My son recently spent his first night away from me, at a sleepover at his TaeKwonDo gym. He had been used to spending the night with his grandparents, but this was different. He wasn’t with family. After a bit of a struggle, he actually let me go home. I felt terribly guilty, being his mother, like I was abandoning him. But he did a great job. As a reward, my husband and I decided to allow him to have a reward – and he chose a sleepover at our house.
My first thought was – can I actually take care of other people’s kids over night? We came up with the guest list and all together, there are going to be eight kids. Yes, I’m nuts. But I enlisted one of the other mothers to spend the night too, so I won’t be doing it alone.
I decided to plan this sleep over like a birthday party. Birthday parties are in my comfort zone. You have an objective, a check list, and that’s it. Besides, since my son’s birthday is the first week of school, he usually gets the short end of the stick, with a hastily thrown together party with new classmates he barely knows. So, this would make up for it. I started planning the way I plan a birthday party – with a theme. What I considered to be a logical theme for a sleepover turned out to be my greatest challenge. I chose to plan a camping theme party.
What I found was that though this theme seems to be a relatively common theme, there really aren’t a lot of ideas out there. Don’t expect a camping section at the party store. But, after quite a bit of research, I have a plan. If you are thinking of a camping themed party – try some of these ideas:
I’m used to inviting both boys and girls to my son’s parties. He’s only six. But, on the advise of my mother, I only invited boys. And, we only invited a couple. Choose wisely – it’s an overnight, so that’s a lot of time to spend together. Make sure the kids like each other. I chose to invite 7 children, so we’ll have 8 children total. Plus an extra parent for help, so we should be ok. Remember that if this is your child’s first sleepover, it may be the first for his friends. Give the parents the option of staying as long as they want. Also, give the children the option of playing, but not spending the night. We have one child coming that isn’t ready to spend the night. So, I’ve been prepping my son for that fact so the child doesn’t feel like the odd man out when he goes home early. We’ve also planned the activities to have a natural break so it’s easy for a guest to duck out early.
Technically, for a sleepover, you don’t need invitations. But I like invitations. It makes the guest feel special. These can be as simple or as complicated as you’d like. You could go as basic as folding a piece of construction paper in half with all the detail on the inside, and hand drawn pictures on the outside. Or you can use clip art from the computer or stickers. Think about common camping images to use: owls, sleeping bags, tents, camp fires, s’mores, moons, and lanterns. You can use any of these for the shape, if you’d like, again, with the detail on the inside. As for our party, we made invitations that were a little more elaborate. Every child got their own box. I used a bandana as the stuffing inside the box. Then I put in a little baggie with layers of Golden Grahams cereal, mini marshmallows, and chocolate chips. Tied to the s’mores treat was a “Camping Checklist.” On top of that was an invitation made out of cardstock with an owl on the front that said “Hoo Hoo Who’s Ready for a Sleepover?” Inside I let everyone know that though it’s a camping theme, and they needed to bring sleeping bags, we would be “camping” in the basement.
You could decorate with leaves, camping equipment, tents, and lanterns hung from the ceiling (or outside). You really don’t have to go crazy with decorations. After all, the kids are there to have fun. And you’re the only one that is going to notice the decorations. I’m only doing one. I happen to have a floral arch that is the type you’d use for a wedding. I’m going to hang fake leaf garland from the arch, and place it at the bottom of the stairs. So, when the kids walk down the stairs, they’ll have to go through the arch of leaves, like they’re going into the forest.
Camping food is simple. If you have a wood burning fireplace, a portable fire pit, or the ability to make a campfire, you’re in luck. Have the kids use skewers or twigs to roast hot dogs (before you think the twigs are dirty, remember you did it when you were a kid!), serve chips and baked beans, and s’mores for dessert. You can also look up Scout and camping recipes. A dessert I remember making involved splitting open a banana, but not peeling it, inserting chocolate chips, nuts, fruit, and marshmallows into the slit, wrapping the whole thing in foil, and then sticking it on the cook top of the camp fire. In a couple minutes the banana and its toppings got all gooey and you scooped it out with a spoon. You can also serve trail mix, popcorn, hot chocolate, bug juice (green punch), For breakfast you could go all out with eggs and bacon, or go simple with doughnuts and juice. We’re going with the Golden Graham cereal, chocolate chips, and marshmallows with milk (it could also be served trail mix style). Whatever you do, make sure you serve junk food. The best sleepovers have junk food!
Think about what you will need to complete your activities. Additionally, what props will make the kids feel like campers? I searched online for inexpensive things the kids could each wear to get into the camping experience. They’ll each get a camouflage hat, compass, flashlight, magnifying glass, and a drink holder that ties a bottle of water around your neck comfortably. You can also give the kids “field notebooks” and pencils to complete any activities. You may not find camping themed supplies at party stores, but online sources like orientaltradingcompany.com is a great start. Hardware stores and dollar stores can also have what you need.
This can be as loose or as structured as you want. I like structure, and to plan lots of activities, especially at the beginning, to get the little guests comfortable with each other, and to make sure no one gets bored. This also serves another purpose of getting the kids tired so they sleep well. For our camping party, I’m modeling it loosely after some scouting programs where the kids complete a task and earn a “badge” of some sort. In our case, each task will have a particular colored bead attached, which they will be able to pin to their hats. There are a lot of activities you can have at a camping party. Consider the ages of the kids, the number of kids invited, and the amount of time you have. It’s better to plan more, and not do everything.
Get wooden dowels from the hardware store and have the kids decorate their own walking sticks. They can use markers to draw pictures and symbols to describe themselves. Then, go on a hike and use your sticks!
While on the hike, go on a nature scavenger hunt. Print off a list of things they might find a head of time, and have them glue the list in their notebooks to make it easier for the kids. Think of your area and the time of year, to make the list reasonable. Some things you might include: bird nests, birds, animal tracks, animal fur, poison ivy (it’s a good lesson!), scat (animal droppings), animal homes like snake holes and burrows, squirrels and squirrel nests, water like streams and ponds, flowers, and various leaf colors. For the really young kids, make the objects very basic like the sun, a tree, grass, a flower, etc.
Get some glow in the dark bugs and hide them around the yard or in the house. Then, have the kids use their flashlights to find as many as possible.
Teach cooking safety techniques to the kids. They need to eat anyways, so turn it into a group activity where they can earn a badge.
Get medical tape, bandanas, sticks, and bandages. Teach the kids some basic first aid skills and have the kids practice tying a splint and an arm brace.
Have the kids practice their drama skills by telling ghost stories (or not-so-scary stories), playing charades, or preparing for an performing a talent show.
Teach about what most animals need to survive: Food, water, sunlight, and shelter. Then provide each child with a jelly jar and stickers to decorate the jar with. Blow up a kiddie pool ahead of time, and fill it with a few goldfish from the pet store. Allow the kids to “fish” with a net to put in their jar and take home. Make sure the students get fish food, so they have all the elements their fish needs to survive.
Teach the kids about Native Americans. Give them skills to tell a story using gestures or pictures. The only rule is they can’t use words. Then, see if the kids can understand each other’s stories.
Have the kids prepare a good deed to perform. It can be a project for an elderly person in the neighborhood, or a simple deed for a brother or sister or friend.
Have the kids create an obstacle course outside and race to go through it. Include things like Frisbee tosses, sack races, bean bag throws, running through cones, racing with an egg on a spoon, three legged relays, and balloon tosses.
Have the kids learn a typical camping skill like boating, archery, knot tying, arts and crafts, or swimming, if possible.
Have the kids create and memorize a special motto and hand shake.
Research what the scouting organizations have kids do to achieve certain ranks – and do some of them yourself!
A movie before the kids go to sleep is a good way to actually encourage them to fall asleep. Before the movie starts is a good time for kids who aren’t staying to leave, and a good time for kids who are staying to put on their pajamas.
Remember to keep the phone numbers of all parents just incase someone needs to call home.
Have the kids wake up an hour before the parents are set to arrive. They can get dressed, eat break fast, brush their teeth, and help clean up so you’re not left with a big mess.
Prepare the kids ahead of time of clothing they’ll need – pajamas, coats, sneakers, etc.
Remember that though you’re planning fun things to do, let kids be kids, and do what they want. Keep your ideas handy, just in case. They may just want to go outside and play tag or baseball in the yard. They’ll have fun no matter what.
So, if you’re planning a camping themed party, or are planning a sleepover, hopefully you now have some ideas to get you started. With a little creativity, you can make sure your child has a party or sleepover to remember. Above all, remember to be prepared, and have fun.