Explore the Possibilities with Your Kids

Yao Yao’s Camp Imagination

Yao Yao’s Camp Imagination

Yao Yao’s Camp Imagination

Yao Yao’s Camp Imagination

“Okay, what is Yao Yao’s Camp Imagination? And how do I sign up?”

Sorry, admissions are closed, unfortunately. But you can start your own camp! Here’s how ours came about:

Actually, the birth of Yao Yao’s Camp Imagination came at a pivotal time a few years ago. It was midsummer, and “Camp Season” (Art Camp, Horseback Riding Camp, Percy Jackson Camp, Paddle-boarding Camp, etc.) was finally over. Our family vacation on the Greek islands had come and gone, leaving only wistful memories and fading tans. And there it was: Three weeks looming ahead, with no planned activities. A couple of days of errands, and Yao Yao, my daughter, started asking the dreaded question, “What can I do today?” I had to think of something — fast.

I decided we should make our own “camp,” living by our wits and playing it day-to-day. The name that immediately came to mind was Yao Yao’s Camp Imagination, and it stuck.

But I was stuck, too — stuck for activities to fill it. We started small, creating a list of things to do that sounded like fun. Some we just thought of out of the blue. Some we had read about previously but had somehow not made the time for. And some were things we’d done before, that were so much fun we thought we’d do them again. That was it: The framework for Yao Yao’s Camp Imagination.

I started a spreadsheet (because that’s what I do!) of a good mix of fun, creative, sometimes educational ideas, some requiring driving and planning, others that could easily be put into action at a moment’s notice. I shamelessly stole ideas from anywhere I could, created games and activities out of whole cloth (with mixed success), and did research whenever time allowed. (Of course, I asked for Yao Yao’s input, but hey, she’s the one who asked the dreaded question in the first place.)

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Big deal, it’s a list of ideas – what makes it a camp?” Well, here’s what makes it a camp: Because I said it was a camp, okay? Seriously, this is a case of “saying makes it so.” Calling it a camp made it more fun, made it seem more like a real event, and it gave me the opportunity to become Camp Director. Win-win!

The key is to keep a running list, as the ideas come from odd places and at odder times. We use it all year round – you’d be surprised how it comes in handy when you find yourself on vacation and it’s pouring rain, or it’s spring break and everyone’s kid but your own is off skiing.

The big surprise was that many of the mothers I know started asking me where I’m getting my ideas and would I share my list, so I know I must be on to something. Hint, hint: Start your list today!

Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:

Yao Yao’s Camp Imagination Tourist-for-a-Day Program

It’s exactly what it sounds like: We pretend we’re tourists. Of course, this is a lot easier when we actually are tourists, but anyplace in the world will do. We happen to live in a historic small town, so we will go to the library and check out a book on local points of interest and visit a few of them. It gives you a totally new perspective on your own backyard. If you live near a major city, being tourists for a day might entail visiting a few landmarks considered too touristy, except when you have visitors from Des Moines: For instance, going to see the Statue of Liberty if you happen to live near New York, or Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, or Universal Studios in Los Angeles, or Pike Place Market in Seattle – you know, the usual.

If you live in a small town, you can tour your local fire station, town hall, dairy farm, Old Mill Pond, a local bakery, and so on. You’d be surprised how open small town people can be to showing you how they go about their day-to-day lives. You’ll have an amazing time – especially if you piggyback it with . . .

Yao Yao’s Camp Imagination Great Ice Cream Lick-Off

This is a fan favorite, and it’s great for one kid or a gaggle of them. We pick, say, five local ice cream parlors to judge over a set period of time. If you’re an ice cream junkie like me, you can cram them into a single long, sinfully delicious day. If you’re a sensible person who can demonstrate a modicum of self-restraint, you might want to stretch it out over a week. Up to you – I’m certainly not going to judge.

We create a rating card that looks at the various frozen concoctions according to certain criteria: Size of scoop, variety of flavors, ambiance, employee niceness, cleanliness, and so on. (You can use this basic framework to judge the “best of” almost anything: Diners, parks, beaches, free activities, etc.) Of course, you’re encouraging your child to become a little bit judgmental, (I prefer to think of it as discerning) which may not be totally positive, but then again, you’ve eaten up an afternoon, in more ways than one. So there’s that!

Yao Yao’s Camp Imagination Great Backwards-Day Program

Yep, you start the morning with dinner in your PJs and go from there. We often morph that into Backwards Lunch, where we start with dessert, then have our entrée. The only limitation is your imagination.

Yao Yao’s Camp Imagination Lend-a-Hand-to-Somebody-in-Need Day

This can be a highly organized activity where you help out at a local dog shelter, or you can take a garbage bag and spend an hour picking up trash in a local park or beach (with all the appropriate safety precautions). Get in touch with your local Red Cross or United Way – they can hook you up with organizations in need of a few helping hands.

Anyway, you get the picture. I’m always adding to our list and looking to discover new ideas and activities to pass along. (Can’t wait to tell you about the goats – now that was a good one! ) You do the same – I’d love to hear from you!

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