How do you family camp?
A successful family camp experience depends on preparation. Lots of it. You'll need a file in your computer or a notebook to organize all your lists. You'll need to establish a block of time--preferably before the summer begins--to discuss your preferences and expectations as a family. This can be done around the dinner table on a weeknight or on a Sunday afternoon with snacks. All family members should be present, and you should bring a wall calendar, planner, or your smartphone.
The brainstorm session
1) Write a list with all the outings that your family likes. First, write ANY activities they suggest. Later, ideas that are too expensive, not safe, or the like, can be crossed of the list.
2) Write a list of rules and procedures that must be followed. Rules are things for safety and to prevent conflict like "Use your hands for helping, not hurting." Procedures develop healthy habits and include things like, "Wake up at 7:30, eat breakfast by 8, dress, and brush your teeth," and "You may take only one toy with you to the car." You can and should influence the rules and procedures, but let the kids build the basics of a list. Most kids know how to get along with each other--in principle, at least. You can finalize the rules and procedures later, and even type them up and post them for the whole family to see over the summer.
3) Ask your kids if they want to organize by theme. For example, one week could be "Water, Water Everywhere." During that week, you could visit a beach/river, do a science experiment involving water, play with water balloons in the park, etc.
4) Is there skill your children want to master? For example, does your 10 year old want to learn how to cook breakfast? Does your 8 year old want to learn to make a comic strip?
5) Pencil in on the calendar all the stuff you HAVE to do--doctor's appointments, tutoring, visit to Grandma, etc. Start adding in activities for the first two weeks of vacation.
Keeping everyone happy
One of the hardest issues to navigate when planning is arranging for everyone's needs to be met. Big kids have different abilities and interests than toddlers. Adults need some time alone and as a couple.
1) Look for activities that can be accessed on different levels. For example, a visit to an art museum can include the "kids' room" or a storytime for the younger children, while the older ones can sit in front of their favorite picture or sculpture with a sketchbook. While the toddlers enjoy the animals at the farm, big kids can pick fruit and vegetables and plan the meal to create from the produce once they're home. If your 5 year old draws a picture about a recent fieldtrip, your 7 year old can add a letter describing the trip and address the envelope to send them to Grandma.
2) If you don't have one already, plan a weekly date night. You need to have time alone with your spouse (if you have one) to enjoy private conversation without little ears listening in.
3) Arrange to have a bit of time to yourself each day, even if it's only half an hour. Family camp won't work if the parent managing it burns out.
4) Make sure everyone gets enough sleep, water, and food.
Find a partner
Seek out other "family camping" families and schedule activities together. Take turns planning outings, making necessary phone calls, mapping locations, etc. It's a good idea to connect with families they will see around the neighborhood, at school, at their synagogue or church...but that's not a requirement. Your kids will make friendships with the kids they see regularly just like traditional campers befriend the kids in their bunks. Also, you will be able to assemble a group large enough to qualify for group discounts most places you want to go.