By Kathy O’Rourke
My husband and I are recently retired. Over the past few years we have spent quite a bit of time babysitting our “grands” for overnights of varying duration and have enjoyed countless outings with them. But this time I envisioned a different experience. What about structuring an event at our home that would include all the fun of a summer camp experience? When I ran the idea by my husband he became as excited as I was. Just as soon as our three married daughters gave us an enthusiastic green light we set about planning for our first “Grand Camp”
Before I explain the specifics of our particular “Grand Camp” experience I think it is important to note that the concept of love, fun and sharing between grandchildren and their grandparents is absolutely universal and completely timeless. Grand Camp simply harnesses this magical energy in a more unique, focused and structured way. There is a broad adaptability to this project that can be scaled up or back as needed. Grand Camp can be just as successful in an urban setting as in a rural location. The event can be held in a home, apartment or park. It can take place over a well-planned day, weekend or longer as is appropriate. Selected activities can be as active or sedentary as needed. The important thing is to plan ahead and to structure engaging, child friendly fun at a pace that will energize rather than exhaust grand parents and children alike.
My husband and I are 65 years old and have a total of 9 grandchildren. We are still quite active and decided together to attempt a Monday through Friday Grand Camp experience. Initially we had planned to include 5 of our grand children who are between the ages of 7 and 11 because we felt their interests and abilities were somewhat similar. However, when our 15 year old grandson asked to participate as a counselor we were thrilled.
We began by brainstorming a variety of fun activities that we hoped to include during our camp time. We purposely elected to introduce the children to our own interests and hobbies. To this day, I love painting because my artist grandmother took time during her summers to teach me to paint as a youngster. Things like fishing, arts and crafts, nature study, cooking, remote control model boats, painting and swimming made our camp list. Gardening, knitting, sewing, wood working, music, scrapbooking, cards, chess or checkers might well be on the list of other grandparents. We also added activities like scavenger hunts, bike rides, and walks to the park and flashlight fun at night.
We knew that scheduling our days carefully would go a long way toward structuring success. We established mealtimes, bed times and a quiet time activity slot each day and wove our fun activities around these. We actually developed a printed schedule which we posted in the kitchen for all to see.
Our ground rules were minimal but kept our home neat and organized. Pull up your bed coverlet, brush your teeth and hair, clothes can only be in your drawer or the hamper, shoes in the boot tray or next to your bed. The children were having so much fun and were so eager to move on to the next activity that they were exceptionally responsible and cooperative.
The kid’s phones and iPad’s were charged each night in a single location away from the bedrooms so that lights out and a good night’s sleep could be accomplished. We did select a “Bathing Suit Boss” each day whose job was to get all wet suits and towels to the dryer after swimming. We also assigned two “Table Captains” to help set the table each evening. These small assists helped us greatly.
I prepared and froze most of our dinners ahead of time and purposely selected easy prep lunches such as taquitos, frozen pizza and sandpiles, an all-time favorite, (french fries topped with bacon and cheese). The kids loved cooking time with their grandfather and enjoyed preparing desserts and making salads.
Thoughtful pre-planning allowed us to type up our scavenger hunt lists and the words to our Noah’s Arc camp song in advance. I was able to locate some cute and inexpensive craft ideas on Pinterest. Craft supplies were easily obtained from places like Michaels, Oriental Trading and Hobby Lobby. I made a prototype of each craft ahead of time and placed the craft supplies for each day in a shoe box for easy access.
My husband had lots of fun designing a logo for our Grand Camp T shirt. The kids proudly wore their shirts for a camp photo. However, in another setting the kids might have each designed their own camp T shirt as a craft activity.
We traded our sedan car for our daughter’s larger SUV for the week. This allowed us to take two field trips – one to the beach and the other to a free comedy juggling show at a local park one evening.
Our Grand Camp experience was amazing and magical. There were so many benefits to the project. By the end of the first day the children were all asking if we would be willing to plan another camp for the following summer. Our “Grands” were so happy, engaged and enthusiastic that we honestly did not have one cross word. The cooperative spirit and team work we encountered were really a delight. Pairing up different cousin teams during the week allowed the children to work and play exceptionally well together. There was ample time to swap stories and jokes and to hear all about the children’s current interests and activities. During the week our grandchildren proved to be very knowledgeable and extremely patient tutors when it came to teaching US how to use our new Smart Phone. Our daughters were very grateful for a week of child care and some special alone time with their spouses.
On the last night of Grand Camp just before bedtime we were all sitting together and reviewing our week. One of my grandsons said it best, “Ya know Grammy, we had tons of fun this week but I think the best thing about Grand Camp is that we all got even closer.”
There will definitely be a Grand Camp next year at our house. As we age, our Grand Camps may last for fewer days. As time passes we may play more checkers and take less bike rides. And over the years our “counselors” may grow up and need to miss Grand Camp for their summer jobs. But just as long as there are grandchildren and grandparents eager to make special summer memories Grand Camp is a wonderful family experience!