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If you’re always on the lookout for summer activities for kids that will keep them busy (and possibly even learning something) without breaking the bank, why not consider creating your own family summer camp?

Coming up with summer camp ideas for your family works best with kids ages eight and up, but younger siblings can certainly go along for the ride. The most important element of this family activity is that you keep it as interactive as possible, so your kids will not only realize that things don’t just magically happen but will also feel a sense of ownership and pride in what you create together.

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Step 1: Brainstorm activities. Utilize local travel guides and the Internet to assist your crew in developing a list of widely varying activities located within a drivable distance from home. Include pricing information, age restrictions, and travel time as you jot down the ideas. Don’t forget to find out if certain activities offer free- or reduced-admission days, and make note of the ones that do.

Step 2: Set a camp budget. Although the adults in the family should decide on the camp budget — stated in weekly or monthly totals — the kids need to be in the loop so they can help make activity decisions. When discussing the budget, the adults need to specify what the budget covers. Is the cost of transportation, meals, and souvenirs included along with admission fees, or do the kids need to bring their own souvenir money? Hammering out all of the details is crucial before going to step 3.

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Step 3: Make the calendar. Obtain a blank calendar that will be used especially for family camp and make sure to write down doctor appointments, work schedules and other obligations that take precedence over family camp. With the family’s help, jot down activities from your brainstorm list — in pencil — along with the admission cost for the whole family. Schedule the activities that offer discounts on certain days accordingly.

Step 4: Revisit the budget. With your kids’ help, add up how much each week’s activities will cost. Does the total fit within the budget? If not, move the schedule around until it does. An overnighter at a waterpark resort might blow the budget on paid activities for the rest of that week. In that case you can fill in the schedule with free fun: playing board (or video) games, baking cookies, or watching a movie on television. If your week total comes in way under budget, you may be able to add one more activity. This part of camp planning can be an invaluable lesson on finances in action, one that can actually help set the foundation for your children’s own spending habits later on.

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Step 5: Be flexible. It’s important to have a contingency plan in case bad weather threatens your outdoor plans or sickness requires staying home. Stacking your deck with rainy day activities and other flex-options will help teach the kids that life doesn’t always go as planned and when that happens, it’s easy to make adjustments.

Creating a summer family camp together will provide memories for years to come. Planning activities “officially” by writing them on a calendar will show your kids that you are committed, and they might even claim to be bored less often because they’ll have something to be excited about. A summer full of new, fun, and even educational experiences is a great way to bond as a family, and will mean as much to your kids as it will to you.

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