Party Like It's Summer Camp!

children playing tug-of-war
Kathryn Gamble
Each summer Tereasa Surratt and her husband, David Hernandez, gather friends and family for a bash at Camp Wandawega, an old summer camp they own in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. Here's their tips for an inspired family celebration featuring classic outdoor activities, mess-hall fare, and campy decor.
Kathryn Gamble
Kathryn Gamble

Camp It Up!

    • For a true camp feeling, book the picnic area of a local campground through recreation.gov, reserveamerica.com, or your state's parks' service.
    • Prep work is key to enjoying the party: Prepare signage, craft materials, and meal fixings. If you're hosting off-site, organize all necessary supplies.
    • Tap older kids as "counselors." Give them a list of activities, a whistle, and instructions to wrangle the little ones.
    • Create separate areas for food, games, and crafts; guests can choose their own activities.
    • Never say no to help. Let adults and kids pitch in; teamwork is a camp tradition!
Kathryn Gamble
Kathryn Gamble

Mess-Hall Meals

  • Feeding a hungry crowd is no small feat. Choose kid-friendly sustenance that requires little prep or refrigeration. A self-serve PB&J table or a build-your-own hot-dog bar means you can arrange the supplies and let the campers do the rest.
  • Fill a huge bucket (Surratt uses a canoe!) with ice and keep it stocked with water bottles and juice packs for grab 'n' go refreshment.
Kathryn Gamble
Kathryn Gamble

Cool Cones

Homemade snow cones are an ideal treat for a hot summer day. Buy an ice shaver (Sunbeam snow-cone machine, $24; amazon.com) and set out flavored syrups and colorful straws -- kids can mix custom flavors. Sweeten the deal by offering a boozy grown-ups-only version!

Kathryn Gamble
Kathryn Gamble

Sweet Tradition

A campfire is the perfect way to end the day. Provide kids with marshmallows and long sticks (cut from green hardwood). If an open fire isn't an option, you can roast them over coals in a barbecue; they're just as delicious -- scout's honor!

Kathryn Gamble
Kathryn Gamble

Sign Language

Point guests in the right direction with homemade signs. Surratt used a mix of mini chalkboards and paper signs hung on clipboards to label the various activities and food stations around the camp.

Jane Goodrich
Jane Goodrich

Arts and Crafts

Set up tables for crafters to create their own party favors. Guests can channel their inner camper and fold paper airplanes, decorate a mini birdhouse, or make a friendship bracelet. The secret to a clean craft area? Surratt says doling out supplies in small amounts helps. Too much accessible paint = one big mess. Shop teacher or camp-supply catalogs like K12 School Supplies (k12schoolsupplies.net) or S&S Worldwide (ssww.com) to buy DIY craft kits in bulk and at a discount.

Jane Goodrich
Jane Goodrich

Yippee! A Tepee

Luckily, nature's beauty does most of the party decorating for you, but add a few camp-inspired touches to help set the scene. Putting up a tent or a tepee creates the ultimate summer campground.

Kathryn Gamble
Kathryn Gamble

Field Day Fun

Play classic camp games like a sack hop, tug-of-war, water-balloon toss, three-legged race -- even a slingshot contest. Host an award ceremony and hand out ribbons or medals in each category. Grouping teams by age makes for plenty of winners.

Originally published in the August 2013 issue of Parents magazine.

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