Summer Camp 2020: The Home Game

There’s an annual ritual for many kids across the country at the end of June—summer camp. There are day camps and sleepaway camps, and while many around the country are trying to operate this year, many are not.  The ongoing impact of COVID-19, has upset plans and challenged families to create activities for the long summer days.

The Pavilion at Camp Alton in NH where the author was a counselor and taught theater and reading.

We recently posted about how Summer 2020 may be like summer in the 1970s for many kids, and while that’s true, there’s one major difference between today’s kids and the kids of 40-plus years ago. Today’s kids are used to more structure, so just turning them out of doors may be a challenge. (Though giving them the freedom to “just figure it out” has its merits.)

We’ve also been talking to a lot of parents who are trying to figure out how to balance their work, activities—and provide options other than sitting in front of screens.

While it won’t be perfect, it may be worth it to considering replicating some of the camp experience for kids. That means creating a variety of activities to provide exercise and experience for all kinds of kids.

In addition to trying new things and developing some new skills, there are many benefits of camp even for younger kids. You may not be able to perfectly reflect them, but here are some things you might want to think about as you plan your summer.  (And even if your kids never went to—or wanted to go to—any kind of camp, these can still be useful for you.)

We’ve broken the benefits down into several areas that we’re calling the Three C’s of camp.


Going to camp is a time for kids to be socialized 24/7 among their peers. Yes, there are counselors who provide instruction and guidance, but there is also plenty of time for kids to experience living in an environment where most of the other people there are around their age. This is great for developing social skills, learning cooperation, negotiating problem solving with peers, taking initiative, self-reliance and potentially learning leadership and certainly what it means to be part of a team.

How do you manage this at home? Let’s assume you don’t have several dozen youngsters around, but you can encourage siblings to work together on projects they devise without lots of adult supervision. You can encourage kids to plan events for the family, whether it’s a cookout or a day trip. You can create something like a campfire where kids tell stories.

Depending on their age, Kids can also learn to cook, prepare meals for the family, and much more. Empowering them to be a contributing member of the family is invaluable.

Whatever you choose, the point here is to let the kids take the initiative and encourage them to figure out the how things get accomplished. Bonus for parents: You get time for yourself while the kids are in charge of their own fun.


Millions of crafts began with gimp.

Making stuff is one of the cool things at camp. There probably is no more iconic camp craft than making things with Gimp. Also known as “plastic lacing,” this stuff is available at most craft stores and online here  in a variety of colors, and it’s relatively inexpensive. How many lanyards, keychains and other things have kids made and shared over the years? Impossible to tell. It’s easily ordered online from a variety of stores, and there are all kinds of YouTube tutorials that can get kids started. Cast your mind back, and you may recall the Rainbow Loom craze, that started largely at summer camps.

Of course, there are all kinds of creative kits and arts and crafts projects you can purchase as well.

Projects can also include researching things kids are interested in. Pick a subject matter and learn about it. Then create a skit, play or book about it.


Playing chess in Maine at Camp Robin Hood.

Most camps have an element of sports and competition to them. Backyard games are always great, and many camps have things like chess competitions and other games. You can create your own brackets and use a site like Chess Kid  for a safe, play environment.

There are other group games you can play on Zoom, such as The Match Game, now back on TV after being such a hit in the 1970s, and that’s easy to set up and allow kids to be connected while social distancing.

Organized sports are great, but chances are those won’t be happening this summer, so think about other athletic activities that kids can practice. It doesn’t have to be Olympics caliber, but things like walking, running increasing distances help build confidence.  If your community has opened up, perhaps kids can meet in a local park for pick-up games. No pressure, just fun. Better yet, if kids can get there under their own steam either walking or biking, all the better. Just be sure to set boundaries and guidelines.

And don’t forget things like Frisbees, foam and water blasters and, sports like badminton and tether ball. All of these can help turn even a small yard into a playground.

The Final “C”

 There’s one more “C” that often comes along with the camp experience: Confidence. By encouraging kids to take care of themselves, be responsible to others, and shape their own days, they learn important lessons and have experiences that will help them grow into more self-reliant individuals.

No, it won’t be quite the same as a summer with friends, or an organized day camp, but you can still reap many of the benefits—and have a blast doing it.

Provisions for Camp

Well, we’ll leave it to you to find the tents, marshmallows, and build the campfire. However, here are some ideas for toys that you may want to include in your mix of activities.

Toys For Creative Kids

A new camp shirt…every day if you want.

Chalk of the Town
Ages 4 to adult
$29.95 (kids) $31.95
Where to Buy

Every camp has it’s own t-shirt, and you can customize yours with t-shirt/craft kit that lets you change the front panel on the shirt to match the day, the mood, or your activities for the day. It’s a clever idea, and you can also buy stencils separately for a more professional look. The shirts are 100% cotton and machine washable.


Great creativity. No mess!

Swirl & Style Tie-Dye Studio from Yulu
Ages 6 and up
Where to Buy

This is already one of the hottest selling toys of the year. Cast your mind back to the Age of Aquarius with all those groovy tie-dye fashions. And now, make them yourself in this all-in-one, complete craft kit. The secret to success is in the tying and the dyeing. Much as kids love all that, parents and caregivers will love that this is completely self-contained and has virtually no mess. The set comes with plenty of dyes, and you can fit a large t-shirt into the chamber. Seal, squirt, spin, and style!

Chalk it up to creative inspiration.

Crayola Sidewalk Chalk from Crayola
Ages 4 and up
$4.99 and up
Where to Buy
There’s probably only one other summer toy as classic as sidewalk chalk (and we’ll talk about those next). Crayola consistently gets high marks for the array of colors, the durability of the chalk sticks (i.e.: They don’t break or crumble as easily as others we’ve tried.), and, naturally, for the creativity they inspire. They come in a wide variety of package sizes, and we love the non-roll, square design that keeps everything close at hand. The Crayola chalk cleans up easily with a squirt from the  garden hose, or just let it fade and wear away, which it will.

DinoMazing Egg Decorator from Hey Buddy Hey Pal
Ages 3 and up
Where to Buy

Who says egg decorating is just for one time of the year? Get creative with this super fun set that lets you decorate dinosaur eggs. Place the egg in the unit turn it on, and then use the included markers to create great patterns. Once you’re done, crack your egg open and dig through the slime to reveal a collectible dino buddy. The set comes with two eggs, and you can buy additional ones. Or…you can always use a regular chicken egg. After all, we know that birds are descended from dinosaurs.

Make and share fabulous jewelry in minutes!

Jelli Rez Jewelry Pack from Moose 
Ages 7 and up
$9.99 and up
Where to Buy 
Making and sharing crafts is part of the camp experience. Jelli Rez makes it simple, sparkly, and spectacularly fun. Use the special resin-like compound to make gorgeous gems in just 15 minutes. Mix, mold, and wear and customize. There are lots of sets to choose from, and this is really fun and no mess. There are four different themed sets to pick from: Animals, Fantasy, Sweets and Text Me.


Toys for Competitive Kids

Stay ahead of the curve for active play.

Curve Ball from Hog Wild
Ages 8 and up.
Where to Buy

Build your throwing arm…and create all kinds of cool games.  Use the scoop launchers to throw and catch with amazing curves. Master the skill of the spin – play, learn and improve skills using the special power rails. This encourages active play, and it’s great for kids of all ages and all abilities. You can play cooperatively or competitively. However you choose, it promotes kid-driven, active play.


Great design. High performance. Win!

HyperStrike from Zing
Ages 14+ $29.99
Where to Buy
Archery is a classic camp activity, and while this isn’t competition regulation, it sure is fun and provides a realistic play/sports activity. The  HyperStrike Bow is great for teens engaged in active, outdoor play. Outstanding engineering means high performance at a great price. The soft-tip Zonic Whistle bow shoots Zing’s special bounceback darts up to 250 feet (That’s two-and-a-half football fields!) Unique design ensures easy play, thanks to the patented bungie loops that are easy for kids to use for ultimate control—and success. This may become a favorite camp activity in your back yard.



One of our favorite new water blasters!

Zuru X-Shot Fast Fill Water Blaster from Zuru
Ages 3 and up
Where to Buy
You don’t often think about innovation in water blasters, but this one blew us away when it came out last year. We wondered why no one had thought of it before. Filling this blaster is as simple as opening the back, dragging it through a pool or filling it with the hose, and you’re ready to go. In a pool, it takes virtually no time to fill, and that’s an advantage when you’re trying to have the upper hand in a water fight. Plus, like all the Zuru X-Shot blasters, it delivers great performance at a very good price.


Get ready for ultimate Nerf blasting fun.

Nerf Ultra Two Blaster from Hasbro
Ages 8 and up
Where to Buy

One of the things we love about foam dart blasters is that they lend themselves to all kinds of games, and they’re classic, competitive fun. We like this one especially because it’s motorized, which makes it easy for kids of all ages, and it also includes the new Nerf Ultra darts, which are the furthest flying Nerf darts ever. They go up to 40 yards. We’ve tried it, and it works. Of course, performance may vary, but you’ll be impressed. Be sure to use protective eyewear. Requires 6 AA batteries.

The Upside Down Challenge from Vango
Ages 8 and up.
Where to Buy
This is outrageous family fun. So it would probably count as communal play as well. Put on the goggles, and the world turns upside down. Now that you’re discombobulated, try to do all kinds of crazy challenges, like drawing, writing your name and more. It’s a lot harder, and more hilarious, than you might think. It’s a great way to shake up your family game nights, and challenge your perceptions.


And Don’t Forget the Campfire

A sweet accessory for S’Mores and more!

The Original Reel Roaster from Hog Wild 
Ages 8 and up
Where to Buy
Roasting marshmallows at the campfire is a classic camp activity. This little gadget makes it easy, cuts down on mess and is so easy to clean. Place marshmallows on the fork, extend the arm, and then turn the crank to evenly brown your marshmallow for the perfect S’Mores, or just on their own.



The next best thing to camping for real!

Playmobil Family Camping Trip from Playmobil
Ages 4 and up
Where to Buy
Well, if you can’t get to the great outdoors, you can have a blast pretending. This 78-piece set comes with figures, accessories, a folding tent, sleeping bags, and everything you need to have a great, make-believe camping experience. We really love the creativity and the detail of this set and the ways in which it can inspire lots of imaginative, narrative-based plays.


We’ll keep updating this page with more ideas, so check back!


Disclosure: Where to Buy links show where the toys were in stock at the time of posting. We can’t guarantee in-stock positions. The Toy Guy does not receive any compensation if you shop through these links.

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    • Pretty much anywhere that sells safety goggles should have a variety you can choose from. I would recommend Dick’s Sporting Goods or Amazon and look for goggles designed for archery.