Amid the virtual graduation ceremonies and postponed concert series, many parents, myself included, are realizing that their summer vacation plans are also put on hold. Whether it be a quick trip to the family cabin with relatives or a full-blown excursion to Disney World, we are left to fill the holes that were supposed to be full of show- and-tell worthy extracurriculars.

In an effort to bring joy and normalcy to our littles in this time of uncertainty and fear, it is important, no… vital, to dig deep into their imaginations to create lasting memories that don’t require a golden ticket or groups of more than 10.

With Sloan being just shy of 2, her expectations for an unforgettable summer vacation were quite low, and honestly, she would be fine with seeing a dog or two and following ants around the block.

I, however, am not.

This was going to be our first summer with her being able to walk around and comprehend things, and our plans for daily trips to the zoo or surprise trips to a horse camp were things I was really looking forward to.

Favorite Somethings Out Of Nothings

+ Save your toilet paper rolls and tape them to the wall to make a pipe system that kids can drop things through. Sloan is a big fan of listening to raw rigatoni fall through the twists and turns.

+ Take any old box and completely break it down for a makeshift canvas. Paint, markers, crayons, and even glue and glitter work great and give kids a bigger surface to create on.

+ Chalk. Is. Life.

So, after a very pitiful wallowing session, too many hours on Pinterest, and a hefty purchase of sidewalk chalk, I was ready for the first day of summer camp.

I welcome you to Camp Stay At Home—where children of all ages can enjoy (almost) everything they would during their canceled vacations.

For us, our summer to-do list included visiting family, exploring zoos, and enrolling in community classes like swimming lessons and “How To Make a Kaleidoscope with No Glue.”

What I’ve Learned

+ Children absolutely love making new things out of old things. Take boxes, junk mail, or even old clothes and let your children create. You’ll be amazed at what a 2-year-old can make out of a T-shirt.

+ Taking breaks during quarantine is not being lazy, it’s being conscious of your fuel tank. Don’t underestimate the power of a 10 minute timeout with iced coffee and some “play in your room” time.

+ Walks are never boring if you remember to appreciate what you have around you. Live in the country? Try taking a different gravel road. Live in the city? Play I-Spy through the alphabet as you walk around the block.

Taking all of those into consideration, I set out on dedicating different spots in my house to different trips. The backyard, our kitchen, and our living room seemed most fitting for the experiences that lay ahead.

First up was our trip to the zoo. Unlike Carole Baskin, I do not have 24-hour access to members of the large cat family. I do, however, have access to YouTube, which has provided me with numerous bird calls, squirrel noises, and insect identification tutorials.

Let me tell you, having a pair of cardinals swoop at your phone for 15 minutes makes you feel closer to nature than you would think, so don’t knock it until you try it.

For Sloan, seeing different animals from our deck was just as exciting as seeing a buffalo from 100 yards away. To add to the experience, we lined up all of her stuffed animals in the window and let her “buy” a few, and we even printed off animal coloring pages to end our day at the zoo.

The next one was going to be tricky, but I knew we could do more than a simple FaceTime to make the “family trip” feel more real.

Having canceled our flights to Nashville, I decided to start at the airport and let Sloan pack her own bag which we carried out to the car. From there, we drove around the block while Reid called all of our family on Zoom and put it on the TV. By the time we got back, our family was gathered in the living room (which was rearranged for effect purposes) and Sloan had the time of her life talking to everyone at once.

Last but not least was our day at the community center—a.k.a our kitchen.

I made three note cards that each had an image of an activity on it and let Sloan choose what order we did them in.

First up was making muffins. We did everything on the floor and Sloan loved pouring the ingredients into a giant bowl and not-so- carefully stirring them together.

Next in line was unconventional art class. We moved to a different station in our kitchen and painted by rolling cars through different colors of paint. And even though I had blue wheel tracks running through my entire upstairs, it was so worth it to see Sloan’s wonder at what she created.

Our dining room table was covered in dirt and Sloan dug with plastic spoons for fossils. Old toys make for a couple of great discoveries and I didn’t care if they got dirty.

These are simple tasks. And some kids will think they are boring. And some of you are stuck at home with a 6-month-old that would benefit from none of these. But you all have kids that have had their worlds turned upside down and need guidance and inspiration.

So take what you have available, think about what your child would enjoy, and look at things from the imagination of a child. You will be amazed at what you can create when you let yourself think like your kiddo.

I know I was.

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