Grandma Camp – Where to Begin?
Just because I am choosing to call this Grandma Camp doesn’t mean that this isn’t for Grandpas too. Every year, we hold our “grandma camp” called Camp NanaPapa because our Littles (a.k.a. grandkids) adore their Papa as much as their Nana. It just wouldn’t be the same without him. Some call it Grandparent Camp or Grandparents Camp. Others call it Cousin Camp. Whatever you decide, just give it a great name! However, just to make it easy, I’m going to call it Grandma Camp.
Deciding to hold a Grandma Camp is a big deal. However, don’t stress! The first rule is: Know your limits! Don’t take on more than you can handle. Judge how much you can and can’t take on. If you do this, you’ll find it’s a great experience that you’ll want to make a yearly tradition. If you go overboard, you may never do it twice. Make it simple or go all out, but just find your sweet spot!
“For us, Grandma Camp is one of the most cherished times of the whole year for our family. We get to spend some quality time with our grandkids and get to know them just a little bit better.”
First Things First – Develop a Basic Plan
There are as many ways to do Grandma Camp as there are grandchildren to do it with. So here is my list of things to think about before you begin:
Who are you inviting to Grandma Camp?
I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s a legit question. Some grandparents can’t handle certain little ones at camp (like those still in diapers or those under a certain age). Some will hold 2 camps – one for the girls and one for the boys. Still others want to go places and can’t accommodate car seats. So, just decide who you want to have at your camp and who can come. (Some of my Littles live out of state, so they can’t attend every year.)
What is your budget for Grandma Camp?
Decide how much you want to spend on this. It can be done inexpensively with activities around your home. However, you will have to feed all those Littles, and that can add up. So plan enough for food. You can do simple crafts from Dollar Store items or travel to a water park for the day. Just try to have an idea before you begin as things add up quickly. (I know because my first year it was a free-for-all budget. Yikes!)
How long do you want to hold Grandma Camp?
This may be entirely dependent upon your budget. Camp can range from just a few special hours to days or even a week or more. . .if you’re super ambitious. (My Littles want camp to run all summer, but that’s probably not going to happen as my sanity is important to me!) So, keep in mind the ages and attention span of your grandkids, and don’t forget your own energy level and patience as well. If you’re holding camp for multiple ages, consider having the younger ones for a shorter amount of time and adding extra time for the older ones.
What date(s) do you want to hold Grandma Camp?
If you’re just going to do a few hours or a day-long camp, you can choose almost any time of year as Saturdays and Sundays work well even when school is in session. However, if you plan to do multiple days or a week, it will probably need to be during a lengthy school break unless the Littles haven’t hit school age yet. We like summers because there is so much to do OUTSIDE – it saves my house from total annihilation.
Although predicting the weather is a pretty inaccurate science, I still recommend checking the weather predictions for your area. It can’t hurt. If you’re having a late, wet spring, you may want to wait until the middle of summer. If you’re planning a camp during the winter and want snow, you had better see if there is predicted snow during your camp. Personally, I try to do camp during the best weather months, but I always make contingency plans to bring the fun indoors. . .just in case.
What are you going to feed the Littles at Grandma Camp?
This one can be easy or extremely difficult. There are many things to think about – picky eaters, allergies, ages, familiar foods. The best thing to do is to keep it simple. Since we do a multiple day camp, I always begin the first day AFTER breakfast – one meal down! Then, Day One usually consists of some kind of picnic, so I ask for the parents to pack a lunch for that first day – two meals down! See where I’m going with this? Then, end the last day of camp BEFORE dinner. If you have a 2-day camp, that’s only 3 meals that you must provide.
Food is probably the most challenging part of the planning. However, it can be fun and educational at the same time if you involve the grandchildren in the prep and cooking. You can prepare parts of the meals ahead of time so items can just be heated up before each meal. Let the kids help do that! You could also plan for hotdog and marshmallow roasting – always a favorite but take precaution with having the Littles around fire. One way to handle picky eaters is to have “selection bar” foods like taco salad or pasta bar where the kids can choose their own fixings.
If the kids are younger, they don’t notice if there isn’t a big variety. Super simple foods are usually the best – sandwiches, cereal, fruit, crackers, etc. If the kids are older, they can help more with the meal prep. And if Grandpa is participating, don’t forget to enlist his help as well. You don’t have to do it all yourself!
Some extra advice about food allergies. . .
One of our grandsons has many severe food allergies – 36 to be exact. These range from certain fruits and vegetables to things like soy and sunflower. Of course, dairy and gluten are on his list of “can’t haves” also. In this case, I plan very carefully with his mother and share the final menu with her. If there are things on our menu that we can’t find substitutes for, then she provides prepared food that we can just heat up for him during camp. He’s a good sport about it and is old enough to understand what he can and can’t have.
Are you going to have the parents involved?
For the most part, we want our Grandma Camp to be just us and the Littles. However, if we travel somewhere, we need drivers and chaperones. So, we decide ahead of time if we want/need parents involved in certain activities and how many of those we want to incorporate – too many and it defeats our purpose for holding a camp where there are “no parents allowed!”
Also, you will need to gauge your activities by the ages and attention spans of your grandkids. It may work to have fewer activities that last a long time or you may need many short ones so you can keep the kids moving. It is also a good idea to vary the types of activities to hold their interest.
Here’s a short list of some types of activities that you can include:
- Crafts (can be something for fun or an upcoming holiday)
- Cooking (not just meals but yummy desserts)
- Humanitarian project or volunteer opportunity
- Swimming/Water park
- Carnival, city celebration, or state fair
- Amusement park
- Tour of some type
- Video game tournament
- Farm or zoo
- Bike rally/Bicycle safety
- Sledding (if during the winter)
- Snowball fight/Snowman building contest (if during the winter)
- Introduce a new skill
What theme are you going to have? Are you going to have a theme?
Having a theme is not totally necessary; however, it makes things fun and gives a sense of cohesiveness to your camp and other items. We like to do invitations, tickets, a unity item (like a shirt or cinch sack), and plan activities around a theme. It really gives the kids a sense that this is something special just for them. So, plan a theme; don’t plan a theme. . .it’s totally up to you!
How are you going to handle discipline at Grandma Camp?
This is a tough one. All my Littles know the rules our home and what kind of behavior we expect. However, you put lots of little people together, throw in some lack of sleep, add a spoonful of sugar, and a dash of being away from normal routine, and you could have a recipe for some misbehavior. So, how are you going to handle it?
This is such an individual decision that I am just going to say that you would be wise to set out the rules and consequences of breaking those rules right up front. This is part of our Opening Ceremonies. We lay out the expected behavior to the Littles as well as the consequences for not following the rules. To make sure they are all paying attention, we have them repeat back to us what is expected. We also give them the reasons for making these rules – mostly safety and for everyone to have fun.
Using a lot of distraction techniques and timeout strategies helps a lot. However, the ultimate threat is that you will have to leave camp and go home. Although, I wouldn’t hesitate to follow through, it is only a very last resort.
These are just some of the things you need to consider when you decide you want to hold a Grandma Camp or Cousin Camp. Don’t make the decision lightly, because it will require some work on your part. However, when we do camp there are just as many rewards for us as there are for our Littles. They’re crazy and rambunctious, but we don’t regret doing it.
What kinds of rewards am I talking about?
Well, for us it’s one of the most cherished times of the whole year for our family. We get to spend some quality time with our grandkids and get to know them just a little bit better – it’s great for building those relationships, you know. The cousins are also bonding – sometimes a little too much when the sibling squabbles begin. Don’t forget the parents – there are benefits for them also. It gives them a little free time and usually a much-needed break from the kiddos in the middle of a long summer.
All in all, the memories we are making are priceless. As a matter of fact, Camp NanaPapa has been such a big hit in our family that by the time it’s over, no one wants to leave. Well. . .maybe Papa and I do look forward to a bit of a rest after they all go home.
Now that you have an idea of where to begin, have the time of your life planning and making memories at your Grandma Camp!
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