Ditch the Devices: Here’s What Your Kids Love (and it isn’t an iPad)

I will tell anyone who asks that I have the best job ever. I am an Activities Director, and during the summer months, I am the self-proclaimed Queen of Camp. It is my job to create, plan, and execute ten (!!!) weeks of summer camp activities for our members.

Parents sometimes scoff at the notion that I truly enjoy spending long days elbow-deep in the latest slime recipe — but I am a child in a 42-year-old’s body. And the joke is on them — all of the things I enjoyed as a kid I actually get paid to do as a grown-up. (Who is the crazy one now, eh?!)

But alas, I cannot keep all of this knowledge to myself; it is my duty to share these kids’ activities with my fellow parents. I am one of those moms who would rather do anything than hand a child an electronic device, so I want to share a few of my secrets for an iPad-free afternoon. These are the things kids love right now, in no particular order.

Water Beads

Water beads are strange. With the most addicting texture, they triple and then triple again when left in water for any extended period of time. What can you do with them? They will pop out of slime if you try to add them in, so I recommend putting them into a balloon (using a funnel) and tying the balloon. Then you will have a DIY stress ball (to help you get through the rest of my recommendations). We would place them in a dollar store bin (the size of a shoebox), and let them double and triple in size. A camp counselor made the mistake of telling a camper that her parents let her fill her bathtub with them, so guess what Jessica had to add to her 2021 bucket list?!

Disclaimer: If you have a toddler or a child who likes to put things in their mouths, please do not play with water beads! They look like boba but are definitely NOT edible.

Weird Things in Balloons

That brings us to weird things in balloons. We added all kinds of things to balloons including lentils, black beans, sand, and of course, water beads. We even added slime when it wouldn’t thicken up quick enough. You can use any size, color, or pattern balloon. We especially liked the clear balloons for the water beads. Some of these things you might even have in your pantry or junk drawer. You just need a funnel and an imagination. We called these “fidgets.” I have a talent for marketing to kids…

Can’t Catch Harry

Can’t Catch Harry is a board game that is very similar to the card game “spoons.” Evidently, the person who invented Can’t Catch Harry is a famous YouTuber? I don’t know — I’m too busy researching slime recipes to casually watch YouTube. This was by far the most popular board game at camp.


Play-Doh is the unsung hero of our childhood. Sure, slime is cool, but do you remember the feeling of cracking open a brand-new can of Play-Doh? It smells like limitless creativity. I was surprised at how much joy it brought the kids at camp. We would have Play-Doh challenges that tied into the theme of the week. Sure, we had items from Play-Doh’s playsets, but plastic silverware also works just as well. Play-Doh is fairly inexpensive and available almost anywhere, including the dollar store!


Now, this needs to be played with a group — but it is perfect for a sleepover, birthday party, family gathering, you name it! We played everything from Animal Bingo to Olympics Bingo to Under the Sea Bingo this summer. My favorite Bingo game though was Camper Bingo! It was a personalized Bingo card with actual photos of campers! This was a huge hit and would be perfect for a school party, too. It was easy to make as well. I would load up on prizes from the Dollar Tree (they have the best selection of gummy candies in town, in my opinion), and the kids would think they won the lottery! And to cover the Bingo spaces? Don’t use boring bingo markers — we used Goldfish and animal crackers! A huge bag of them is only $2.74 at Walmart. We could play Bingo for hours!

Stop Hating on Slime

Now listen, it was so upsetting for me to hear campers say, “I never get to make slime at home.” Parents, c’mon! YES, I know it is messy. I get it. But didn’t you make mudpies as a kid? Let them get messy. I would recommend a slime bin — an oversized clear tub that they use for all of their slime components and a big bowl that is just for slime. But Jessica, I don’t want them using my mixing spoons! We never used spoons at camp — just buy a box of jumbo popsicle sticks! Sure, there are slime kits for sale, but they can get pricey. I recently found Elmer’s glitter glue at the dollar store, so you just need to keep your eyes peeled. My go-to recipe is the one on Elmer’s website. Kids love texture; we would have small foam balls, eyeballs, big confetti, you name it! Throw it in a resealable plastic bag, and it will keep for a few days. Then when your kids are at school, just throw it away! Believe me, they will have more fun making new slime than crying over the one you threw away.

If you love painting but hate cleaning paint brushes (that’s me!) then let me introduce you to paint pouring. This is the most expensive thing on the list, but it is worth it. All ages loved this, and for good reason. Everyone’s finished product looked so professional! Of course, you could do this with regular acrylic paint, but it is not nearly as pretty. Splurge on the paint so you can get your canvases and disposable tablecloths from the dollar store. This is a perfect project for a rainy day or crafternoon birthday party. It does take a day or so to dry, but it is so pretty when finished.

Cooking and Baking Anything

Weekly cooking classes can be expensive, but there’s nothing saying you couldn’t do it at home. One of our most popular cooking classes was “inventive pizzas.” I challenged campers to add at least one thing to their pizza that they had never put on their pizza before. It could be as simple as meatballs or as exotic as pineapple. You would be surprised at what kids will try when they make it themselves!

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