Idea No.


Campground Sleepover Party - Canoes & Caves



July 2008


Laura in Burlington, Ontario, Canada

Runner Up

Camping Party

Campground Sleepover  My sons who have birthdays close together decided they would like one big party this year, so after much deliberation, we decided on a camp over at a nearby campground. Since this was a more involved party, we decided to invite entire families, although we gave the option of dropping the kids off as well. We narrowed it down to families we knew fairly well. Of the six families we invited, two chose to stay over, one left at bedtime, and the other three dropped the kids off. 

Invitations: I printed off invitations to look like summer camp brochures. The boys decided to call the camp Weallwanna-Havfun. I also sent out a letter to the parents using camp stationery I made up on Word, and using a combination of photos and clipart. The invitations were quite involved, describing the agenda of activities, necessary equipment (bike helmets and flashlights for the spelunking aka caving, sleeping bag, proper footwear, etc.), options for staying the night or not, a map to the campground and a sample menu. 

Costumes: We asked in the invitation for everyone to bring along long pants and long-sleeved tops that could get dirty (for the spelunking), a bike helmet, as well as shorts and Ts that could also get dirty, a sun hat and shoes suitable for hiking. If we had been able to get together earlier as a group, we might have made the shirts ahead and worn them as a kind of camp uniform but that wasn't possible.

Decor:  We provided the camping gear and let the natural surroundings do the rest. The reasons we chose this particular campground were: it was close enough that the parents could transport their own kids; there were several interesting natural cave systems to explore; there was a small lake to canoe in; interesting wildlife; easy but scenic hiking trails and a good beach. A group camping spot is ideal for this sort of thing, but we did well using three adjoining regular sites when the campground accidentally double-booked.

Favours: The kids were given their camp survival kits at the outset. These included an outer heavy-duty zip-lock bag with each camper's name on it that held: a mini first-aid kit, a whistle, an empty freezer bag  labeled with their name to put their make your own GORP (trail mix) in, their plain t-shirt in another personalized freezer bag, a glow in the dark bracelet, fruit leather, and a granola bar. You could also add a flashlight, but we've done that for past parties already. I also made up a Camp Weallwanna-Havfun Survival Guide that had survival tips, including how to make a solar still, what to do if you are lost in the wilderness, diagrams of how to tie common knots, wilderness myths, camp jokes, and a cartoon. In the centre was a really cool star chart I found free online a The idea was to use these as a jumping off point to do a mini camping skills workshop, but we ran out of time and inclination for that.  Activities:

Once everyone had arrived, we unpacked the gear from the vehicles and piled it to one side. Then we set up the tie-dying. I picked up plain cotton t-shirts and Tulip tie-dying kits on sale. These kits are excellent no need for soda ash (it's part of their mix), and the dyes come in handy bottles. I pre-washed the shirts to remove the sizing (treatment for shipping that inhibits colour absorption). We had the kids tie / elastic band their shirts in their desired patterns. Most chose the spiral or spiders, a couple did bullseye. If you search Youtube with tie-dye you can find some excellent video clips on various tie-dying techniques. We wet the shirts before we tied them because we found them easier to handle that way.  For reasons of speed (we had a couple of late arrivals, and the dye loses effectiveness after a while), we had three adults do the dying as the kids pointed and directed where to put the dye. Once the shirt was dyed, it went into their pre-labelled freezer bag for rinsing and drying at home (I included instructions with each shirt).  There are better ways to organize this activity, such as using a dye bath, or dividing up the dye into more bottles and having the kids all do it together at once, but this also worked. 

After that, we headed to the beach to go canoeing. This was a big hit a couple of the kids had never been before. We paddled to the dam at the opposite end of the lake, played pirates at a couple of the islands, checked out the cliffs and caves, and even saw some cliff swallows building their mud-cement nests in the cliff walls.   After a snack (see below) back at the campsite, we hiked to the caves. These caves have some tight tunnels that kids fit well into. As the smallest adult, I was the obvious choice to join them. We went further in than we had before, and found some really interesting crystals and ledges. We went way overtime with this activity, but the kids had a blast. Only one guy didn't like the caves, but he spent the time chatting with the adults outside and exploring the area there for salamanders.  We went back to the campsite by circling around the other side of the lake. We even saw two deer on our way back.  We had planned on some beach/swimming activities in the late morning, but they wanted to continue with their hide and seek and exploration. We could have been there a week and not run out of things to do! 

Party Snack (and meals): When we returned from canoeing, we set out the fixings for make your own GORP (good ole peanuts and raisins). We had peanuts, sunflower seeds, M&Ms, raisins, dried cranberries, rice snacks and pretzels for them to choose from. They pointed and an adult added a scoop to their bag (I wasn't really hoarding the M&Ms, honest!). We also had bug juice made up for them. This was Gatorade made with the blue and lime powder with frozen blueberry bugs added in. The whole thing turned purple from the blueberries.  For supper we served a traditional camping meal: wieners and beans. Since we are vegetarian, and a couple of the kids have food allergies, we used veggie dogs instead of meat wieners. We also had a tossed salad to go with it. After supper we served the birthday cakes followed by smores.  Since our vegetarian marshmallows were recently pulled off the market, we used regular ones and brought along marshmallow fluff (which is vegetarian) for us and the other vegetarian family. We used the President's Choice Concerto cookies for smores as they come with the chocolate already attached. We had lots of smores left over as we were all sugared-out after the cake.  For breakfast I served fresh fruit, cold cereal and muesli pitas with apple juice and milk. There was also some leftover GORP so I put that out as well. It was quick, easy and popular.

The kids packed up their stuff quickly as they'd already made plans for a major hide and seek game. We gave them limits which they respected, and they had fun while we cleared up breakfast and met with the parents coming to pick them up. Only then did we get a chance to open presents.   Games: At this point, I had planned to have an early supper then either play the survival game (details below), or capture the flag, but the kids wanted to hang around the site and explore and play tag and later, flashlight tag, so we went with that instead.  The survival game (aka predator / prey): this is to simulate nature. Each player is given an identity as an animal or element such as herbivore, carnivore, omnivore, human, famine, etc. and must collect food and water points without losing lives. This is a time-limited game, usually about an hour. More details can be found online here: 

Cakes: The first cake was a cave cake. I made this using an angel food cake. I cut away one side and used that to make a roof over the centre. Then I poured some Wilton easy-pour fondant (recipe on their website) I made and coloured grey over the whole thing. I embellished this with candy-coated chocolate rocks and added a well-washed Playmobil fox family peeking out from inside. See for details on this as well as the next cake. 

For the second cake, I made a sheet cake (marbled chocolate and sour-cream vanilla) and decorated the top. I made campers based loosely on ideas from the family fun website, but with different ingredients. I added an ice cream cone tree, chocolate rock candies and a blue lake to the cake as well.   We set up the tents that the kids hadn't already set up (we had an abundance of tents!) and started a small campfire to roast marshmallows for smores.   We took the kids up one gender at a time to wash and brush while the others changed, and by then the kids were exhausted. We'd planned for a quiet tent and a rowdy tent, but only my eldest felt rowdy, so he sat with us for a bit then slept in his own tent. 

For thank you cards we actually sent emails. I had the boys type in a personalized note, then attached photos from the party.  This was a longer party, but not as involved to organize as previous parties. It had a very relaxed atmosphere to it, which allowed the adults as well as the kids to enjoy it. We had guests ranging from 5 to 12 years in age, boys and girls, and everyone enjoyed themselves. Since then, we've seen the kids proudly wearing their shirts (which turned out really well).  The oldest guest had trouble sleeping and came out to sit with us for a while after everyone else was asleep. He raved about how we always have the coolest parties. It's nice to strike a balance and be able to please all of the people all of the time!

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