early activity could be to make labels and perhaps play a few games so that people begin to recognise who is who. Name labels also helps late arrivals feel part of the group faster.
Two to three nights is a great short camp and whets the appetite for more. Longer camps can be exhausting for younger children as well as for large families. Nothing beats spending five days away with like-minded families though – the bonding and friendships that are made at a long camp last years, if not forever.
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