Camp Jar

by | May 29, 2009 | Parenting | 14 comments

I am completely drooling over the Family Summer Center featured on Craft. The basic idea is to have a family camp of sorts, and to plan out your summer activities. I love the organization and the planning, plus the beautiful crafty calendar center. The thing is, though, I totally don’t have time to put something like this together. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized we don’t really need anything this involved.

I use Goodreads to keep track of my books (the Craft thing has a section for books you plan on reading over the summer), and while I love the thought of a three-month calendar where you can see everything that’s scheduled, we have all kinds of calendars (including a good one-month one that lives on the fridge and gets updated frequently). I think the most important part of this, to me, is the pile of planned goals and activities.

Since we have somewhere around a million jars, I got a jar and a cardboard envelope from the recycling, and wrote a whole bunch of potential activities onto cardboard strips. Here’s what I came up with, in about ten minutes:

I started to realize that pretty much everything I was listing was a very mom-centric activity, and while I do of course want to spend time with my children, I want them to do plenty of independent time too. So I think the plan will be this: every morning we’ll pull one thing out of the jar, and that will be our morning activity. The afternoon will be for free play. That way we’ll all get moving, and it will give the day some structure, so we don’t suddenly realize that it’s 2:00 and everyone is still in pajamas (not that there’s anything wrong with that, really, but it’s nice to know you did something at some point during the day). Plus I’m hoping that the morning activity will inspire the independent play for the afternoon, like if we go for a walk in the woods in the morning, they can gather sticks for a craft or pretend to be birds or something.

My other major thought here is that if we pick out, say, cookie baking, that we’ll pick a new cookie recipe and learn a bit about where it comes from, and also continue our food chemistry lessons. Or if we go for a walk in the woods we’ll identify some trees and birds.

From now until school ends, I’m going to add items as actively as I can, and hope to get 60 or so by the beginning of summer. Any ideas?

My other task will be to make up a big list of home improvement goals for the next few months, both so Dave and I can have a tangible list hanging in the kitchen to look at, but also so the kids (even though they can’t read), will have a notion of what it is we’re doing what with the table saws and pneumatic nailers and all.


  1. Clog

    Hmmmm…I have an idea that involves a bit of travel but the destination is a wonderful bucolic setting that will provide all the essentials for kids’ play.

  2. Julie

    I was looking more for suggestions that would last the morning, and that we can do spontaneously once we pull the item from the jar. Your suggestion is noted, however.

  3. Anne

    Sam’s daycare has this elaborate ongoing activity centered around growing pumpkins. I assume they have this timed so that the pumpkins will be ready for Halloween. (?) But anyway, maybe you call can plant and tend to a pumpkin patch. (They started in containers and later replanted in a spot outside; I hope it works out for them!) The initial setup might take a morning, and cleanup from the initial setup will definitely take the rest of the morning.

  4. Lisa van Oosterum

    Soooo love this idea! I will be using it for sure. How about painting rocks with favorite words or pictures to put in the garden.

  5. Julie

    I do definitely want to grow something, though that may be something we decide on our own one morning rather than pulling it out of the jar (just to avoid “plant tomato plants” showing up the third week in August). A pumpkin patch might be just the ticket!

    Lisa, I’m adding your idea now…

  6. SereneBabe


    love it, but what about when the kids reject ideas? what do YOU do?

  7. Julie

    There shall be no rejection of ideas. Dave initially said he thought the jar thing was too random, that it made it seem like we had no Plan in our lives, and were just letting fate decide our day. But when I pointed out that the randomness of picking things out of a jar allowed for activities that the kids might not choose first, like hiking through the woods, he could see my point.

    The only way we’ll reject an idea is if we pick something outdoor and there’s a thunderstorm or something. But if it’s just raining I think I might still go for a walk in the woods, because who knows what fun things you might discover in the rain?

    In many ways this will be good so that I don’t reject ideas either. If it were up to me, I’d just bake cookies every day.

  8. SereneBabe

    and your kids are on board w. no rejection? or struggle? (still nak!)

  9. sutswana

    How about “take city bus into town and wander”?

  10. emily

    I’ve been thinking about summertime structure too, since I’m home with Wylie as of today (!!!!!) and we watched this strange little, old little indie movie the other night in which one character contended that a person “should contemplate something beautiful every day”. anyway, I was thinking I might like to add that to our days: what beautiful thing will we go see today? need to talk more about this topic- the structuring of days – for both our and our toddlers’ sanity and comfort!

  11. Julie

    My kids are neither on board nor not on board with no rejection (how’s that for an oddly worded clause?). I presented the concept to them generally, but we haven’t gone into specifics. Here’s to hoping the fun wonder of it all will keep them into the idea, without giving them any thoughts of complaining.

    Sutswana, good one. Putting it in. Henry has requested I add “make deviled eggs.” Also putting “Deering Oaks/wading pool” in there, after driving by earlier today.

    Emily, yes, in a sense, I’m trying to set up a beautiful thing (or different thing) for us to contemplate each day, and I figure it’s much easier for me to come up with a bunch of ideas now than to come up with individual ideas on a daily basis when I’m faced with three pairs of bored eyes. It’ll be like coming up with a weekly menu plan, kinda (something I’m always so happy when I do, but it usually doesn’t happen).

  12. Annette

    Do a scrapbook page. Ready made scrapbooks can be found at the dollar store in SoPo. As summer goes along you can print a few photos from the other awesome activities such as walk in the woods and trip to the beach and have them glue them in their books. Crayons and markers helps little ones illustrate and you can perhaps write an inscription under the picture with the date. I’m a scrapbooker but I don’t believe every item has to be acid/lignin free and last forever. My kids love to create with found items and I’m more about letting them be free with their creativity. Every kid loves to look at pictures of themselves and their family. Enjoy your summer!

  13. Mary

    I just found your site, it’s so neat. How did this turn out? Have you added anymore to your camp jar?

  14. Julie

    Hi Mary,
    We have added to our jar, though we took last summer off to have a baby. 🙂 We tend to call it the summer jar now, and we put everything back into it at the end of the summer, but also add new things during the year as they come up. It’s great!



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