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Planning Your First Home Ed Camp?

by Beverley Paine, Aut 2012

I've planned and organised a few camps in my time, including complex ones that combine parent sessions, conference programs, specialist activities as well as simple bush camping retreats. If you are planning your first camp and want to keep it simple but still fun, engaging and inviting, the best advice is to keep it simple - sometimes it is difficult to keep them small, especially if you advertise them through your local or regional home education networks!

For a first camp I'd say aim for autumn, make it a caravan park that has lots of natural areas and good tent sites (some powered, some unpowered - not many caravan parks seem to cater for tents anymore, so be choosy). Cabins will increase the number of people who will come - some with little children don't like camping and some who have disabilities find it too difficult. Access to hot showers also boosts attendance!

Weekends are good because it allows working partners to attend. Mid-week is great because parks are usually less full... especially during the tourist season.

An extensive playground and trees suitable for clambering over or sitting in the shade under are essential. If the weather is going to be at all warm, water play is a good idea - either a pool, creek, beach, but remember that you can create safe water play areas with sprinklers, plastic sheet water slides, etc if the park allows that.

Children love to play chasey and hide and seek - keep that in mind when choosing a venue. Safety is a big concern, but look for areas that have lots of neat places that encourage fantasy play.

Start each day with a morning circle for everyone. Some people will do yoga, etc before the circle, but if everyone comes together and plays a few circle games that really helps people to meet each other. Plus it gives an opportunity for everyone to have a say in what they'd like to do that day - plan the games and any activities, say if they are going on an excursion (fishing, walking, etc) and invite others along.

If the camp has a communal kitchen, plan to use it for cooking meals. It is so much easier for everyone to prepare their own, but you can pool food for one celebratory meal without too much hassle. Using the camp kitchen brings everyone together. For a short camp I would simply use the BBQs and see how inventive we can all get with recipes and menus!

Quiz nights are hugely popular. They don't have to be elaborate, like the ones local clubs do for fundraising. They can be less 'academic/intellectual' and more physical, role playing, etc. If two families live close to each other they can take on organising this - better if a couple of parents take on this responsibility as it is a reasonably sized task!

If everyone who goes brings an activity to share - and it could be as simple as getting a game of French cricket started - you will have enough to fill every day. Someone could bring a box of books and a rug for a reading nook under a beach umbrella... Networking beforehand allows for brainstorming ideas like this.

I personally like the idea of everyone wearing name labels for the first few days. An early activity could be to make labels and perhaps play a few games so that people begin to recognise who is who. Name labels also help late arrivals feel part of the group faster.

Two to three nights is a great short camp and whets the appetite for more. Longer camps can be exhausting for younger children as well as for large families. Nothing beats spending five days away with like-minded families though - the bonding and friendships that are made at a long camp last years, if not forever. 

Feedback from previous camps


  • bushwalks in national/conservation parks
  • visiting local places of interest
  • playing with the kids
  • getting to interact with the little ones agai n
  • great company; meeting new people; making friends
  • all the games
  • swimming in the pool
  • playing games outside
  • campfire
  • quiz night
  • the list of things to bring was great, helped with organising for camp
  • the activities with the kids - just bring what YOU like to do and want to share, plus resources
  • separate ensuites for each room


  • start off with organised activities, to kick start the camp;
  • set up 'resource' areas, eg games corner, dress ups corner, etc.
  • hold fancy dress parade during dinner before the camp concert
  • go where there are no tourists
  • hold games night on the first night
  • have a playground excursion
  • Kids in the Kitchen night - children prepare a meal one evening
  • Swap pasta night for a burrito night
  • privacy - children told not to enter other people's rooms unless invited

Camp Rules

We used the following 'rules' for a few of our local camps. This is something you might like to discuss before getting to camp with families who are coming, or perhaps nut out together at a welcome to camp session upon arrival.

  • Parents are responsible for their children at all times, including during activities. Child-minding can be arranged but everyone needs to know who is responsible for your children.
  • Parents make sure their children know that going into cabins/tents uninvited is not allowed. Please knock and ask if it's okay to enter first. Don't go into cabins that are not occupied. This is both a privacy and health issue. 
  • No pets, unless otherwise stated.
  • No alcohol.
  • No smoking.
  • No firearms.
  • No gambling.
  • The speed limit on the property is 10 kph unless otherwise indicated.
  • Everyone is responsible for keeping the entire camp area clean and tidy . If you use items in the kitchen, please wash, dry and put them away. Children are asked to be considerate and help with the chores.
  • Septic tank approved cleaning products only: no bleaches or disinfectants.
  • Park in designated areas only.
  • No boisterous or noisy activity after 11:00 pm.
  • Please help conserve water by taking short showers.
  • T urn lights, heaters and air conditioners off when not in use.
  • All swimming and water sport activity must be supervised by at least one adult.

Suggested Activities

It is usual to bring an activity to share with others at the camp. You can set up an activity for all the children or a small group of children, for the adults, or for the whole camp. You can lead the activity by yourself or with others. The activities can be art or craft activities, games, charades or skits, science activities, nature walks, reading... anything you would enjoy doing with friends! If you would like to be reimbursed for material costs please email Beverley with the total amount needed before the camp.

The following list can be extended. It is a good idea to take a whiteboard and put it somewhere everyone will notice and keep it updated with what's happening each day, when and where.

The aim is to be relaxed and flexible and to enjoy ourselves. Camps work best when people take the initiative to interact and join in with what others are doing, or when they invite others to join in with what they've planned.

  • morning sharing circle - songs, stretching, cooperative games - need volunteers each day to 'lead' our circle
  • make & decorate personal name badges - first night, and on arrival (box of materials will be kept in the Camp Kitchen)
  • Trivia Quiz is usually popular - need someone with experience to organise and run, volunteers to keep score
  • Bonfire (if allowed - in fire pit if one available) - please bring wood, sparklers, glow gear, ingredients for making damper, marshmallows, etc.
  • Fancy Dress BBQ breakfast or lunch
  • Concert one evening. Bring an act to share - adults, children and families - all performers welcome. We need a volunteer to organise concert schedule and to be the MC.
  • circus skills - juggling, devil sticks, etc (need someone to organise)
  • First Aid lessons (need someone to organise)
  • mini-Olympics (need someone to organise)
  • orienteering (need someone to organise)
  • environmental games/activities (need someone to organise)
  • charades (need someone to organise)
  • debating (need someone to organise)
  • have a disco, bush dance, square or line dancing (need someone to organise)
  • making and flying kites (need someone to organise)
  • art 'gallery' opening on the morning of the last day, of all the art and craft made during the camp with snacks and drinks made and served by children (need someone to organise)
  • slide/video show (need someone to organise)
  • stargazing - watch for meteors, Milky Way, identify stars and planets ; bring binoculars and telescopes.
  • story telling, reading corner: bring books you are happy to leave in the hall for others to use at any time. We'll set up a comfy reading corner with large cushions.
  • share a skill - peer teaching - can be anything (bring resources)
  • Swimming - supervised by adults please at all times.
  • Board and other games were a great hit at the Melrose Cam. Bring board, card and dice games, etc., as well as any favourite inside and outside group games and sports equipment. We will have a 'morning circle' of games and activities to warm us up and get the action happening after breakfast each day.

What To Bring to Camp

This is a suggested list, use it as a guide. You may need or want to add other things depending on your camp's location or purpose.

suitable clothing for the season (be prepared for cold nights or sudden changes in weather)

walking shoes

sunhats and sunglasses

sun block

beach umbrellas, shelters, tents

beach toys and gear

light weight rain jacket

swim suit, towel

personal medication, first aid kit


journal and writing materials

bird, insect and reptile field identification books


insect repellent

torch/flashlight with extra batteries for night time walks, etc

games, deck of cards, dice, board games

sports equipment, circus skills equipment


musical instruments


fishing gear

bicycles, skateboards, roller skates, etc

backpack, personal water bottles for hikes

art and craft materials, paper, pencils, etc

fancy dress costumes, or materials to make them

concert props, etc

maps, compass (for orienteering and hiking)

a ll bedding - blankets, sheets, pillows, sleeping bags.

towels, tea towels

t oilet paper , 2+ rolls per family

k itchen - detergent, sponges etc

Tent and camping gear

cooking utensils, etc

crockery and cutlery

wood and kindling for bonfire . Seasonal Fire Bans may apply during the summer season. Check with the local CFS for complete details.


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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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