Now that it’s summer, our small church is preparing for the St. Mark Festival + Summer Camp here at our church. Before my husband’s ordination, this was the biggest, most exciting time of my life, but between the move and the children, I’d gotten out of the habit of getting really and thoroughly excited about it.
Now, I–dare I say it–seem to be back in rhythm and I am SO excited about this year’s camp. Whether you have a big church or a small one, I hope you find some good nuggets here to inspire you!
Do I Want to Be at Church?
For today’s kids, who have access to television shows and video games nearly nonstop, the question will always be “Do I really want to spend my free time here at church?!” It’s our job as church servants to make that answer a resounding YES!
While Sunday school is about learning first and fun second, I believe summer camp should put the fun first and the learning second. There will be a LOT of learning–don’t get me wrong. But at every opportunity, FUN should be forefront.
Instead of “What’s the quickest, most effective way to teach this concept?” the question should be “What is the MOST FUN way to teach this?” These are children after all. Their laughter is the battery power of humanity. Give them lots of opportunities to laugh in Summer Camp!
Start with a Dose of Adventure
Here are some ideas to bring excitement and adventure to a church summer camp! These ideas are perfect for a launch party or a mid-summer celebration. But you could also find a way to work them in to each week’s plan, if time and funding permit!
We love bouncy houses! The kids never seem to tire of them, and we generally do them for every big event at church. Because we are regular customers and a non-profit, we have negotiated a special rate with our local business. Ask if companies near you have a two-for-one special or the like.
My parents’ amazing little church back in Roanoke, Virginia brought pony rides to church one week this spring. Needless to say even the ADULTS were excited! What if you brought a pony ride company to your church’s backyard?
Is your camp taking place in the evenings? Gathering the kids around a fire to sing spiritual songs makes a beautiful impact on their lives. Even the youth beg for this every year. It reminds us all that hymnology and praise aren’t limited to the moments we’re before the altar… We should be praising with all our being in every place. A bonfire sing-along binds everyone together in a sensory memory–the flames dancing, the smoke rising, the hardback chairs and the mosquitoes we swat away–it all becomes part of our spiritual experience.
When I was researching the pony rides, I came across this idea! What if you hired a petting zoo to come visit your church? It’s a little pricey for our small number of campers, but if you can get a nice number of kids on that day, it would be CRAZY FUN.
When I was a kid, our local police would visit the neighborhood once a week during the summer with tubs of ice cream and their horses. When the horses were retired, they brought their motorcycles instead. Check with your local police or fire department. Maybe firefighters and their truck can come “visit” your Summer Camp. Maybe a police officer can give the kids a “tour” of his vehicle. It’s a beautiful opportunity to build positive rapport between your church and those who serve in our communities.
Check out this ultimate list of backyard games kids can play! Which of these cool ideas could you incorporate into your summer camp to give it more of an adventurous feel?
BUILD A MAZE
A few years back, Abouna and I built a maze for one of our family days at church. Start with a good, simple plan… then purchase the correct number of wooden stakes and enough length of plastic sheeting. The kids had the whole maze knocked down an hour and a half later but it was such an HUGE success! You might find a way to do it indoors–or to make it more permanent (ours ended up being one-time-use). It makes for a lot of giggles!
I recently attended a magic show for kids at our public library. It was hilarious. The “magician” was a master of comedy–like a professional slapstick clown without the frightful makeup. What kind of local entertainment can you bring in to get the kids excited? My elementary school brings in a professional storyteller–George the Storyteller–to teach and inspire the kids. He’s so fantastic that they are still bringing him in 20+ years later.
Your local paper might have a directory of kids birthday party acts. Call them up and see if they do larger events as well! Face painting, clowns–I found a caricaturist who gives drawing lessons! You never know what amazing talent you have just around the corner.
Mix in Some Tasty Treats
What would a carnival atmosphere be without carnival treats? Our camp days are always Wednesday and Friday, which you would think makes it tough to treat the kids. Certainly, we aren’t going to be having Domino’s pizza. BUT… the possibilities are actually endless. The best summer treats are vegan already!
It starts with popped corn–either airpopped or rent a machine. Keep the flavor fairly plain. Then let the kids add stir-ins to their popcorn–sweet or salty or both! For example, cocoa powder+ sugar, maple syrup + cinnanamon, drizzled honey, chili powder, curry powder, garlic and Italian seasonings, vegan chocolate chips, skittles or nerds, nuts… go crazy!
If you have a servant to run the blender, you can make the smoothies to order. You could also have two or three flavors ready to go! Start with ice and frozen bananas. Add frozen fruit as desired!
You can’t go wrong here. What says lazy summer days more than watermelon (bateeeeekh)?? Just warn the parents to dress for dripping juice!
This is the stuff summer is made of! It might just be packets of frozen sugar water… but for some reason we all remember how much we adored this cool treat under the hot summer sun! It’s easy to stuff a ton of them in the church freezer a few days in advance and pull them out, ready to go!
SNOW CONES OR COTTON CANDY
It’s fairly simple to rent one of these machines. The supplies are often sold separately, so keep that in mind. You will need an adult to run the snow cone machine. Who wouldn’t want a snow cone on a hot July afternoon? You could, in theory, make the cotton candy in advance (or some of it at least). However, my favorite part of the treat is watching it being made!!
A few crushed oreos and a vegan chocolate pudding would make for tasty pre-assembled treats! You could even make it part of a gardening themed day!
Hope we’ve given you a few ideas to get you started! Remember that showing kids love is the primary purpose of service… and that means getting into all these things yourself. Don’t stand apart while they enjoy the bouncy houses and eat the treats. Stand with them, joke with them, be part of the day. It’s all for naught if they aren’t learning with each activity that YOU their parents and servants are there for them, understand and respect them, and are worthy of their trust.
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