With the holidays fast approaching, we thought we might take a “program idea” from former camper Jackie Hatfield and the recent Wall Street Journal article “Summer Camp Comes Home” that profiled her new Idaho home “Camp Hatfield”. The home was envisioned by her husband, Tinker Hatfield, a top Nike designer and Sanborn camp parent, with many touches that are inspired by Sanborn Western Camps.
Recently Tinker and Jackie invited friends and family to live, work and play together in their camp style home. As the quintessential program director, Jackie assigns “staff” to programs, dish duty, and more while “campers” sign up for the different daily activities offered around the property.
We think this is a GREAT way to organize a large group of friends and family who are coming together to celebrate the holidays…and an economical one, too. You can take the mystery out of “what are we going to do today, Mom?” or the worry that, perhaps, the chosen activity for the day (say, bowling) may NOT be what your 93 year old great grandmother had in mind for her afternoon. Plus, you can share the cost of meal planning and preparation, gas, and—in some cases—you might even qualify for a group discount!
A few tips for creating an effective holiday family camp program:
1. Create variety: On a daily basis, have at least three activities to choose from that will take a similar amount of time but appeal to different age groups. A cookie decorating/baking party for the kids (followed with a costume dress-up “tea” afterwards); a “Last Minute Mall Crawl” for final holiday shopping (take your highest occupancy vehicle—or even consider renting a van for a few days); and a nature walk/bike ride/park excursion for high energy individuals (read: young boys) and others who just want to be outside. We recommend always having some sort of outdoor activity going on—this gets folks out of the house, reconnecting with nature and the elements, getting some fresh air and sunshine, and is a low-cost, no-cost activity. For ideas of what to do once you GET everyone outside, check out the 101 Nature Activities pdf.
2. Utilize your resources and share your gifts: have a number of family members who live in the same town? Find out what they can/want to offer as activity ideas. Perhaps you have a cousin who could take a group fly fishing for an afternoon, or a grandmother who is a docent at the local art museum, or your own child who wants to lead a tour of her favorite parts of the community zoo. Setting up a board game station or a “daily craft” table in the basement will also provide some activities to do during transitions or down time. If everyone is meeting in a unique location, send out a link to the town/city website and ask folks to find activities that look interesting to them...assign staff accordingly.
3. Make a job wheel: For families all coming together under one roof for a few days, a job wheel is a great way to assign tasks that will make the host/hostess feel less overwhelmed, and help the guests feel like they know what they “can do to help” without having to ask constantly.
The job wheel can either be designed for family groups (“Plan and prepare dinner” “Kitchen clean up and dishes” “Pick the movie for Movie Night” “Breakfast Buffet” “Put Out/Take Down the Sack Lunch Fixings” “Tidy Common Areas”) or for individuals (“Sweep Kitchen” “Toilets/Toilet Paper Monitor” (makes sure toilets are clean and all bathrooms have toilet paper on the rolls) “Eco-Freako” (last person out of the house who makes sure all the lights are off, heat is down, and doors are shut) “Trash & Recycle Fairy” (makes sure trash is emptied and recyclables end up in their proper containers) “Happy Hour Hostess” “Weatherman/Coat Patrol” (this person makes sure all little people have all the things they need for the day and are in the proper attire…this might need two slots on the job wheel.) A job wheel makes mundane tasks a little more fun, and a little less overwhelming!
4. Food, Outcamp and Able Waiters: This is what makes the holidays fun…and STRESSFUL. Utilize a job wheel (#3 above) and/or have simple breakfast/lunch spreads that can be “self-serve” or even packed “outcamp-style” with all of lunch for 8 packed in a crate to be served and eaten at the zoo/park/children’s museum/mall food court/hiking trail/etc..
For big dinners, consider trying out non-traditional holiday themes (“Candyland” was a big hit with the campers this summer…but probably wouldn’t work very well for your vegan, sugar-free sister-in-law) to provide opportunities for creativity, excitement and COSTUMES. At our house Thanksgiving means bringing and eating foods which we are thankful for—and pizza is ALWAYS on the menu. Antsy kids can take the job of “able waiters” who clear the table after meals—and they can be paid in “chits” for doing a good job. Chits can be redeemed for all sorts of great rewards (ice-cream party, “first-turn” privileges, “treasures” from a treasure chest, etc.) and provide a fun incentive to help all week/weekend long.
5. Big Evening Events: Pictionary games are legendary; a bag-skit night can be even more so. Create mixed age groups and give them a sack with an assortment of random things—each group then comes up with a skit in which everyone participates using ALL the items from their bag. Themes of “Our Favorite Part of the Week” or “Holiday Happenings” or “What Might Happen If…” will help family members overcome stage-fright and the dreaded “skit-block”. Sing-a-longs, a moon-lit night-hike around the neighborhood (or neighboring woods), and—of course--roasting marshmallows for s’mores in a backyard firepit, the fireplace, or even the fondue pot (FINALLY you get to use it for something!) are great family-friendly events that will create memories for years to come.
6. Create “Camp” Traditions: Family style dining, announcements, singing, costumes, celebrating the everyday, sharing in the successes of others, being grateful and thankful for your friends and family—sounds a little like the holidays, too, right? Make sure to give everyone ample opportunities to share “highs-lows” or their favorite part of the day or something they learned and who they learned it from. With camp-style activities, family members may not be together during the day, so it is important to reconvene and share stories, laughter, and thanks. A great treat is a “Praise Jar” where family members can leave notes of appreciation and thanks to each other—and at the end of the week/weekend, those notes are distributed to each person—a more meaningful gift than anything that could be purchased at the mall.
The most important thing to remember when planning a camp-style program of fun and adventure for your friends and family this holiday season is to be flexible—who hasn’t had the impromptu infirmary in their basement because cousin Alice suddenly came down with the chicken pox on Thanksgiving morning?—and to channel your inner camper. Kids rarely know how much preparation and work goes into a fun, nature-filled, activity-rich day at camp…they just know it was a great day. So don’t stress, let others help, and don’t let the “teachable moments” get lost in the desire to execute the plan. The kickball game at the park dissolves when the 7 year old outfielder discovers a wolf-spider den in the grass? See if you can catch the fly that brings him out of his lair.
And, no matter what happens, it will be a holiday celebration everyone will remember for YEARS to come. We hope the Hatfield’s have a fantastic holiday season at Camp Hatfield, and that your holiday season is as joyous and fun-filled as a day at camp!
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