Submitted by Christine Wood
My daughter and several of her neighbors have been doing this for several years with terrific results.
Each year in July when kids have been home from school for several weeks and "Mom, I don't have anything to do" has become the topic of most parent-child conversations, these stay-at-home or part-time working moms have a week of what they call "neighborhood camp."
Each mother (participation varies from 4 to 6 mothers each year) takes responsibility for 1 hour of each day--or in the case of some activities, 2 hours. They rotate times so the one who starts one day may have the second hour the next day, and so forth.
The first hour may be an outdoor nature-appreciation walk around the neighborhood identifying butterflies, dragonflies, different kinds of flowers, or the growing of vegetables in someone's garden. This may be followed by an hour of watersliding at the next house, followed by lunch and a fun craft project, followed by softball and lemonade at the next house, and so on.
The last day of neighborhood camp usually ends with an evening barbecue in which all of the parents and children get together, cook out, and play games.
Each mother only has to come up with something to keep the kids occupied for 1 hour each day, and then she has the next 4 or 5 hours free while her children play at the other homes in the neighborhood! And the kids are happy, occupied, well supervised, and in safe conditions.
Clear rules are set, such as who has responsibility for getting kids safely across any streets, who accompanies the children to the next home, etc., so children are never left unsupervised.
There is not an inordinate amount of planning and preparation involved--a couple of meetings, some thinking on the part of the mothers, and a bit of coordination to be sure they don't all do the same activity on the same day. Creative ideas abound once energies are focused on coming up with fun activities, and the children look forward to it eagerly each year.
My daughter keeps a "neighborhood camp" notebook year-round in which she puts ideas as she thinks or hears of them to be used the following year.
Best of all it's free except for the cost of supplies, so mothers can tailor activities to suit their household budgets. Most activities are simple but fun, and low-cost.
I've noticed they try to balance quiet activities with opportunities to play outside and be loud and raucous, and activities that include learning opportunities are interspersed with play times. The emphasis is on fun, however. Typically, no two activities are repeated during the same year.
This has become a much-anticipated and valued tradition in my daughter's neighborhood.
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