All the camp pastimes in a box.
In the conventional, once-upon-a-time sense, 9-year-old Issabella Chappell and her 5-year-old sister, Rosie, did not go to camp this summer. But after their parents found an innovative stay-at-home, alternative-world substitution, they actually did.
“We were originally going to sign them up for a local day camp,” said their mom, Amanda. “But this year the circumstances changed because of COVID-19, and we were concerned about how our kids would follow the safety rules. There is a lot to think about and sanitizing is tough when they are out having fun all day. We needed them in a controlled environment.”
In a search for a way to provide the girls with a constructive and fun summer, Amanda and her husband, Chad, came across a Facebook post for what she described as “an amazing lifesaver” called Camp In-A-Box.
They purchased two of the 12-by-10-by-8-inch cartons, each filled with 20 activities highlighting camp pastimes including outdoor fun, arts and crafts, drama, quiet time and snack suggestions for one child between the ages of 4 and 10 with counselor support. All are touted as “back to basics” and technology-free.
The Chappells, who live in Clarkston, turned the cardboard container’s contents — including directions and materials —into their own two-camper summer program, acting as counselors for the girls’ daily creative play.
Camp In-A-Box is the creation of sisters Laurie Keil Leeb, a parent educator and early childhood specialist who is currently a home consultant for the PLAY Project, and Debbie Keil Landau, a teacher and semi-retired overnight and day camp professional who was a director and associate director for Tamarack Camps.
“I’m always thinking camp in the summer months,” said Landau, who lives in West Bloomfield. “With the possibility of all camps being canceled, I thought, ‘Why not bring camp to children at home in a bag or a box or in some packaged way and give them camp fun at home this summer?’”
Leeb was actually involved in the business even before there was a business. “I have four grandchildren and since March I have created ‘theme’ boxes for them to enjoy,” she said. “These boxes were dropped off each week so they could have fresh and new activities to do while quarantined inside their home. When the weather improved, I brought over the boxes and we had more interactive activities I created for us to enjoy together — socially distanced, outside.”
In May, Leeb and Landau blended their ideas and founded Camp In-A-Box.
Now that the official boxes are in play, Leeb’s grandchildren have received the completed version but enjoyed being the ‘test kids.’
“My mom and my aunt are so creative, and playing with kids and making something fun out of nothing is so natural for them,” said Leeb’s daughter, Jessica Triest of Oak Park.
“When they come over to visit, I have to tell them when it’s time to leave,” she joked. “My mom’s house is the best outing for my kids. It is half filled with toys from when I was a kid and she is constantly adding to them. She plays with kids for her job and knows how to engage them in different ways.”
Debbie Steinberg’s three boxes were purchased for her great-nieces in two different states. She shipped one to the 5-year-old in Texas but made an in-person delivery to 6-year-old Haylie and 4-year-old Brooklyn Elson in Birmingham.
“I knew the girls were home for the summer, not going to camp because of the coronavirus, and I wanted to be able to bring them something fun and educational that they could spend their time on as an alternative to camp,” said Steinberg of Huntington Woods.
“I actually went there just to drop them off, but I ended up staying for two hours. When they opened the boxes, they were so excited about finding so many creative things inside. They took out an arts and crafts project with crayons and glue and feathers first, and I ended up doing it with them.”
Steinberg was impressed that the boxes’ activities were chosen to be enjoyed, at different levels, by children of various ages. “My nieces can do some of them by themselves, which is a bonus, and some with the help of an adult, which is a great connection for all of them.”
Camp In-A-Box is headquartered in Leeb’s Orchard Lake home, with “offices” in her dining room, living room and kitchen. “At first we did all our prep work and assembly outside on the porch and patio as we kept our social distance,” Leeb said. “At night we would each type up ideas that we were brainstorming and come back together the next day to share our visions. We then ‘Shark Tanked’ our individual ideas to my husband, Fred, our volunteer assembler.”
The sisters now work both inside Leeb’s house, in face masks, as well as individually in each of their homes.
“This is our first business together,” said Leeb, who refers to the June 29 launch date as “the first day of camp.”
“We share a common interest in children. We love to be creative and always thought it would be fun to do something together. We never imagined COVID would give us the opportunity to come up with this idea. But it did.
“Both of us have been working with children for decades,” she said. “We have grown children and grandchildren. Debbie has endless camp ideas and I adapted some ideas from the COVID boxes I made for my grandchildren.”
The two will continue to work together, selling Camp In-A-Box as long as stock lasts, with a plan to debut a new and different box of fun in the fall.
For the Chappells, the boxes they purchased are a jumping-off point for expanded activities, with many new ideas coming from Chad, a former camp director, who coincidentally worked with Landau at Tamarack. In addition to taking guidance from suggestions in the boxes, they added a dining hall, theme days and camp away from home days, like on a lakefront visit.
“We are totally using this for everyday camp,” Amanda said. “Our girls loved making treasure boxes and finding treasures in scavenger hunts. There is this sponge game that allows the girls to have fun in the water on hot days.
“Camp In-A-Box truly helped us make a great summer for our girls. We don’t know what we would have done if it didn’t arrive just when we needed it. Sending them to camp wasn’t in the cards this summer. Bringing camp to them at home was a huge hit.”
For information or to purchase Camp In-A-Box, getaboxnow.com or send an email to
email@example.com. Cost: $45, Boxes ordered out of delivery area can be picked up in Orchard Lake or shipped at a cost.