Saturday, August 15, 2015

Grandma Camping 2015 - Part 8 - Final Report!

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!

1) Determine age-appropriate projects and adventures far in advance; have many more than you think you'll use! Get ideas from books, blogs and Pinterest. Place everything you need for each project into its own box. To do otherwise is to reinforce an unfortunate senior stereotype: "Grandma disappeared an hour ago to look for the glue she's holding in her hand!"

2) Make your camp as "official" as possible. Email a list of supplies to parents a few weeks in advance. Ask them to pack sleeping bags, pillows, jammies, stuffed animals, etc. When campers arrive, host a lunch for everybody - parents and younger siblings, too. Follow that with an "orientation session." Explain your rules and hand out your own supplies. Blow a whistle and act all bossy and corny. Set up sleeping quarters before parents depart.

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!

14) Finally, start to plan for next year the second your little loves back out of the driveway. Keep a notebook for your ideas. Watch for sales on the craft supplies you'll need and squirrel those away. It won't be long before those adorable little faces show up again, dragging sleeping bags 'n pillows, quizzing you on "What's for fun this time around, grandma?"

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!

2016 events continue here with "Ladybug Camp's" puppet show and here with our Magic Show!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Grandma Camping 2015 - Part 7 - Feed Me!

Once you've successfully lured your lively little recruits to Grandma Camp, take note that you've got to feed them! Each day. Multiple times each day! I'd grown accustomed to filling a kitty bowl or two every morning in our empty-of-kids-but-not-pets nest, watching six cats follow up one meal with an 18 hour nap. (18 hours? Really? Yep!) Kids, in contrast, like to graze for that amount of time, not sleep! Be ready!

One solution for round-the-clock munching is self-service snack boxes. Here's what mine look like. They're from Pottery Barn Kids.

I fill 'em up each morning with fruit, veggies, crackers and cheese. The kids know that in between meals they are welcome to munch on whatever they want. It's in the fridge, inside their own color coded box.

That leaves grandma responsible for only breakfast, lunch, dinner and a bedtime snack. Assign grandpa a few mornings of home made pancakes and a grilled dinner of organic hot dogs and you've cut your work in half. Works for me!

But not everything "worked for me." I had individual fish pot pies planned. A charming little salad bar. Home made veggie burgers. Gourmet mac and cheese....Foolish! No time for those delicacies, especially when kids only want grilled cheese or peanut butter sandwiches! So I succumbed to the basics, just inserting cutesy little touches to make ordinary eating a little more appealing.

For example!.......

Teddy bears clustered, deep in conversation, beneath a paper umbrella liven up an ordinary fruit cup.

Mini sized hot cheese bagels move down
the hatch at a faster pace than "grown-up" ones sliced in half!

Grandma's salad challenge: "Get it before that hungry caterpillar does!"

On our last evening together, we revisited an adventure from the past. When they were "little kids," these campers loved to play beneath our second story deck. I would surprise them by lowering a basket filled with snacks, drinks and hand wipes. They were delighted. Oh, the anticipation watching that basket of mysterious contents bump its way slowly downward to meet them! But this time it was dinner. Individually boxed, hot, and ready to dig into!

I had set up a picnic style table at the edge of the woods. They scampered away with their meals to enjoy themselves. I suspect it was one of the week's highlights because Bree animatedly described the experience to mommy later. "The basket was looooowered down to us very carefully!"

Three boxed dinners to-go, and three hungry kids to gobble them down! Grilled cheese, steamed veggies and a handful of grapes - GONE! All of it!

But wait! What about dessert? You never mentioned dessert! 

Not to worry. Of course we had dessert!.....Every day. Once each day. In an official "grandma camping" sort of way!

Each day, one camper was "kid of the day."
We rotated, automatically assigning first, second and third choices, assuring that grandma would never have to sit in "time out" again for forgetting whose turn it was to flip the popcorn maker switch. (Happened once. Lesson learned!)

Here's Nick, enjoying alpha male status on his day. His dessert choice was Star Wars brownies.

"Kid of the day" could also choose from home made ice cream, popcorn, cookies, or mini donuts. He or she supervised the process and grabbed the first sample bite.

Sae chose mini-donuts in this nifty little appliance. Grandma is happy with unadorned treats, but a generous, multi-colored icing and over-the-top sprinkle bar was well utilized by the kids!

We didn't forget the "folks back home" either. An assortment of samples from each day's dessert was packed inside small bakery boxes and brought home for siblings and mommy and daddy.

So there! I fed them all. Each day. Multiple times each day.
Indeed, I did!

But where did all this stuff come from?

Bakery boxes, 6" square, in sets of three, are from Michael's.
Silicone caterpillar mold (use Jell-o jiggler recipe) for salad visitors are here, along with the mini donut maker. Star Wars cookbook is on page 11, also in my Amazon gift shop.

Grandma Camping series concludes here with Part 8!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Grandma Camping 2015 - Part 6 - Routines!

Here we are, waiting for grandma's corny, homespun, totally-not-scary "ghost stories" right before bedtime!

It helps when grandma campers have had school experience. They're used to structure and schedules. They know what it's like to be herded from art to gym to lunch. That makes it easier on you. No respectable grandma camp operator allows her kiddoes to run wild while she flops flat on the couch for a mid morning nap, wine glass in hand (err, well maybe once - or twice - but only toward the end of the week!) As any well seasoned teacher will confirm, as much as those little inmates are adored, they will run the asylum for you if you don't step up early and take control of it!

So, we post a few rules, presenting them at camp orientation. This is my favorite:

Crawl downstairs like the quietest little mouse you can be after you wake up! Don't go knocking on the tent next door, looking for trouble! Tired kids are crabby kids. Who wants those creatures here? Not grandma! Success rate = 100%

Early birds sit quietly with grandpa, listening to him drone about how many crumbs he swept up the previous day. As the week progresses, the number of early risers dramatically declines; little birds opt, instead, to occupy themselves inside their tents with puzzle books! Problem nicely solved!

Thank goodness my guests like to ease into the day like I do. Once breakfast in front of morning cartoons is cleared away, it's time to do some thinking. Kids are the most mentally alert then, so we dive into our daily school session. Let me explain.

My daughters reinforce academic skills by investing a little time each day with workbooks and flashcards. The kids are proud of what they accomplish at "Mommy's School." When I spotted delightful name brand (Crayola, School Zone, etc.) workbooks at Dollar Tree, I decided to join the fun! I hand these out on a regular basis and reward kids with a small Lego set for each two completed. They enjoy working toward a goal while keeping up with math and spelling, and parents appreciate the support for learning through extended family teamwork. And grandma? Well, there's no better phone call than one from a little scholar, alerting me that it's nearly time to cash in for a prize!

After school, it is "library time." What fun the kids have taking a turn as librarian! This person really knows how to wield power, too! Nick began the ritual of making "patrons" wait on the couch while he tidies up his desk and shelves. When he is satisfied, he flips his sign to "open." Kids browse the shelves and have their cards stamped. They return books from the previous day and are allowed their choice of "reading club" stickers for their folders.

Details on the Family Library I constructed from cardboard boxes are here.

And here's Nick, proud of his first day sticker array, issued under the authority of his bespectacled librarian-for-the-day brother!

It's ten o'clock now and time for something lively. Daily hikes through the woods are always a first choice. We couple them with nature and art activities, such as those shown here and here. Always learning? Yes! But having fun along the trail, too!

A group gathering on the deck follows. If we've brought back treasures from the hike, we display and discuss them. Some stones are begging to be painted like ladybugs; some sticks need to become tribal totems. This is when that happens in between sips and nibbles of a mid morning snack.

I have way more than enough planned for the kids, and that comes in handy. They like to have choices, and I like to offer them. It's our routine to have a "kid of the day," and that's who decides what we'll do next. My list includes driveway basketball, sidewalk chalk games, paper airplane making, zombie hunting, neighborhood walks, Lego building, flying kites, jumping rope or arts and crafts. Note that some are suitable for indoors, just in case it's raining, and most require only passive participation by grandma! (I'm never quite the same after that spirited hike through the woods!)

I toss field trips into the mix, too. There's a community park nearby with an inviting pond, frequented by ducks and geese to feed with day-old bread. One of these years, we'll bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the swings, too. A farmer's market convenes every Thursday a mere mile away. I hand out five dollar bills and tell the kids to shop their hearts out for ripened red berries and sunflowers the size of their heads. By next year, they'll be able to deftly calculate exactly what that amount will buy for them! Don't overlook programs at your local library, too. Ours is a wonderful one that hosts story time, magic shows, animal petting sessions, and the dream of little boys everywhere - a convention of cars and trucks: police, fire, ambulance, community utility and giant transport vehicles to climb into and pretend you are soooo cool!

Lunch time now. Sometimes grandpa steps up, and other times he puts in a half hour playing board games or marbles with the kids while I work in the kitchen. No matter the "clueless grandpa" jokes I indulge in, his participation is invaluable. So is the afternoon at Aunt Christy's house, late in the week! My campers are ready to jump this ship by Thursday afternoon. We meet at a nearby restaurant for lunch, and then head over to Bree's to swim and enjoy relay games and a bounce house. There's pizza for dinner, a Disney movie or two and big tubs of popcorn later on. It's a great break for everybody!

Daily "quiet time" follows lunch, and I am appreciative of the way my daughters enforce this ritual at home; the kids are used to resting or silently reading. I've stocked their tents with dot-to-dot, sticker and maze books too. They enjoy their own cozy place, and secretly, I think, cherish the time to refuel.

During two glorious hours of quiet time, I fix dinner and prepare for our dessert baking session. "Kid-of-the-day" has already made a choice, and that's the first thing we do when tent doors pop open at 3 PM!

I'm looking at a good four hours to fill once dinner is complete. The previously mentioned list of fun comes out again, and a choice is made. That lasts until dusk, when we start to get "itchy" again. Night hikes are a really big deal here, and it never gets dark enough, fast enough to please us! Grandma plops herself down with a stack of nature books and we examine and discuss pictures of wildlife, insects and the bright, shiny things we're likely to spot up in the sky. This session does the trick. It's dark now! We're pumped! Lots to see out there. Away we go!

Join us for Part 7 of Grandma Camping right here!