Happy campers in Paso Robles, Calif., gather for a night under the stars.

by Rose Hamilton


The last day of school is magical for students as the long weeks of summer stretch ahead of them. A group of dads at Kermit King Elementary in Paso Robles, Calif., has captured that magic and created a tradition called the Dads Club Campout.

The annual event is a celebration for dads and kids that kicks off the evening of the last day of school and includes a barbecue, outdoor games, a movie, and an overnight campout. The event wraps up the following morning with the men preparing cinnamon buns and hot chocolate for the campers.

“The reason we have it is to involve the fathers in their children’s educational lives,” says Mark Henry, a Dads Club member. Henry says the club, which is part of the Kermit King PTA, has never had a problem with the “dads only” label. Some moms come to the evening portion of the event to make sure everyone is settled in, and then they head home. If a father isn’t available, children can bring an uncle or other adult male to the event. Some dads bring their own kids and chaperone their kids’ friends.

Since the first Dads Club Campout a decade ago, the event has grown to include families from other schools, with attendance last year reaching some 400 people.

Henry and 20 other dads make up the planning group for the event. They charge a per-person entry fee—last year it was $7—which covers the costs of the food, movie, and any equipment they might rent.

At a typical campout, the fathers and kids play games in the evening and then eat. After dinner, they head to the school’s multipurpose room to watch a movie. “Some of the kids fall asleep during the movie and dads carry them out to the tents,” Henry says.

Planning for the event is low-key. “We have a meeting and we aren’t that formal. We talk about what needs to be done,” Henry says. The group tends to set up jobs, such as grilling or monitoring the inflatable slide, in half-hour increments.

Kermit King’s principal secures a permit each year from the town to allow the group to camp on the school grounds. The Dads Club hires a school janitor to work overnight. The club notifies the police department that the event is taking place, just in case there is an emergency. The school opens the multipurpose room for the movie viewing and keeps the nearby restrooms open overnight.

Campers can bring any kind of camping equipment. Most dads pitch their tents on the grass field, and some bring RVs. These vehicles are set up in a separate section of the school grounds for safety. Fathers with RVs are charged an overnight parking fee of $20.

The group contracts with the school district’s culinary arts facility, which provides all the food, including handmade cinnamon buns. The dads warm up the breakfast treats in the school cafeteria ovens. Once breakfast is done, it’s time to break camp, clean up, and head home for the first day of summer vacation. What a fun, sweet start to the summer!

Kermit King Elementary PTA Dads Club

Paso Robles, Calif.

500 students, grades K-5

$1,000 annual budget

Campout Essentials

The Dads Club Campout gives fathers and kids time to connect and celebrate the beginning of summer.

Keep it low-key: One reason the Kermit King event is so successful is it doesn’t have a minute-by-minute schedule. Dads and kids can just hang out together or participate in the activities offered.

Go with a simple menu: The Kermit King dads have varied the menu from year to year, but they often go with straightforward fare like hamburgers and hot dogs. This limits the time adults spend cooking so they can spend more time with the kids.

Don’t forget the basics: Will your group need any special permits? Faculty supervision? Check with your administration to see what you’ll need. At Kermit King, the principal usually stops by for a visit, but no faculty members are required to help out.

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