Many summer camps may be canceled as we continue social distancing to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. From classic outdoor games to mess-hall fare, you can easily recreate everyone's favorite summer camp experiences and activities at home.

By Janelle Randazza
April 23, 2020
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Mother and son playing tug-of-war
Credit: Morsa Images/Getty Images

There is no doubt that kids are suffering from some serious cabin fever after so many weeks at home. Add the possibility of no summer camp? Cue even more tears—from both parents and kids. To ease the potential pain of missing out on that classic camp experience this year, we rounded up our favorite tried-and-true camp activities and tweaked them so they can work at home all summer long.

1. Host an Ice Cream Social

Nothing is better than that first day meet-and-greet of fellow campers over ice cream. Have your own mini ice cream social where all of the "campers" (moms and dads included) can talk about what they hope to get out of their camp experience. Make it feel special by creating a small-scale outdoor topping bar with choices of sprinkles, fruit, and hot fudge displayed in a portable muffin tin. If you want to make a big event of it, here are some crafty ways to make "opening day" memorable.

2. Share Ghost Stories via Walkie-Talkie

If your kids have neighborhood friends, pair up with them for a social-distanced campout! Just get some walkie-talkies with a decent range, and it'll feel just like lights out with their cabinmates. The kids will love pushing their bedtime and reconnecting with their friends. Throw in some scary ghost stories and you'll be introducing them to a time-honored summer camp tradition without the liability of having to drive to pick up a creeped out camper at 3 a.m.

3. Field Games

Get out the potato sacks and the tug-of-war rope and see which side is stronger: Mom's or Dad's. Camp is always about friendly competition, so grab the whole family for some good old field games. We may be used to playing them on wide expanses of open fields, but many are easily translated to small scale for your backyard. Some of our favorites are pool noodle baseball—done with a pool noodle and beach ball—horse shoes, and creative takes on relay races, like Balloon Pop Relay and Car Wash Relay.

4. Tie-Dye

A favorite camp craft for decades, no seasoned camper can forget the messy creativity and the anticipation that followed as they made their own tie-dye T-shirts. Mistakes are virtually non-existent in tie-dye, making it a fun and nearly fool-proof craft for all ages as well as a perfect keepsake to a summer they will definitely remember. Tie-dying is best done outdoors, but if you're short on space you can turn your bathtub or shower into your kids' textile design center—just be sure to keep this craft well-supervised with lots of old rags around for cleanup.

5. Compete in Water Olympics

Cool off with some water games! Water games are a must for any summer camp and, as a bonus, they can help kids cool down during the dog days of summer. Plan an afternoon of backyard water games like water limbo, where you use a spray of hose water as a limbo stick, water spray freeze-tag, or some of our other suggestions here. As a culmination event, create an outdoor obstacle course using things like water balloons, buckets of ice water, your sprinkler, and anything else that can get kids good and soggy!

6. Go on a Nature Hunt With Trail Mix

Camp is all about exploring nature, and there is plenty to be found in your own backyard. Send kids out with a magnifying glass and a jar with holes in the lid and see what they come back with. Make a homemade science journal and have them record their findings either with words or sketches. If picking up bugs and seeds isn't their thing, take your kids on a bird watch in your yard. Have them make a milk carton bird feeder to keep an eye on and see what kinds of birds they discover stopping by.

And of course, if you send them out in nature, they are going to need some sustenance! Even if their exploration is limited to the yard or a walk around your block, GORP—aka "good old raisins and peanuts" or trail mix—is a camp classic that no kid should miss out on. Introduce them to the perfectly satisfying snack with this recipe, or let them get creative by cluing them into the basic GORP rules of pairing salty, sweet, chewy, and crunchy and let them get creative in your pantry.

7. Learn Archery

We know. The last thing you want to give your children are bows and arrows—especially after they've been cooped up at home together for weeks on end. Instead of the standard pointed arrows, try a soft set that will still let them have the classic summer camp experience without hurting anyone. Or turn bow and arrow-making into a craft with this tutorial that promises to leave the archer and the target—particularly if it's a younger sibling—unscathed.