When my husband and I were traveling in Germany several years ago, we had the most delightful driver who brought us to the airport. We started with polite conversation, as one does, and soon discovered we had quite a bit in common. One of the most important things was our joy in running a “camp” for our grandchildren. Some things transcend distance and culture.
“Ah, yes,” he said. “My wife and I call it ‘Wrinkle Camp’. We get all our grandchildren together for a week every summer, without their parents along, and we have such fun with them!”
“We do the same!” I told him. “Sometimes it’s called ‘Grammy Camp’ because I coordinate it, but we more often call it ‘Cousins’ Camp’ because all the cousins are together. I hope they’ll build bonds that will last a lifetime.”
“Yes, yes,” he said. “It is a double win. A joy for the grandparents, and a joy for the cousins.” We laughed as we compared notes, agreeing once again that it is one of the high points of the summer.
I instituted my first Cousins’ Camp/Grammy Camp/Wrinkle Camp during the summer of 2016. At that time, the seven grandchildren ranged in age from 10 months to 8 years. I built our activities around certain themes.
All the activities began with the letter ‘B’.
(Plus, for breakfast, we had blueberry pancakes with bananas and bacon.)
These were all water-themed activities:
I also made sure to include lots of free time for them to just hang out together. Kids are so good at making up their own fun together!
The first year was such a success, we’ve continued it every year. The grandchildren have informed me that it just isn’t summer without Cousins’ Camp. This makes my heart happy because the oldest two are teenagers now. Every year it takes careful planning to balance activities in terms of different ages, personalities, and interests, but somehow it always works.
Following are a few tips for any grandparent inspired to hold a similar Camp:
Find out everything you can about your grandchildren. This is especially true if you don’t live close or haven’t spent much time with them. What are their interests? Food likes/dislikes and possible allergies? Fears and phobias? Bedtime routine?
Make sure the parents approve of the activities you have planned. If they aren’t going to be around, get more than just their buy-in! Get medical and insurance information and paperwork, and a signed permission slip for them to be in your care.
In the beginning, the kids said it didn’t count as Cousins’ Camp if the parents were around. The parents were happy with this arrangement. They often left town for their own little vacation! But now that there are 10 grandkids – while I’m getting older all the time – I discovered this just isn’t sustainable without some extra help.
One of my biggest headaches was cooking. The kids always seemed to be hungry, plus three are gluten-free and several others are quite picky. Now I ask the parents to contribute the food they know their kids can/will eat. This has helped tremendously.
It’s not cheating to do a “hybrid” camp where the kids sleep at home and join you for activities during the day. I have often done a mixed camp where the older kids stay with me, and the younger ones join us for daytime activities.
Structured activities are great, but kids also enjoy – and need! – lots of unstructured free time. This is especially true if they are with cousins they don’t see often. Just let them play!
My most successful activities have been big buckets of water with long squirters, water balloons, bubble mix, and chalk – all available from the dollar store. Kids can spend hours playing with these few items. These items also work well with a group of mixed ages and genders.
Along with the aforementioned dollar store items, there are endless creative activities that are completely free. We have gone on nature scavenger hunts and walked along beaches looking for interesting stones. The kids come back happy and exhausted, and I haven’t spent a dime!
Of course, I do occasionally splurge on special activities for the group, but with 10 grandchildren, this can really add up! Sometimes parents chip in to help with this. Discuss this upfront, so it’s clear who is going to pay for what.
So, you can call it a Grammy Camp if you’re having grandchildren from just one family or a Cousins’ Camp if from more than one family, or even a “Wrinkle Camp,” if you want to inject some humor! Whatever you call it, and whether you have only a day or two or a whole week, just do it! Will you be exhausted at the end? Yes, you will, but you will have so many precious memories, and so will your grandkids. They all grow up so fast!
Does the idea of having a Grammy or Cousins’ Camp like this appeal to you? Have you already done something similar? If so, what were your most successful activities? What suggestions would you give others?