If you ever try to get my attention and I’m not listening, try calling me, “Queen Alea”. I’ll always answer to that. I’ve been called that by many people over the years, not because I’m royalty, but because I have been having a non-profit camp in my backyard every summer for 10 years now. It started with a girls camp, since I had a daughter. I created Princess Camp for 8 years. At that time, my daughter was at the cut off age, and it was my son’s turn for a camp. Since then, I’ve been designing a camp for boys.
Camps are so expensive! I started the backyard day camp because I wanted my daughter and her friends to have a camp that didn’t cost very much to go to. I knew that by not making a profit, I could charge a lot less. But don’t get me wrong, I get so much of a profit when I get to spend time with the kids and when I see how much enjoyment they get from a day at camp. That’s all the profit I need.
If you are interested in having a backyard camp, here is what you need to know.
- Pick a theme. Craft camp, dinosaurs,sports camp, boys camp, girls camp…It doesn’t matter what you choose, but it will help you in planning. Now that I have my boys camp, I change the theme every year.
- Figure out how much you need to charge. My first year of camp, I wanted to make it really cheap, but I had no idea what I was doing. As a result, I ended up spending a lot of my own money.
- Decide how many kids you want to have at your camp. The more kids that attend, the more money you’ll have for your budget. However, I would recommend starting small. Plan on having 8-12 kids at camp. I like having this amount because you can get to know everyone, and it’s easier when playing games and doing crafts. With 12 kids, you only need 2 tables with 12 folding chairs, but when you have 20 kids, you need 4 tables and 24 folding chairs. It can be hard to round these things up! Also, party favors often come in sets of 8-12.
- Pick a date. This can be tricky! I always do my camp in summer. I don’t want it to be right after school lets out, so I wait until I think the kids will be getting bored. Make sure you coordinate it with your church so that it won’t be during a week where a lot of people will be away for a church camp or retreat. It’s also a good idea to check the dates with a few people you think will be interested.
- Invite kids. You can do this word of mouth, but also I would suggest that you send out an e-mail invitation in an attachment. The attachment makes it easier for you to send this out to another kiddo when you get a regret from someone. You will get regrets. People are busy, and they won’t really understand what you are doing. That’s ok. Don’t take it personally. Make sure you include an RSVP date so that you can start planning. Getting the full amount for camp upfront (by this date) means that you will have the money to plan. It also ensures that people won’t change their mind. People will tell you that their child will be there, but until you have their camp payment, don’t add them to your camp count.
- Start planning! You can’t really buy anything until you know for sure how many to expect. But you can plan games and other activities while you wait for the responses.
- Plan a schedule. Even if you are not a “schedule person”, you will need to have things planned for the day. Try to keep activities no longer than 20 minutes long. You don’t want your audience to grow bored. My camps are from 10am until 2 from Monday through Friday. My daily schedule has changed a little bit throughout the years, but stays close to this:
9:45 small craft while waiting for others to arrive:
10:30 Team Game:
11: 00 mad scientist: (other years we have played another game)
11:30 lunch & freetime
12:30 Special Activity:
1:30 Adding an item daily (such a charm for a bracelet, armor to a knight…) This promotes attendance.
1:40 Close of the Day: (circle time where they tell me what they liked today, and didn’t like. Last year, we hardly did this, instead doing another activity.)
- Collect your stuff. I use large rubbermaid containers to contain the things I buy or gather for camp. I need at least one bin a day and I have them labeled by day. I also have a bin that I keep everything that will need to be reused throughout the week, such as markers, glue, duct tape, garbage bags, bandaids and scissors, to name a few.
- Get help. I ask parents to help and offer them a $10 discount if they volunteer for one day of camp. Most parents are fantastic, but honestly, the biggest help is the teenagers! I volunteer at a youth group, and I look for responsible teens and ask them to come and help me with camp. They come every day and are able to set up at the beginning and clean up at the end of the day so much faster than the adults that only come once during the week. This is because they know where things go and what is expected of them. Have them come a half hour early and leave a half hour after camp ends for the day. Make sure you offer to fill in volunteer hour forms for them if they need that for school. A good ratio is to have a helper for every 2 kids, so if you have 8 kids, try to have 4 helpers.
- Have individual containers or bags for the kids to keep at camp for the week, where they can put their things. During the day, you will make crafts, kids will want you to hold their sunglasses, and you will wish you had a place for each of them to keep their stuff.
- There can be a lot of paperwork, not fun, but probably necessary to a well-run camp. I collect sign up sheets from the parents that include emergency numbers on them,a list of allergies and who is allowed to pick up your child. I also ask for parents to sign a waiver so that I won’t get sued if a child gets hurt. As a mom, I do my best to prevent anyone doing anything crazy that would warrant an ER visit. I also have a sign in/sign out sheet so that we can keep track of who is at camp.
- Set up for camp. I usually set up for camp the day before it begins, although many things need to be put away over night. Plastic tables can be left out all week, just have your helpers wipe them down and cover them with disposable tablecloths every morning. Shade is important in the summer, so borrow shade tents if you don’t have a lot of trees. I have 2-3 coolers for lunches which teens put ice packs in every morning to keep the food cold. Campers bring their own lunches, but they won’t always have an ice pack inside. Most importantly, I have a water cooler filled and tell the kids and teens to be sure to bring a refillable bottle so that they can stay hydrated. We put out a new garbage bag every day which usually gets filled by the end of the day. I have always had a comfortable area with puzzle-pads on the bottom layer, topped by old picnic blankets and bunches of pillows. We use this space during devotions and at close of day. The teens retreat here to eat their lunch. If you fill a basket with library books, paper and pens, girl campers will spend free time there reading, drawing, and writing notes to each other. I’ve found that girls use this shady area more than boys. Boys tend to run their entire free time, so I didn’t even put books out at my last camp.
I’m sure it’s possible to have a great camp without all of this, but this can be a starting point. If anyone has questions, please ask me. Camps take months of planning, but its so worth it! Enjoy!