Getting Ready for Cousins Camp!

IMG_7303This week John and I are getting ready for Cousins Camp. This will be our 8th year in which we host our grandkids for 4 days and 3 nights at the farm. Parents are not allowed! You have to be age 4 to attend. It begins this Saturday when 19 wild, excited grandkids descend on our place. In the past we’ve had these kids by ourselves but we have not lost our minds-yet. This year we are having a young couple from our church serve as “staff!” There’s no way the two of us can lifeguard this many kids in the pond!

“Cousin Camp” runs from Saturday until Tuesday dinner when the parents arrive with the under 4’s and “Family Camp” begins and continues until Sunday.

Over the eight years we’ve been doing this we’ve made a lot of mistakes, had a blast, and learned a few things. Here are some of them!

There are three essentials: digital clocks, water bottles with names on them, and shoe tubs!

We’ve always had a 7 o’clock rule. Each bedroom has a simple digital battery clock and we tell the kids they cannot come out of their rooms in the morning until it says 7:00 (we draw a seven for the ones who can’t yet read.) One young child exclaimed, “Mom the best thing about Camp was the 7 o’clock thing!”

When the kids arrive at camp they receive a simple bucket with a few snacks. But most crucial are a flashlight and a water bottle. (Note: we buy inexpensive water bottles with lids that are attached, and we put names on everything.) The first thing we do is to show the kids how to go into a certain bathroom, pull out the stool to reach the sink, turn on the water, and fill their own bottle. We tell them anytime they are thirsty they can get their own water in this sink. This keeps them from asking us for water and keeps them from crowding around the kitchen sink! Can you imagine 19 kids wanting us to get them water at the same time? The little ones are proud they can do it by themselves! They keep their bottles in a large bucket when not in use.

After years of tripping over shoes and losing them, I put plastic bins for shoes by the door. One is marked for those ages 9 and under and the second for those over 9. (We use these when all the families arrive as well.) As kids go in and out of the house they throw their shoes in the bins!

Here are a few other things we’ve learned over the years:

  1. Plan and organize well and then be ready to throw out any part of the plan!Several weeks before camp John and I have a planning meeting. Each year we do some things differently based on the ages and numbers of the kids. We also try to insert one new thing each year however we’ve discovered that the kids like doing the same things year after year and often ask, “When are we going to…?”
    Mornings include a Bible study with my husband. Every year we have a theme. This year the theme is “Kindness.” The kids all have journals with a picture of themselves glued to the cover. With the help of the older cousins, they write verses or draw pictures in them about our study. These journals live at the farm so they can add to them year after year. We horseback ride in the mornings and usually have another activity like swimming or fishing in the pond or berry picking. Lunch is mostly sandwiches in an assembly line. (Note: We keep food simple. And we do not give choices. That would be way too crazy! Camp is not about the food.) There’s a rest hour for everyone after lunch and often little ones fall asleep. Afternoon activities might include: crafts, a scavenger hunt, building things (I collect scrap wood from houses under construction and have a supply of hammers and nails.), playing in the creek, a dance party, and so-mores.
  2. LogisticsSiblings sleep with siblings. This gives security for new campers and helps all go to bed more easily. We have lots of floor space with sleeping bags and often a fearful child or two in our room. One of everyone’s favorite things is our “buddy system.” The older kids are assigned to be a buddy for each younger camper. They help them dress, find lost things, clean up, read at bedtime, and do whatever we ask. A big surprise has been how much the older ones like this! Way before camp I am asked, “Ghee, whose buddy to I get to be at camp this year?”
    Everyone wants to be a big buddy. We also have chores. Camp clean up in the morning and then at the end of most days. But I have had to completely lay aside my dreams of a clean house. It will not be clean during camp. Kids will wear dirty clothes and not get baths every day. And things will get broken.   But I tell myself there are other more important things going on here.
  3. Special eventsThis year our campers range in age from 4 to 17. Callie, our oldest loves to cook so she plans and teaches a cooking class for the others. This year we are cooking blue berry turnovers and pies with blueberries we’ll pick at the local orchard. Our grandson Will is learning to be a good horseman so He assists in the riding lessons. Isabel and Sylvia love crafts so they help with the crafts. I’m learning to ask God to show me my grandchild’s passions and play to their strengths by involving them in teaching the younger ones. I also ask their parent’s advice in this. Each year during camp we have a “bad manners-good manners” skit. The older cousins act out a bad way to greet someone-hang your head, mumble, etc. and a good way-look them in the eye, reach out your hand, say your name. The kids get creative and we roar in laughter. Each cousin has to do it right to “pass.” It is a fun way to teach manners. Our last night of camp we have a little candle light ceremony in which we initiate the new campers into the B.O.C. (Band of Cousins). We give them a pottery cross and we teach them our pledge: “As cousins we pledge to serve the Lord and to take care of each other always.” The cross represents God’s love for us and our love for each other. John anoints each new camper with oil and prays for him or her. Of course the little ones don’t take it all in but as they hear this repeated each year with future cousins we hope it will sink in.
  4. Factor in free timeAlthough we have a pretty full schedule we do put “Free Play” on the schedule. (We post a simple camper schedule for the kids and this helps to eliminate, “what are we doing next?” It’s easy for kids to expect to be entertained all the time but this isn’t healthy. We are too tired and they need to create their own play! So we have a list of: “Things to do by myself or with someone else. “ (None of these need an adult.) Included are: read, climb trees, color, play bocce, look at photo albums, get a cup and collect worms and bugs, build a fort in the woods, create a scavenger hunt, do puzzles, write a song, draw with chalk, play soccer, or corn hole, etc.So when a child doesn’t know what to do in free time or says, “I’m bored” we send them to the list. And we encourage them to add to it! It’s now up to 53 things. Kids don’t need a lot of fancy stuff to have fun. In fact simplicity can be a blessing. It provides the opportunity to foster creativity together.

As we approached this year’s Cousin Camp/Family Camp we enlist friends to pray for us- for safety for all (we’d rather not visit the ER!), for patience and endurance for us, and for lots of laughter. We know we’ll get impatient, exhausted, frustrated, and at times feel like we were failing as grandparents. But the good news is that God knows our weaknesses and He can redeem our mistakes! Over the years, we’ve noticed how the young kids rise to the occasion. They behave better for us than for their parents. (My Mom used to say the same thing!). They aren’t perfect. Neither are their grandparents. We’ll probably have to separate siblings and send several to “time out.” We’ll have opportunities to say, “I’m sorry and will you forgive me.”

The joy of seeing cousins bond with one another makes this our favorite week of our year. However, don’t call us the week after; John and I will be in bed!

Check back next week to get a blog update on Cousin’s Camp! There will also be regular update on my Facebook & Twitter! 


18 Comments on Getting Ready for Cousins Camp!

  1. Sheila Mom to Seven
    July 28, 2015 at 2:28 pm (3 years ago)

    Wow. I can only hope and pray to be this creative and self-sacrificing – with my own kids, and eventually grandkids.

  2. Mary Nesvig
    July 15, 2015 at 2:14 am (3 years ago)

    Thank you for your wonderful ideas for Cousins Camp! I have been doing a Nana Camp for 3 years now with my sister and her grand kids.
    We also have a theme or godly character trait we want to emphasize. We have given them a book each year to take home that reinforces it.
    The parents have loved sending their kids that are potty trained to our little camp of 3 days and 2 nights. We play games, do a treasure hunt, sing our Nana Camp song, memorize a bible verse, and do outings. It’s lots of fun though a bit exhausting for the Nanas. I think when my husband retires we’ll change it to Cousins Camp so he can help out! Blessings!

    • Sarah Sagely Klotz
      July 6, 2015 at 8:05 pm (3 years ago)

      Thanks Brian!

      • Susan Yates
        July 6, 2015 at 8:07 pm (3 years ago)

        Brian, Your wife is the best!

  3. Connie Clements
    June 27, 2015 at 1:58 am (3 years ago)

    Betsy West told me about your blog (and specifically your cousins’ camp). We, too, have what we call Clements Cousins’ Camp (because all our 12 grandkids have the same last name) and are also having our 8th cousins’ camp this summer. But, unlike you two (who need a medal for endurance) we only have ours for one night and two full days. My husband was the only child of a single mother and is also an introvert, so this is his limit. We have different t-shirts every year. I also make new pillowcases for their goodie bag (coordinates with the t-shirt) that contains water bottles with their names, journals, pens, pencils, glow sticks, and whatever treats I come up with. Two of our grandkids have become voracious journal writers, starting from that first camp they went to 8 years ago. We, too, have our campers start at age 4 (and potty trained). Since we don’t have a constant big place for everyone, there have been times when the parents get to come for part of it. My husband and I in those cases pull the kids away for a day outing. You are blessed to have the farm. One year, when the schedules just didn’t work with everyone, I was about to scrap it for that year when Betsy said she couldn’t handle that. She didn’t have grandkids yet and loved our tradition. So I quickly put together a local cousins’ camp where the parents dropped the campers with G-ma and Papa and we headed from Salem, OR to Portland on Amtrak for a wonderful day at OMSI (a space museum). We actually got our t-shirts that year from the National Train Assoc. and I had all their names put on the back with a logo. Like you and your hubby, it can be stressful with so many and I wonder if we sound like cranky grandparents at times, but it’s so rewarding and they certainly look forward to it. Let’s pray for each other that both our camps are awesome and reap eternal rewards.

  4. Lynda Smethurst
    June 20, 2015 at 1:16 am (3 years ago)

    You inspire me, Susan! Thanks so much for sharing with us– I am new to grandparenthood and this idea is wonderful! Thanks for all the details. Love to your whole family, and we look forward to having some of your grandkids at sb2w soon!

  5. Carolyn Anderson
    June 19, 2015 at 11:52 am (3 years ago)

    Love this! What a fantastic way to build a family together for a lifetime. Can’t wait to do this one day!

  6. Virginia Watson
    June 18, 2015 at 2:52 am (3 years ago)

    A tip of my hat to you and John. You are memory makers for your grandchildren and children—what a blessing. You are also a good example to the rest of us. Since families today often live in widely scattered locations togetherness and love for one another won’t happen without effort. It is a blessing that you pull your family together for fun, teaching, love,laughter, and that precious commodity, time for one another. I will be praying for everyone to be healthy, and that God will make his face to shine on you.
    In admiration,

    • kay allred
      June 18, 2015 at 2:35 pm (3 years ago)

      Love, love and more love. Generations of mommies and daddies will glean lots of good info. Thank you for sharing. And most importantly love your dedication to family. You and John have truly been an inspiration in my children (Meredith Copley) and grand’s lives.
      Blessings to you always~

  7. Yvonne
    June 18, 2015 at 1:24 am (3 years ago)

    Loved reading through this! I learned several great tips we can implement this summer-shoe bins, filling up water bottles, list of adult free activities. I have no doubt you will have a fabulous time with your precious grand kids. And they will never forget how loved they felt. 🙂

  8. Jenn Discher
    June 17, 2015 at 8:15 pm (3 years ago)

    I love this in so many ways!! I am so encouraged by families who do things like this. It gives me vision for my own family (our littles are 5, 3 1/2, and 6 months) and (almost) makes me want to have loads more kids so our grandkids will have a huge band of cousins someday ;). Love learning from you, Susan!!

  9. Joan Alexander
    June 17, 2015 at 3:41 pm (3 years ago)

    This sounds like so much fun! You and John are amazing! I know that all will have a great time!

  10. Jennifer Balet
    June 17, 2015 at 2:56 pm (3 years ago)

    I want to come!! What a blessing for everyone- and even the parents (your children) to have a break from parenting…it truly is a 24/7 job. Someday I want to be this kind of grandparent! Thanks for the idea and I look forward to reading more and laughing along side your experience of cousin camp this year!

  11. Eliz dale
    June 17, 2015 at 2:41 pm (3 years ago)

    Great ideas Susan. Will borrow a few for my days with grand children. Love your posts. Enjoy your time.

  12. Merritt
    June 17, 2015 at 3:31 am (3 years ago)

    i love this! I’ve always heard about this Cousins Camp and I enjoyed reading about some of the logistics.

    • Eliz dale
      June 17, 2015 at 2:42 pm (3 years ago)

      Great ideas Susan. Will borrow a few for my days with grand children. Love your posts. Enjoy your time.

    • Susan Yates
      July 6, 2015 at 7:52 pm (3 years ago)

      Thanks so much for being such a faithful follower! It means a lot to me.
      Love, Susan


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