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Can You Start a Neighborhood Camp?

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Read Time: 3 minutes

This is a reprint from the Free Range Kids blog in 2012! Two moms started a camp for the kids on two blocks. It ran until one year into Covid! We hope it inspires you!

Can you start a camp? We did!

Dear Free-Range Kids: We thought you’d like an update on our neighborhood summer camp.  We’re two moms from Palo Alto, CA, who have created an old-school, low-key summer camp for our neighborhood.  Last year 43 kids attended.  It was so successful that this summer almost EVERY family with kids attended–a total of 72 kids!

The details for the camp include:

  • Five mornings for the first week of summer
  • Older kids serve as counselors and design the activities
  • A modest camp tuition gets divided up between the counselors
  • Younger kids (age 4 – 4th grade) are ‘campers’
  • Each day a different family or two adjacent neighbors ‘host’ (i.e., provide space and some adult supervision)
  • Different activities each day — crafts, games, snacks and free play (e.g., water balloons, obstacle courses, lawn bowling, jump rope, sidewalk chalk)
  • Great memories with neighborhood friends and the comfort level to inspire impromptu playdates the rest of the summer

A few basic resources:

For some neighborhoods, a camp like ours should be easy to implement.  Here’s our invite. Here’s our job description for counselors and counselors-in-training.

For other neighborhoods, we know a full-fledged camp would not be practical. The good news is: it can be modified to one weekend day, or one “day off” for the neighborhood.  [Let Grow here: Jonathan Haidt’s “Anxious Generation” recommends parents keeping Friday afternoons free for neighborhood Free Play Fridays.] It could motivate kids to spend time outdoors playing with friends after dinner, for example.

We have several attorneys on our street who recommended we issue a basic waiver. Every family signs it for their kids to participate and it protects everyone in the neighborhood.  We wish we could avoid it, but see it as a practical reality that everyone seems to understand.

The rest of the summer, some kids are home, but most go to organized camps for part of the day. Neighborhood play seems to resume mid-afternoon.

How starting a camp changes the neighborhood.

Last year, the street felt like a ghost town the week after camp.  We suspect the families on our street were so used to scheduling their kids for camps and activities that it didn’t occur to them to keep them home and just play in the neighborhood.  We toyed around with making it a two week commitment this year: one week of camp and the other of NOTHING. What would the kids do?  Would we all adjust to a non-scheduled lifestyle?

We haven’t done this as we feel it would be a lot to ask of households with two working parents who really rely on camps for childcare. But we’re hopeful this summer, because of the number of kids that participated in our camp, the continued increase in comfort-level between the neighbors that lasted throughout the school year, and the enthusiasm from this year’s camp, that this summer will include a lot more neighborhood play. We’re already seeing it with the four-square courts sprayed on the street!

Thanks for all your inspiration.  We’re having a blast! –Diana Nemet and Jennifer Antonow

Let Grow here again: Please let us know if you start a camp, a “Playborhood,” or a Let Grow Play Club — request our free materials here!

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