Over the past few weeks, I've shared highlights from the first Grandma Camp I hosted for my three oldest grandchildren. I've appreciated your gracious comments and the dozen or so email messages from grandmothers who wrote to request more details or share personal stories. I recommend that grandparents host a camp like this. With a little effort, our homes become the heart of the extended family - a welcoming center where cousins and parents bond into a strong, fun-loving unit that benefits every member.
I promised my new grandma friends a summary post of camping tips - my trial-and-error list of things to do for a happy, successful week of your own! Here it is, in all its "hodge-podgy" imperfection!
3) Pull names to appoint the order of "Kid of the Day." Rotating turns solves every single problem you'll have in determining first choice on everything, including who holds the dog leash! Worried you might forget? Ha! Your little campers will remind you. Every day. Every minute of the day. Trust me!
4) Balance your activities to allow for rainy days. Mix in active fun with quiet games. Consider field trips, even if those only include neighborhood walks or nearby restaurants. Be ready to hear, "Oooooh! What adorable grandchildren you have!" Smile politely and say, "Thank you. Yes. I already know that!"
5) Helpers. Don't ever turn anybody down! I relied on grandpa to clean up after us, to prepare a few meals and to entertain while I made dinner or set up a project. After three full days at my house, one daughter took the kids for the entire afternoon and evening. Much appreciated!
6) Schedule a "quiet time" every day and enforce it. Supply the kids with books to read and puzzles to solve. Each of my own also brought a Leap Pad and I gave them new games to play.
7) It's nice to have an ongoing large project that can be returned to time and again over the course of the week. Lego sets are perfect. I presented the boys with a cargo train, and Bree with a box of "girlie" bricks. At the end of the week, we had a fast moving remote control engine and a long line of pink bunnies and birds waiting to hitch rides on the open boxcars!
8) See those bright blue buckets the kids are sitting on? Best idea ever! I learned it from Grandma Shelley's blog, in her camping series, right here. A bucket with lid (from Lowe's) is about $4 total. They are suitable seating and storage. At orientation, I handed them out. Each contained a new kid-size basketball, spinning toothbrush and toothpaste, small flashlight, a nature sketch pad with color pencil box glued to cover and art supplies such as glue sticks, scissors and paintbrushes. Each child is responsible for maintaining those items and storing completed projects for taking home. Perfect, too, for sitting in the woods to sketch the wonder of nature!
9) Keep parents on speed dial! Every time a camper said something cute or funny, I grabbed my phone to report it. (Just make sure they don't hear you!) And have the kids call mommy and daddy every night before bed. It's nice to hear them yak up a storm about how much fun they're having and how they want to stay for an extra week!
10) Extra week? Oh dear. Let's face it. That wouldn't be easy! I held a five day camp. Four days, including the half one at Aunt Christy's, would have been enough. It's me, not them. There's a reason lively, inquisitive kids are born to people less than half my age!
11) Take lots of pictures and compile them into a scrapbook that stays at grandma's. Cousins will have so much fun revisiting their week every time they come over.
12) Reserve some art and craft work to show at a family event later on. The kids and I host a clothesline art sale annually, one like this. Or, you can welcome parents at pick-up time with a chance to view some lovely pieces - many still dripping with glue!
13) Feedback. This is where you learn the most for future planning! Parents will tell you afterwards what the kids enjoyed best. For us, it was individual sleeping quarters. The kids were thrilled with their A-frame tents - their cozy home-away-from-home nests. A small purchased tent, set up inside would be fun too, with room for everybody. And if you're brave, (the way I am not!) just camp outside in the backyard like normal people do!
I often reflect on what a privilege it is to have these moments, knowing well that just a few years separate us from these long, lazy days and the frantic pre-teen pace of sports camps and outside-the-family friendships that will eventually preempt them. The effort? The expense? The exhaustion? No regrets. None. So worth it. Just so worth it!