A couple weeks back, Mark and I hosted our second annual Cousin’s Camp. I shared about it over on Instagram, and had so many people reach out interested in learning how to plan their own for their grandkids!

I grew up around my grandparents and spent time with them spontaneously. But it wasn’t until a friend of mine became a grandma and started doing “Grammy Camp” that I even considered doing something more intentional with my grandkids.

We started with Cousin’s Weekends. In the beginning, two of our grandkids lived over an hour from us and one lived where we lived. They loved seeing each other and playing together so we started setting aside one weekend a month for our Cousin’s Weekends. The kids arrive at 5pm on Friday and stay until 5pm on Saturday, providing 24 hours for them to play together, for us to enjoy time with them, and for their parents to have a break. We’ve since added more grandkids and still do our Cousin’s Weekends every 4-8 weeks. They are currently scheduled on our calendar through the end of the year!

Last year, we took a cue from my friend Julie who is the one who introduced me to “Grammy Camp.” We decided to stick with our Cousin’s Weekend theme and call ours Cousin’s Camp. While Cousin’s Weekends are open to our grandkids of any age, Cousin’s Camp has an age requirement of six and older. This allows us to do activities and crafts that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.

If you’re a grandparent who’d like to spend a little more intentional time with your grandkids, here are a few suggestions for how you can make Cousin’s Camp happen in your family:

Set a Date

We chose three days/two nights for our initial camp and we kept that for the second one this past summer. We are considering making some “Cousin’s Camp” roadtrips in the future so they may be longer. But for now, the three day/two night format works well.

If your grandkids don’t live nearby, setting a date in advance can help parents make travel plans to allow their kids to experience Cousin’s Camp.

Extend an Invitation to the Parents

Let the parents know what you’d like to do and the dates you’ve set aside on the calendar. Don’t get frustrated if some grandkids come and others don’t. And don’t take that personally (although it’s always good to ask, “Is there anything I do that keeps you from wanting the kids to come? If so, I’d appreciate knowing that so I can address that in my life if I need to.” That’s a topic I wrote about in this post. If you read it, make sure you read the post and the comments!)

Set a Theme and Plan Activities

We try to set a theme each year to guide our activities. Last summer it was The Great United States. We focused on learning all 50 states, played games that helped with state recognition, and took a hike to explore things that were unique to the state of Illinois. I find Google and Pinterest to be helpful in planning activities. I often tap into blogs and resources that are created for homeschoolers studying these topics.

This year our theme was The Good Earth. We did activities with rocks, toured a local gem museum, went on a hike, and learned how to fish. We also did a dramatic reading of the story of creation in Genesis.

Although it didn’t have anything to do with our theme, this year each of the kids also got to be in charge of one meal. They set the menu, shopped for the ingredients, and made all the food for that meal (they are 9, 9, and 11 years old–I’m not sure I would have done that with younger kids 🙂). Of course, I helped with the meal prep as needed. This also gave me some one-on-one time with each of the kids. They LOVED this part of Cousin’s Camp and are still talking about it today!

We always try to throw swimming into the mix of Cousin’s Camp (what’s camp without swimming?)! We have friends who have a pool they’re happy to let us use.

I also try to think of character traits and skills I want the kids to learn. The past two years we have focused on gratefulness. Last year I gave each of the kids their own “Grateful Journal” and had them sit down for 15 minutes each day of camp to write down what they were grateful for that day. This year we created a grateful poster instead. From a skills perspective, last year we focused on learning how to set a table and this year we focused on cooking.

Plan Crafts

The kids LOVE doing tie-dye shirts so we repeated that craft this year too. They love wearing them the next day and matching each other. This year I found some “design-your-own-frames” at Walmart that I let them decorate. We took a picture of the three of them and put it in the frame on the last day so they have a visual reminder of their time at Cousin’s Camp. Sometimes I get craft ideas from just walking the aisles at a craft and hobby store and other times I find my ideas on Pinterest.

Tip: If crafts are messy, do them outside. We always do our tie-dye shirts outside on the picnic table!

Give Guidelines

We say right up front that this is a non-screen event. They have to put their phones and tablets away. At first it’s hard for them, but later they don’t even miss them.

I also require 30 minutes of reading every day of Cousin’s Camp. I tell them ahead of time to bring a book to read (I also keep books for them to read at my house in case they forget or in case they finish one while they’re here and need another one to start.) This is helpful in three ways:

1) It encourages reading. Reading is an important part of a child’s development.
2) Everyone needs a break from each other. When they have 30 minutes to quiet down and read, it reduces conflict among the cousins/siblings.
3) Nana and Papaw desperately need a break!

Be Flexible

With kids, flexibility is the name of the game. You can plan out activities and crafts, but if you need to adjust, that’s fine!

It’s also important to be flexible with what Cousin’s Camp looks like as the kids get older. My friend Julie had to stop doing Grammy Camp for a few years because the kids got busy and even lost interest. This year they reinstated it with a “Grammy Trip” to the Smokey Mountains as the kids are older and taking a trip was more interesting to some of them. Being flexible with what you do and who participates is key to enjoying whatever gathering you make happen!

What about you? Do you do anything like Cousin’s Camp? Do your children’s grandparents do this? If so, what suggestions would you add to what I’ve shared?

Empty Nest Full Life book cover