Thursday, June 30, 2011

All About Camp Stimey

Well, it's summer. Or spring break. Or any gaping amount of time when you are desperate to make your kids participate in any activity that doesn't include watching TV, hitting their brothers, or whining at you, which completely harshes the summer buzz.

It's okay. I am here to help.

Each summer, with varying levels of success, I plan Camp Stimey, an at-home summer program designed to keep your kids learning and having fun while keeping them the hell off of your back. Camp Stimey (or Camp [insert your family nickname here]) involves work, but it's worth it.

Following are summaries of each of the theme weeks Team Stimey has participated in, with links to relevant posts, detailing the disasters and/or successes of each.

I will update this post at the completion of each week, so if you don't find something to your liking yet, come back in a couple of weeks and check again!

Please feel free to leave suggestions for future Camp Stimey activities in the comments. Did you do at-home camp with a successful theme? Let me know what you did and I will shamelessly steal the idea for myself.


The Origin of it All: I'm going to be honest here and tell you that I originally stole this idea from my friend, Lindsay, and have since given her almost no credit for her suggestion. This is how Camp Stimey, orginally Camp Here and Now, came to be way back in 2008.


Cooking Week: Camp Stimey started with Cooking Week, which is a really fun and easy way to ease in. We started by making collages with pictures of food cut out of magazines. The great thing about Cooking Week is that you can make your trip to the grocery store fit in with your theme. No, I'm not dragging you on errands! I'm teaching you! Try making macaroni art and then cook pasta for dinner. I wasn't very good at chronicling Camp Stimey back in those days, but cooking week evidently also included making playdough.


Animal Week: Animal Week started with Day One: Pets. We read stories about pets and colored pictures. We also petted our dog. Later in the week, we did animal races (you yell the name of an animal and your kids have to race, while walking/running/crawling like that animal). We also took a trip to the C&O Canal, where we went on a boat ride where the boat was pulled by mules. We were also in the middle of our Ant Farm Nightmare during animal week, which fit in well, although insects could be a whole theme week of their own.


Sports Week: This is a really fun week, and very easy to facilitate. Choose a different sport each day and play it. Read books about the sport. Draw pictures. We started with Soccer Day, which is pretty self explanatory. Actually attending a real sports game is a fun way to spend a day of Sports Week. I suggest you look for a minor league baseball team or women's basketball. These games tend to be mellower and cheaper, but just as much fun. We took a day to go see our local minor league baseball team, the Bowie Baysox during this Sports Week.


Camp Stimey returned in earnest in the summer of 2009, and was my best planned and executed Camp Stimey to date. This post lays out my goals for the summer.


Transportation Week: This is one of my favorite weeks of all times. Most kids can really get behind this and there are so many methods of transportation to choose from that you are almost guaranteed to find fun activities no matter where you live. You can read my summary post of the whole week and a more in-depth post about Day Five: Bus Day.

We started with Train Day, which included a ride on a miniature train at a local park. Day Two was Aviation Day, during which we made paper airplanes and visited the College Park Aviation Museum, a local repository of all things airplane. Day Four was Boat Day. We went to a nearby lake that offers rental boats, including the most small-child friendly of the boats, the pedal boat. Be forewarned: You will do all of the pedaling. Day Five, of course, was Disguise an Errand as Bus Day.


Government and History Week: This is a very easy theme to conduct if you live in the DC Metro area. It may be harder if you live in, say, Ruralville, North Dakota. But I believe in you, faithful campers! You can do it! You can read about my ideas for this week in my Coming Attractions post. There are a lot of easy things to teach your kids about government including the three branches of government and basic history. Schoolhouse Rock can help you out a lot here. I like to schedule this week around July 4th, but the problem with that is that everyone else does too. Your local attractions will be busy that week.

Our week included trips to the US Capitol Building, a journey to the birthplace of George Washington, and a trip to the National Museum of American History (highly recommended!), which was preceded by a tour of the Main Justice Building of the Department of Justice, facilitated by government lawyer Alex. Check out the full details in my summary post. Oh, we also celebrated July 4th.


"Ology" Week: Think geology, paleontology, archaeology, and then mash them all up in one week of confusing science. This week had some extraordinary successes as well as a couple of spectacular failures. But as they say, when it comes to science, you can learn more from your failures than your successes, right? RIGHT?!

Speaking of failures, now might be the time to mention those. We went letterboxing, unsuccessfully our first time, successfully the second, and we attempted to create homemade stalagmites and stalactites. That didn't work either. I also attempted to dye sand so we could make sand art. That also didn't go so well.

This week also featured our first Camp Stimey Meet-Up, which is a fun way to meet some new people in your area, or even people you already know. We went to a local nature center. Aside from some customary Team Stimey shenanigans, I'm going to count this one as a success.

Our biggest outing was to Luray Caverns, where you can tour a giant underground cave. If you live near any caverns, check them out. This was a high point of our summer. I hope to go back sometime soon.

My summary from that week covers most of our activities, including Entomology Day; Letterboxing Day; Letterboxing Day, Take Two; Archaeology, Paleontology; and Spelunking.


Sports Week, Year Two: See, I told you that this one is fun and easy. I just have a Coming Attractions post and a Summary post for this week, but we packed a lot in, which you can read about in the summary.

We started with Golf Day, when I took my kids to a driving range to hit golf balls. They had fun, and if you go on a weekday, there are not a lot of serious golfers there for you to annoy. Field Hockey Day came next, in the form of my mother's helper, who acted as a Camp Stimey Counselor for the day. We also crammed in soccer, football, baseball, and soccer. I also took my own advice and took my kids to a women's basketball game, in our case, the Washington Mystics.


Boot Camp Week: This is not, as Sam originally thought, a week to learn about boots, but rather a week when you can spend five days barking orders at your kids without guilt. We didn't do this in 2009, but I would recommend closing up your Boot Camp Week with a trip to laser tag.

This week for us included learning about the branches of the military and having water gun fights. If you do this type of week, I would recommend morning calisthenics and daily "training" obstacle courses.


Geography Week: There is so much that you can do with Geography Week, but mostly I cut up a United States map and had my kids learn a little bit about each state, then draw something relevant on each state. This was a great idea and a lot of fun, but took longer than I expected, meaning we didn't get farther than the western states.


Colonial Week: This is a good week to do if you live anywhere near Virginia. It might be harder elsewhere, but I'm sure you could try to recreate colonial times in your backyard or make a colonial meal with ease. In fact, the more I write about Camp Stimey, the more I see missed opportunities. Maybe I need a Camp Stimey is Better the Second Time Around Week, where I take advantage of what I learned the first time.

For us, colonial week meant that we went to Jamestown in Virginia (on the hottest day of the year, apparently) and then the next day we constructed a little model of Jamestown. It was fun. I don't know how much my kiddos learned, but I sure did get a better appreciation for what the original settlers had to go through.


Where Does Our Food Come From Week: This is one of my favorite Camp Stimey weeks of all time. I loved that my kids got to learn a little bit about what happens to food before it gets to the grocery store. I wanted to let Alex handle the first day of this camp by having him force the kids to help him with his vegetable garden, but he took them swimming instead.

Day Two involved blackberry and peach picking and my mom baked a kickass blackberry crisp. On Day Three we made homemade bread, butter, and peach pie. It was completely awesome. Most of this information is available in my summary post.

On Day Four, we went to a farm that we found on the internet. It turned out to be not really what I would call a farm, but there were some animals and there was a tree maze and we had fun, so it doesn't really matter.

Day Five was super fun because we went to a dairy farm and got to see real cows being milked. We also got to feed the calves and pet kittens. Plus, we drank brand new milk, straight from the farm, which was delicious!


Simple Machine Week: This is the week of Camp Stimey that has stuck with my kids more than any other week. Jack in particular really internalized the message of this week and can identify a simple machine at thirty paces. It's easy to plan this week because simple machines are part of everything. On wheel day, you can go bike riding. On lever day, you can dig a hole. On inclined plane day, you up an on ramp.

We found examples of simple machines, learning about a different one or two each day, and then we did little experiments with them. It was fun. Plus, I keep finding little pictures of simple machines in Jack's backpack, so I know he really learned something. This is concrete enough for the youngest of kids, yet can be made more complex for older kids. It's the perfect topic!

If you are in DC, you can finish up Simple Machine Week with a trip to the National Building Museum, which we did. We didn't end up doing any of the building activities because there was a Lego exhibit there that kind of stole the show, but usually the activity packs you can borrow are good options. If you don't live in DC, maybe go to a construction site and try to spot all the simple machines you can find.


Human Body Week: Human body week was necessitated by my desire to make sure my kids received some sex education prior to learning it on the streets. You know, where they often hang out. Don't worry, though! If you're not ready for THAT particular lesson, there are many other parts of the body to explore. For example, we built a skeleton out of paper bones. It would be fun to add muscles on top of that, then skin, and then dress the person, but we didn't get that far before I ran out of energy. Other ideas include exploring the five senses and doing fingerprinting.


Water Week: I had all kinds of plans to teach my kids about oceans and water life during Water Week, but for the most part we just played with water. You can read all about the things we did in my recap post, but here's a quick round up: We did a lot of swimming, had a water balloon fight, found a local park with a stream in it, visited an aquarium and did some water-related crafts and experiments. For example, we experimented with food coloring in water and then making music by clinking spoons against glasses with different amounts of water in them. We also did some watercolor painting (of aquatic subjects) and made giant stuffed fish.


Five Senses Week: This week was planned better by me than implemented. It turned out that we got busy and didn't have a lot of extra time to do activities. Plus, my older sons weren't too interested in the five senses because they'd already learned all about them at school. This might be a better theme for younger kids. We did do some fun stuff, including thinking about sounds and a general lesson on the overall senses. I had planned to put objects in socks and have my kids feel them, then draw what they thought they were. We were also going to bake for Smell Day and flavor popcorn with salt, sugar, and Parmesan cheese on Taste Day. If you Google "activities for five senses," you will come up with a plethora of things to do!


You are now up to date on Camp Stimey. Check back again because I'll be adding information as we complete more weeks! You can always access this post by clicking on the Camp Stimey button on the top right of the sidebar.

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