smooth running summer camp

10 Tips for Running a Smooth Summer Camp

Summer break is here!  And many parents wondering what they are going to do with their children to keep them from putting the dog in the washing machine.  As a kid, three months of play without school, homework, and getting out of bed is almost too much to handle.  But as an adult, summer break is the time of year where kids destroy the house having a very good time.

With the invention of summer camp, comes the assurance that your kids will be destroying other peoples stuff.  That is until it is your turn to plan one!

Every year more people and organizations are putting on summer camps.  The local church groups, your homeschool co-op, a neighborhood organization of parents… Are you one of these, planning a camp for the first time?

I have planned and run summer camps for several years (like this Battle Star Training mini-camp)and learned a few things along the way.  So let me help you to avoid common summer camp problems.  You know, those ones that catch your off guard and turn camp into chaos time?

10 tips for a smooth summer camp

  1. Plan extra activities. Things never go according to plan so having extra back-up activities that can be done at a moments notice is a lifesaver.  I have a backpack full of extra activities like coloring sheets, puzzles, word searches etc.  You can build a fake dynamite with a timer for a hot potato like game.

fake bomb

How to build classic dynamite.  Cut a broom stick into four pieces and paint them red.  Drill a hole into one end of each stick and stuff a piece of wire into the hole.  Hot glue the ends of the wires into the holes.  Twist the free ends of the wires together.  Buy a cheap kitchen time and glue or tape it to the broom sticks over the twister wire ends.  This is an instant activity when kids are bored or finished early and need something to do.


  1. Transition times are difficult. Plan extra time going from activity to activity.  Plan drink and bathroom breaks frequently.  Sometimes we skip over this when planning a tight schedule but DON’T DO IT!  You want plenty of cushion time.
  2. Make activities no longer than 1 hour. Kids will lose interest in almost anything in that period of time.  I like 45-minute classes with 15-minute transition times.  This has worked well for me in the past.
  3. Avoid lengthy instructions and monologues. Kids become bored and disruptive when listening to a supervillain-type monologue.  Keep it short and sweet.  I aim for around five minutes of instruction for every 30 minutes or more of activity.  If you need more talking time, split it up and teach it in chunks.  But if you need a lot of instruction time, it may not be a good summer camp activity.
  4. Instructions are usually necessary. I like to quickly do them before handing out supplies, game pieces, or activities.  Have the kids repeat important instructions.
  5. If kids are losing interest, go to a backup activity before they get crazy. Don’t be afraid to abandon an activity.  It’s better to move on to something else than risk mutiny when you MUST do the activity because you are stubborn and spent a ton of time preparing it.
  6. Give kids plenty of unstructured play time. This can be time to hang out on the grass, read a book, or socialize.  Even kids need time to wind down and chillax.  They will be much more attentive in later activities if given unstructured play.
  7. Make sure kids have adequate snacks and lunches. A hungry kid will struggle to stay on task.  I have a spare snack tub to pull from if a kid is hungry.  However, be careful with snacks.  Don’t make the bin a free for all.  Have scheduled snack times, otherwise some kids will take advantage of you.
  8. Make fun a priority. Don’t get so focused on the kids learning something that they feel like it is school.  If they must learn something, disguise it as a game or activity.  Rather than teaching math and reading, have the kids find a treasure by following a map, reading clues and calculating distance.  They will have fun and never know they were learning.
  9. Be flexible. As mentioned above, things frequently go wrong.  Technology fails, rooms you reserved are occupied, storms roll in, or instructors get sick and don’t show up.  Always have a back-up plan.  And if something does happen, keep your cool and quickly go to your back-up plan.  Don’t get stressed and frazzled.  Whip out an alternate activity and get busy.  You will lose the kids very quickly if you wander around trying to figure out how to make something work.


Summer camp is supposed to be fun.  Don’t let poor planning and procrastination ruin the camp for you and the kids.  If done properly you will have a blast.  And the kids will want to come back next year.

Need a Little Planning Help?

Grab our 3 Months to Summer Camp Checklist to take you from beginning to end in your day camp planning. Worry less about planning and more about fun!

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