Ideas for summer camp at home
Catherine Newman
Writer, Real Simple etiquette columnist, and author of Stitch Camp and How to Be a Person

The school year is winding down, and summer is heating up. For millions of kids, that can only mean one thing: summer camp. Except this summer is different. Camps around the country are closed because of Covid-19. Or, some parents just don’t feel comfortable sending their kids this year. But camp doesn’t have to be canceled. You can recreate it at home. Catherine Newman is a mom and author of the kids’ craft book, Stitch Camp, and her latest book, How to Be a Person. She recently published an article in The New York Times with ideas on how parents working from home can create a high-fun, low-stress “home camp” experience for their kids this summer. Catherine joins us to share her creative, fun, and practical advice – everything from teaching kids how to make their own lunch to how they can build the ultimate fort.


Listen to this episode to learn:

  • How to talk openly with your child about their sense of loss this summer
  • How to get started with building the camp-at-home experience (be sure to invest in plenty of craft supplies!)
  • Why parents should consider teaching kids some basic skills in order have some independent summertime fun (think sewing, cooking, and even cleaning)
  • How to set clear expectations with kids and be transparent around when you can and can’t be available during the work day
  • How much screen time should we allow at "home camp"?
  • Where to find helpful online educational  resources for kids that will keep them busy and having fun this summer

For more information, visit http://www.catherinenewmanwriter.com/.


Click here to read the full episode

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Full Transcript

Ideas for summer camp at home

Intro: Welcome to the Equal Parts Podcast, brought to you by Care@Work.

Emily Paisner: Being a working parent is hard, and this summer, we just added another title to our ever-growing resumes, camp director. Your kids' summer camps may be close for the season because of COVID, or maybe you just don't feel comfortable sending your kids to camp this year. Whatever the case maybe, don't stress too much about it.

Today, we're with Catherine Newman, author of the Kids Craft Books Stitch Camp and her latest book, How to be a Person. In this episode, Catherine shares tips and tricks for how to set your kids up for camp at home this summer with a little learning and life skills along the way. Have a listen. Catherine, thank you so much for joining me today.

Catherine Newman: Oh, thank you so much, Emily. I'm so glad to be here.

Emily Paisner: You recently wrote an article for the New York Times called how to host your family's own personal summer camp, and it's such a fantastic piece. I really loved your ideas about making a fun and creative home camp experience. Can you tell me a little bit how to set this whole camp from home thing up? Where do parents even start?

Catherine Newman: The place to start is with honoring their lost, honestly, because for us, that's a problem to be solved. We thought they were going to be a camp, we have a lot of work to do. We either working from home or trying to figure it all out, so it's like a puzzle of obligation. For them, their kids, they're in their kid lives, they're experiencing loss, a loss of whatever they were expecting their summer to be. I feel the first thing is really just to sit with them and say, "What were you excited about?" That is so disappointing.

Luckily, there'll be other summers, but this one, what a bummer that you don't get to see those friends that you don't get to play dodgeball, whatever the things were. Then I think to figure out with your kids, what time you're looking at, are you a person who is really going to need to leave your kids to wait for eight hours a day, five days a week? That's going to look really different from someone who has to work four hours a day, three days a week. What time are you looking at? How do you want to structure it? Again, that's just going to be kid dependent.

If you have kids who want a schedule, that's something you guys can print out together. If you have kids who want to lie on the couch with the IKEA catalog I mentioned because that's the kids I had, leave them to that. I guess for me, just transparency almost, just brainstorming. We're all in it together. You and the kids are on the same side. Start from the premise.

Emily Paisner: It's been really interesting talking with a variety of experts with kids of different ages right now during this pandemic. I think what you said around honoring their loss is really important. Everyone's sort of reiterated the need to have a level of empathy for their kids around what they are feeling and what they are missing out on, so I think that's really helpful. What about some pro tips for making camp fun at home for kids this summer?

Catherine Newman: My biggest pro-tip, and this is from years of experience, if they're happy doing something, leave them to it, and the exception which we'll get into later is screens and social media.

Emily Paisner: How did you know that's what my son is most happy doing?

Catherine Newman: I know, right? I mean, oh my gosh, my kids used to do the weirdest things. They would cut up catalogs and organize-- They tipped out a jar of beans and organize them by color, whatever weird stuff or they are doing actually nothing. They're lying on the couch on their backs. A lot of us have over-scheduled the kids to begin with, and it feels weird for the kids not to be doing something that we think of as enriching or productive. I just think this is not the summer for that. I think this is the summer for a little downtime, and a little, just room, it might be a little messier than what everyone's used to, both figuratively and literally.

My other pro-tip and is a huge one, even though it's very short is to have them make their own lunch. That's my biggest pro-tip, I swear. Before you start home camp, teach them some of the skills they need if they don't already have them, how to make a sandwich, how to make a quesadilla, how to scramble an egg and have that expectation be built into the day because I think there's something really liberating for parents about not being in charge of three meals a day. You can say to the kids, "Hey, I'm having a crazy day. I'd love to stop working and join you for lunch. Can you guys make me lunch?" I have really found that kids love to be called on in that way. It feels important and it feels like a collaborative venture.

Emily Paisner: The first tip you talked about was having just embracing downtime. I think a lot of kids because of the situation we're in have already had a lot of downtime over the past several months. What are some fun and easy activities that we could do with our kids at home?

Catherine Newman: Some of the time you're going to spend as a parent, in terms of your own involvement is going to be upfront time teaching and showing kids how to do the stuff they're going to need to know how to do to entertain themselves. It might be that if you have a new board game, you figure out the rules and help them learn how to play the game. It might be if a kid has a sewing project, they want to do that you spend three, four or five hours teaching them how to use your sewing machine.

Then that upfront time helping them learn how to do the things they need to know how to do to have fun is going to be time well spent. This is the summer not to have a dried up glue stick and one last half inch of masking tape. This is the summer where I think spend a little bit of money. I know money's tight, but you're not having the expensive camp. Think of a little bit tapping into some of that and buying new glue sticks, new markers, lots of tape, lots of paper, and having stuff around that the kids can make stuff with and do things with and you put a plastic tablecloth on the floor and don't worry so much about what mess they make.

Then teach them how to clean up at the end of the day, and help them do it so that it's not like a crisis every evening for making stuff is huge. I don't know if you saw but IKEA actually published them fort plans which I just love them for. You can go look at those and they're all just made of couches and sheets and clothespins. I just love that, that there's actual plans. If you have that kind of nerdy kid who wants to follow a fort making plan they could do that.

Emily Paisner: How are we supposed to execute on this when we have our own deadlines and work that we have to meet? Although most of us would hope that we have summer camp, it's just not that time for us. How do we take some of this pressure off of ourselves to execute on this when we want our kids to have a fun summer? We don't want them to feel like all is lost.

Catherine Newman: Build in time that you're going to spend with them and be clear about when that is so clear expectations. If you don't have those I think the kids filter in all day and say, "Hey, can you play this with us, whatever?" I think clarity around it. I'm going to stop working from 12:00 to 1:30 to have lunch with you guys, to watch your magic show, to play music, to go for a walk in the park.

Whatever the time is you're going to spend with them, tell them what it is. Tell them when the day's going to end when you're going to rejoin them. I think it's really important for them to know what the expectations are. Some summers had a complaint jar. I think in the piece I called the question jar, but it was much more of a complaint jar where if you add a thing that you really wanted to tell me that was a complaint either about the way your day was going or about the way something was happening, you could write it down and I would engage it at the end of my work day.

You didn't have to feel like it was that moment telling me or nothing. You know what I mean? Stuff comes up. That's fine. You're a kid. You have stuff you want to figure out but we're going to have to do it at the end of the day because I can't work if I'm being interrupted every second.

Emily Paisner: That's great. I'm sure my jar would be very full by the end of the day, but I will put myself out there and we can try it. I think I'm speaking for most parents when I say that if there's one thing I've learned during this pandemic, it's that screen time is sometimes a parent's best friend and a child's as well. How much screen time should we allow at "camp"?

Catherine Newman: I think of it as active time versus passive time. I don't think screens are created equal. For me, the difference between making a TikTok and scrolling through TikTok is really significant. Are you making something doing something engaging with something or are you consuming social media and scrolling around? The louder the social media the scrolling around, I think those require some limits and some tighter limits because a day spent doing that kids are just wrecked by that day. I feel like it's so gross feeling even to them. That's where I would set the limits. The other stuff I think there's so much that kids can do online that's really engaging and that's totally legit, especially now.

I think they can watch movies. I think they can watch a feature length movie every afternoon, if that's the way your weeks are going, great. I think they can record music. They can do Dance Dance Revolution. They can watch online instructional videos and learn how to do a million things. They can take an online art class. They can play Minecraft with friends who are also sheltering in place. I feel like all that stuff is pretty fair game honestly but set whatever rules you feel are appropriate. I think it's okay if that time expands the summer.

Emily Paisner: Do you have any online resources that you recommend parents check out for their kids this summer?

Catherine Newman: This place out school has some synchronous small group camps and it's not free but the registration fees aren't really that bad. They have these camps where it's like one hour a day of my pretty pony crafts or Harry Potter potions or really specific really fun kid things. Kids are in little groups with peers tuning in for an hour a day. I love creative bug. It's a craft website where there's thousands and thousands of videos teaching you how to do different things.

There's watercolor classes and crochet classes and lots of stuff that's just for kids too and that's more geared towards kids. They tend to offer a free one-month trial, which honestly, we get you through half the summer and then it's not that expensive after that. Then the other thing that's just totally free is Common Sense Media, which is a non-profit. They have started a website called Wide Open School. It is an educational website, but just with a giant range of videos and skills and stuff that takes place offline, even though you learn about it online. I would really recommend that. It looks amazing. It's pretty new. Common Sense Media I just really trust because they are so in it with parents about trying to make sense of media what's appropriate for kids, what's fun for kids.

Emily Paisner: What is one last thing that you would leave our listeners with? One last pro-tip or nugget of how parents can successfully manage their jobs while having their kids have a good time.

Catherine Newman: I think it's really important for kids to understand how absolutely historic this is that we didn't live through something like it when we were kids, that they're going to tell their own kids about it, that this is a crazy thing. I think they're going to remember it. I know this is sounding like a pipe dream, but I think they're going to remember it as special that it was a time when the whole world experienced something, and they were part of it. I think it's going to be a treasured memory that it was the time where everything ordinary stopped. It was a absolute break from the usual and I don't think they're going to remember fighting with you about whose turn it was to unload the dishwasher. I think they're going to remember that it was absolutely extraordinary.

Emily Paisner: Catherine, thank you so much for your words of wisdom today. We really appreciate it.

Catherine Newman: Thank you so much for having me. What a pleasure to talk to you, Emily.

Outro: Thanks for listening to this episode of equal parts. See you next time.

Emily Paisner: Wait, before you go, I just want to tell you a little bit about Care@Work by Care.com. They work with some of the world's largest companies to offer family care benefits to their employees. If you're one of the lucky ones who already has care benefits at work, use them. If you don't, ask for them. It's a real lifesaver. To learn more, visit care.com/careatwork. Again, that's care.com/careatwork.