Skip to main content

Progressive Day Camp: A Budget-friendly Alternative to Summer Camp

No bucks for camps this year? Plan your own!

Pam Molnar

Published on: February 15, 2017

Three girls and archery

Summer camp is a win-win situation for families. It gives parents the child-free time they need to work or care for younger children, while keeping their older children occupied with fun activities. The only disadvantage is the cost. According to the American Camp Association, the average cost of a week of day camp is $304.

If you are looking for a more budget-friendly way to achieve the same benefits that a day camp provides, you might want to consider a progressive neighborhood camp. Other than camp supplies, the only cost for a neighborhood progressive camp is an hour of a parent's time each day.

The parent counselors take turns providing one hour (or more) of structured entertainment in the form of games, crafts and other activities. When the hour is up, the children move onto the next house, leaving that parent the rest of the time to do their work child-free.

How progressive day camp works

Choose the number of participants based on the number of children and their ages. The number of families, not the number of children, will determine how long your camp is each day. For example, if you have five families, your camp is five hours long. If you have a large number of children, you can enlist the help of a babysitter who will move from house to house with the children and act as an assistant camp counselor.

Planning a day's activities

Choose the activities that you will include in your camp. Some suggestions include outdoor games, arts and crafts, music and dance, gardening, cooking and baking, science projects, storytime and of course, lunchtime. Other options include teaching a new skill like how to sew on a button or inviting a guest speaker come. If your group is small, you might also consider a short field trip.

Parent camp counselors can chose which activity they host based on their skill level or tolerance for mess. Using a daily theme for your camp will help to tie the activities together. Theme ideas include pajama day, beach party, super hero, patriotic, decades day, sports jersey day and Wacky Wednesday.

Work as a group to determine a budget after factoring the number of children and the supplies needed for each activity. An example itinerary for a Wild West theme can be found below, in the sidebar.

How to keep the costs down

Look for craft supplies at, which is a goldmine for inexpensive kids’ crafts and game prizes.

Instead of serving lunch for a large group, consider having each child bring a sack lunch.

If you plan to send the kids home with a trinket each day, consider something reusable like relay race water bottles from the dollar store.

Other inexpensive ideas include a DVD of the music video they made or an egg carton full of the seedlings they planted.

Putting it all together

All the kids will meet at the first house at the start of camp. The camp counselor should be prepared to start the activity as soon as the kids arrive. Each session should end five minutes before the next hour so the counselor (or babysitter) can walk the kids to the next house. At the end of the day, each parent will pick up their child at the last house.

Don’t forget to capture the memories! Take a lot of pictures of the kids at camp. You can find inexpensive photo booth printouts online and at Etsy or snap candid shots of the kids in action. Make a slideshow of the photos to share with the campers on the last day and give everyone a copy.

The best thing about a progressive day camp is that you can host a weekly camp or just one day each week for the whole summer. Unlike other camps, these parents will be a part of their child’s camp experience, an advantage that is priceless.

A day in the life of a progressive day camp

Today’s theme: Wild West

9–10 a.m.: Arts and crafts at the Smith house: make marshmallow shooters

10–11 a.m.: Cooking and baking at the Yu house: making homemade ice cream

11 a.m.–noon: Outdoor games at the Johnson house: playing horseshoes, water gun shooting gallery, rope the horse, sack races

Noon–1 p.m.: Lunch and story time at the Brown house: Serving wagon wheel pasta and pigs in a blanket plus homemade ice cream; plus, reading Cowboy Camp by Tammi Sauer

1–2 p.m.: Music and dance time at the O’Malley house: Learning to square dance

Get the best of ParentMap delivered right to your inbox.

Share this resource with your friends!