Camp Mom

Ideas for giving your summer days some structure

By Debra Flanagan, Macaroni KID Chicago Northside June 7, 2021

We did not send our kids to any camps last summer. One positive of having been laid off from my full-time job was that I was home to run what we called "Camp Mom." For the sanity of us all, we needed to put some structure around our days. 

My kids are much more cooperative when they know what to expect. I put together a loose schedule for each day of "Camp Mom." The over-riding rule was that all plans would be scrapped by any opportunity to see friends. Also, if the weather called for it, Camp Counselor Mommy, could call an audible and spend the entire day at the beach or pool without advance notice. Additionally, at least one day a week was set aside for a special field trip.

My kids are complete opposites. When given the choice between two or more things, it is guaranteed that each kid will choose something different. Therefore, in addition to our daily schedule, we had jars for each activity. Each jar was filled with things to do (to which we all contributed), and the kids took turns blindly selecting the day's activity from the jar. Each completed activity would be removed from the jar, until all were completed, before we would start over. The weekly field trip would be drawn on Monday so I could plan ahead. This eliminated arguments, choice paralysis, and indecisiveness. It also eased my need to come up with ideas all the time. 

Another benefit of the jars, is that I was able to slip some activities in that I may have had an ulterior motive for. For example, using up the rest of a slime kit, or performing an experiment from a science kit they had yet to open from their birthday - things I wanted to get out of the house. 

Camp Mom Schedule Example (M-F) 

Note the day began when they woke up at their own pace. In summer, we throw away the alarm clocks. Everyone was typically up by 9:30am

Breakfast/Dress - 30 min

Indoor Activity Jar - 60 min

Free time - Independent play/read - 60 min

Lunch - 30 min

Outdoor Activity Jar - 120 min - 180 min

Movie and/or Cooking Class Jar - 120 min

Chores/Clean-up - 30 min

Again, this was loose, so if we had an outdoor activity that was going to take more time, an art project they wanted to spend more time on, or went out for lunch, we just adjusted.

Here are examples of what each jar contained:

Indoor Activities (usually accompanied by music)

  • Make Slime
  • Journal (sometimes I gave them a prompt) 
  • Put puzzles together
  • Play with Play-Doh (this was one I threw in, so we could sort through the ones that were dried up and get rid of a lot)
  • Create Tik Toks together (there are lots of fun family challenges you can do)
  • Sing Karaoke
  • Doodle/Draw - check out this prompt tool
  • Build a blanket fort
  • Build a pillow fort
  • Complete activity books (word searches/word jumbles etc.)
  • Perform meditation
  • Make friendship bracelets
  • Spa Day (my favorite! - used those face masks you can get for $1 at Target that come in all different funny animal/character designs. Also did mani/pedis, foot baths, hair wraps, etc.)
  • Color
  • Sew/Knit (again a good use of gifts)
  • Complete Mad Libs
  • Play The Floor is Lava
  • Play board games/card games
  • Play video games together
  • Have a dance party (my thirteen year old is really into her music these days and loves when we show our appreciation for it as well)

Outdoor Activities/Outside the House Activities

  • Roller skating/Scooter/Skateboard
  • Play mini golf
  • Basketball
  • Go fishing
  • Biking
  • Play with drones
  • Soccer
  • Go to driving range
  • Go to a batting cage
  • Have a nerf battle
  • Water balloon/water gun fight
  • Tennis
  • Frisbee
  • Fly kites
  • Have a softball/baseball catch
  • Have a neighborhood scavenger hunt
  • Go on a walk for ice cream
  • Bowling
  • Swim (park district pools)


  • The Mitchells vs. The Machines - PG (and really great)
  • Rip Tide - PG
  • Miss Congeniality - PG 13
  • Won't You Be My Neighbor - PG 13
  • Little Women - PG
  • Along Came Polly - PG 13
  • Goonies - PG
  • Clueless - PG 13
  • Fever Pitch - PG 13
  • Secretariat - PG
  • Venom - PG 13

See also - Top Movie You and Your Tweens/Teens Will Enjoy

*Use your own parental discretion


We had a separate jar for things we could cook together. I often pulled the recipes from Macaroni KID EATS! or our eat2explore family cooking kits. We also had a jar for theme nights, in which case the theme would help determine the meal. Theme nights were based on things we had available to us.

  • Venetian Night - Italian Food, Listened to Opera, Wore Masks
  • Luau - Hawaiian Chicken, Hawaiian Shirts/Skirts, Played Limbo
  • Mexican - Tacos, Ponchos, watch Book of Life or Coco
  • Red Carpet - Surf & Turf, Fancy clothes
  • Unbirthday Tea - Tea sandwiches/pastries, Crazy outfits
  • Beach Party - Burgers, Bathing Suits, Bomb Pops, Eat on a picnic blanket
  • Cubs Night - Hot Dogs/Sausages, Cubs wear
  • Chinese - Dumplings, Orange Chicken, Rice, QiPaos
  • Indian - Naan, Samosas, Tandoori, Sarees
  • Breakfast for Dinner - Eggs/Bacon/Pancakes, Pajamas

Field Trips (also see our 2022 Summer Bucket List)

  • Beach
  • Dad's Slot Cars 
  • Navy Pier (Seadog ride or Tall Ship Windy) 
  • Six Flags
  • Santa's Village - Discount here
  • Paddle Boarding
  • Hurricane Harbor
  • Go Karts
  • Arcade/Laser Tag 
  • Maggie Daley (usually includes Crown Fountain, Cloud Gate, lunch at The Game Room in The Chicago Athletic Club)
  • Go Ape
  • Skokie Water Playground
  • Centennial Family Aquatic Center - Wilmette
  • Mystic Waters - Des Plaines
  • Kayak
  • Riverwalk/Water Taxi (usually includes lunch at Island Party Hut)
  • Museum/Planetarium/Aquarium
  • VR

Have fun all you Parent Camp Counselors out there! I'm always interested in hearing your ideas as well. Join me on Facebook to share your ideas and get event/activity updates in real time.