If you are looking for a way to connect with grandchildren and bring the cousins closer together, consider Grandma Camp. Grandfathers are often involved in Grandma Camp, but Grandparent Camp has come to mean something slightly different, so the Grandma Camp name is likely to stick.
If you make a practice of having several grandchildren for a sleepover with special activities, then you have already been hosting Grandma Camp, perhaps without calling it by that name. If you’re a little intimidated by the idea of having full responsibility for a gang of grandchildren, these strategies will make the experience manageable and fun for both grandparents and grandchildren.
Who Gets Invited to Grandma Camp?
Lots of grandparents like to host all of their grandchildren at once. If they are widely separated in ages and interests, or if you are intimidated by having all of them at once, you can host more than one Grandma Camp. Usually, however, the older grandkids can be pressed into service to help with the younger ones, and one of the points is to get the grandchildren better acquainted with each other.
For it to really be considered Grandma Camp, the parents have to be gone for at least part of the time. Sometimes the parents are invited for the final day or hours of the event. That’s not a bad idea, as the grandparents may need some help by then. Some grandparents make the rule that their grandchildren must be out of diapers before they can attend. Some say that infants can attend along with their parents. Decide what will work best in your particular situation.
You may want to enlist some extra help. If both grandparents are available and willing to be involved, that’s great. If not, you may want to invite a friend or relative to join the fun. Just be sure the invitee is someone who will pitch in and help. For kids under the age of 10, you probably need a grown-up for each three kids. If you plan activities that require close supervision, such as swimming or camping, you will need an adult for each two kids.
When Should Grandma Camp Be Held?
Most grandparents choose summer, but some opt for spring break or Christmas break. Most Grandma Camps involve sleeping over, but you can get your feet wet with a day camp. I’ve heard of camps that last as long as a week, but most grandparents choose two or three days. Be sure to set the date early enough to allow your family members to get Grandma Camp in their schedules.
Where Will We All Sleep?
Chances are that you don’t have enough beds for your grandchildren. An air mattress is a good solution, as is a piece of foam that can be rolled up and stored during the day. If the kids have sleeping bags, ask the parents to bring them. Using sleeping bags will reduce the amount of bedding that you have to supply and launder. Very young campers require a safe sleep environment, such as a portable crib, and appropriate bedding, which means no pillows, comforters, or blankets.
Some adventurous grandparents like to set up a tent in the yard for their campers. If the weather cooperates, this is a big hit with the kids. At least one adult should stay with the children.
What Should We Eat?
I recommend getting a list of foods that each child will eat ahead of time, unless you already know each kid's taste. Try to come up with menus that will appeal to most of your guests. Do as much food prep as you can ahead of time, and consider having a pizza night when you need a break from the kitchen. Buy cups that can be marked with the kids’ names and paper plates to reduce clean-up time. Don’t stress too much about food. Children will survive a day or two or not eating optimally; however, you should make an effort to uphold the nutritional standards of the kids’ parents.
Should We Have a Schedule?
Lots of grandmas report success in using schedules. They can be invaluable for those grandchildren who really need to know what to expect. One grandma who created a work chart for camp reports that the chore chart has become one of her grandkids' favorite aspects of Grandma Camp. Obviously that’s a talented grandma!
Another grandma who hosts a weeklong day camp for her three grandsons gives them a schedule of each day’s activities that tells just enough to pique their interest.
How Can I Minimize the Mess?
Have some kind of “cubby” for each child. It can be a laundry basket, a fancy collapsible cubby or a cardboard box. Line them up along a wall, and use them for wraps, mislaid objects and anything that is going to be going home with the kids. The house will stay neater, and you’ll be able to find everyone’s belongings quickly.
What About a Theme?
A theme isn't necessary, but some grandparents find that having one makes coming up with ideas easier. Go on safari, or be pirates on a quest for treasure. You'll find that ideas multiply once you decide on a theme.
Should We Go on Outings?
Some grandparents love to take their grandchildren places, and some prefer staying at home. Remember that the amount of adult supervision you will need goes up when you leave the house. Movies, zoos, museums and parks are popular choices for outings. Be sure to set out ground rules before you leave the house, including a projected time for returning home. It’s always a good idea to leave before the kids are really ready, because by the time they are ready to go, they are often overtired. Have an advance plan for handling meals, snacks and gift shops. One way to avoid dropping a fortune in the gift shop of the zoo or museum is to pick up “souvenirs” ahead of time and hide them in the car for the trip home.
What Happens When I Get Tired?
Don’t wear yourself out getting ready for Grandma Camp. Be well rested at the beginning, or you will be exhausted at the end. You will need an occasional breather during the day. Let one adult take over while the other rests. It’s okay to require rest periods for the children as well. You can pop in a movie if that makes it easier. With older children, you can often explain that Grandma must rest for half an hour. Set the kitchen timer, put your feet up and refuse to budge for half an hour. In fact, make the grandchildren wait on you!
Find hints and ideas from grandparents who have hosted Grandma Camps.