Growing up, a trip to my grandparent’s house each summer to spend time with family was a given. It was a highly anticipated trip filled with arts and crafts, swimming, feeding the goats, and picking strawberries. We were lucky to have young, involved grandparents within driving distance and even cousins nearby with which we enjoyed these special summer days.
And now that I have kids, they are in the same, lucky position – young, involved grandparents that are just a summer road trip away. My parents, however, take this concept of a summer visit with the cousins to the next level… they host a weeklong summer “camp” called Camp Gram and Grandpa. This week is a win-win… the kids love spending time with family away from their parents (“no parents allowed!”, they say) and my husband and I don’t mind the week off from parenting. Sometimes we take a trip sans kids while they’re away, but sometimes we have fun staying local, catching up on work, and venturing out on nightly dates.
Each year after camp, my friends and my parent’s friends reach out with a request to send over notes, schedules, and ideas on what goes into the planning and execution of this fun, adventurous week. So, without further ado, I am handing it over to my dad (aka Grandpa) to introduce you to… Grandparent’s Camp!
Written by: Tim Davis (a.k.a. Grandpa)
When our girls were young, one of our friends gave us the idea of a grandparent’s camp. Each summer, their kids would go to Camp Nana & Papa and, honestly, we couldn’t wait to have grandkids old enough for us to host a similar week. Many years later, our wish came true – our oldest grandkid became potty trained (no diapers at grandparent’s camp!), which officially kicked off what we call Camp Gram and Grandpa. Last summer marked our 9th year of having camp.
What makes Grandparent’s Camp so special? Well, for us it’s a time to get all 4 of our grandkids (currently ages 11, 10, 9, and 6) together for some summer quality time. It’s a week where electronics are put down (yes, we have a “no electronics” rule) and, instead, we get dirty outdoors and messy with art projects. We hike, play in the river, build birdhouses, have simple meals, and lots of laughter.
Whether the camp is for 1-2 days or a full week, the quality time we spend together makes memories I hope the kids carry with them for years to come.
If you are a grandparent ready to hear more specifics on how we plan our camp (or if you are a parent ready to pitch this idea to your parents or in-laws), read on! With 9 years of camps under our belts, we have some ideas to pass along that might help make your camp exciting and special (and reduce stress in some cases).
We learned that it’s best to do some prep work leading up to Grandparent’s Camp. Not that everything goes to plan, but it’s still nice to have one! Here are some items to consider leading up to Grandparent’s Camp.
- We have matching T-shirts made. Yep, each year we create a t-shirt design, have it printed at a local store, and wear the shirts each day of camp. It’s easy to keep up with everyone when we are out and simplifies getting dressed in the morning. Each night, we do a quick load of laundry to keep them clean!
- We create a daily schedule and share it with the kids the week before camp. We include planned activities, an occasional craft, a building project, and meals. The grandkids love reviewing the week’s schedule in anticipation of their fun week away. That said, we’ve learned that keeping the schedule flexible is key and that blocking some downtime is vital. Some kids need naps and some activities take longer than you expect (no need to rush them while watching their leaf boats race down a stream… let them enjoy the moment).
- We also send out a camp packing list. Is this completely necessary? No. Is it fun for the grandkids (and helps the parents)? Yes. (see below for a sample packing list)
- We pick daily camp leaders. I don’t know about you, but our grandkids enjoy leading the group and making decisions. To minimize arguments, we select a leader for the day. Whenever key decisions need to be made, like whether to go get a snow cone or ice cream, the leader of the day gets to decide. This past year we let the daily leader choose their favorite meal for dinner. We bought ingredients in advance, and whenever it came time to cook the meal, the kid who selected it, helped prepare it. All kids pitch in on dinner clean-up and if all goes well, they are rewarded in the evening with a nightly movie selected by the daily leader.
- Plan to include others, especially if you need support. Some grandparents may want to have a camp, but maybe they do not have the help of a spouse and don’t believe they can do it all on their own. We recommend finding help – maybe 1-2 of your adult kids, a friend, a great aunt or uncle, or in some cases a great-grandparent may lend some support. In fact, my mother lives close to us, so we include her in some of the activities – she even gets a camp shirt. She absolutely loves to help and enjoys watching the kids have fun. Each year, we bring the kids to her house to bake cookies and play a card or board game.
- Our camp has changed a lot since our first year with only one 3-year-old Grandkid, now with four! The length of our camp is usually 4 to 5 nights and, at the pace we keep, we are all exhausted by the end. I would suggest that you start out with fewer nights and increase as you feel you can handle.
Each morning of camp starts with a strict morning routine – breakfast, pledge of allegiance, prayer time, and the all-important camp cheer. The camp cheer is something I made up along the lines of a military march. It’s catchy, cheesy, and fun for the kids.
Each evening ends with dinner (pre-planned by the daily leader as discussed above) and a movie to wind down the day. During the movie, they enjoy the highly demanded mixture of popcorn, Skittles, M&Ms, Reece’s Pieces, and maybe some gummy bears, all mixed in their individual bowls. And although that amount of sugar seems like it goes against “wind down” time, our days are usually active and the rarely have issues going to sleep.
In between morning and evening? Well, that’s up to you! Here are some tips we’ve learned over the years.
- Explore your surroundings – Because we live in Blue Ridge, GA most of our activities are centered around our local area and landscape. The kids enjoy the simple outdoor activities we grew up with. One year the kids spent hours at a stream – they used rocks and mud to build a small dam, played in the pool of water they created, and then broke the dam down before we continued hiking.
- Use online resources – We check out Trip Advisor and our local town websites for fun places or events that might be happening. These are both great resources to help plan your week.
- Plan indoor activities –Gram does a really good job of planning a few craft activities with the kids. We’ve learned to keep things simple and age-specific to hold the kids’ attention. Favorite projects include painting canvases and decorating planters (plus adding plants). We do about 2-3 projects at each camp and the kids love bringing their creations home to show their parents. Gram keeps a large container filled with camp aprons, paint supplies, and other activities purchased during the year. If we do not get to a particular activity for the current camp, we just save it in the box for next year.
- Teach them something you enjoy – I love leading the kids through a building project. Their favorite is building birdhouses – and it’s even more special when they bring them home and they get to see a bird building a nest in their house! It’s amazing how much fun a kid can have learning how to hammer a nail or screw into a board. Pretty simple, but if you have never learned to do it, a lot of joy comes from learning how to hold a hammer, a screwdriver, or even a drill driver (for older kids). If building isn’t your thing, then consider your own hobbies and talents. Skills like sewing, crocheting, using an engraving tool, or other simple teachable moments can peek a lot of interest.
- Keep their ages in mind – Everything we do is tailored to the ages of our group. Some days we have a different plan for the older grandkids vs the younger ones. For example, I took the older ones on a trail ride at an equestrian venue, while our younger grandson enjoyed a pony ride around a rink and got to visit the other animals with Gram. Don’t underestimate the younger ones though – they try their best to hang with the big ones.
- Plan one over-the-top event – My daughters say I am a little over the top at times. Well, I definitely went over the top last year, and it required a lot of work and planning. I planned a Gilligan’s Island-themed day for the kids that required working together and solving challenges. It wasn’t for the faint of heart, but it was an absolute blast for the grandkids, and it was fun for us to watch their minds and hands at work. Check out my Gilligan’s Island Overview
- Need some more inspiration on what to plan for your Grandparent’s Camp? Take a look at the Activity Ideas HERE.
We know that our Camp Gram and Grandpa time with our oldest granddaughter and those who follow her is likely not going to last many more years. We are unsure if we will be cool enough for a teenager, but we certainly hope so. In the meantime, we will continue to enjoy this tradition.
Our good friend’s parents, who gave us the idea of Camp Gram and Grandpa over 30 years ago, have since passed away. As their grandkids, who attended Camp Nana & Papa, helped to sort through the grandparents’ possessions after their death, the single most favored and sought-after item for them to keep was those simply designed t-shirts from camp. They were not items of great value, but it was the memories those shirts represented. What a great testament to the love those kids enjoyed with their grandparents.
We hope to one day gather all those camp shirts together and make a blanket for each one of our grandchildren whenever they graduate high school. It may get buried in a closet or stuck in a box, or it may provide the warmth we hope they felt at Camp Gram and Grandpa. No matter what happens to the blanket, the memories will follow them for the rest of their lives, and maybe one day, they too will be feeding their grandkids sugary treats or sardines (see the Over-the-Top Event–Gilligan’s Island section) while on their way to the next adventure of Grandparents Camp.
Disclaimer from Grandpa: The ideas and suggestions above are made with no warranty of fun and in certain cases can actually cause injury, sickness, and maybe even death. All precautions should be taken with guidance from doctors, lawyers, law enforcement, animal control, clergy, engineers, safety directors, social services, dieticians, and anyone else in the world who may be an expert on any particular topic, activity, food or anything else related to any of the above. It is extremely likely that both kids and grandparents will conclude the camp experience with a long nap or a night’s sleep. Do not operate any equipment, vehicle, or machinery during that time. We are also not responsible for you or your grandkids having too much fun or memories which may last a lifetime because YOU ARE.
(sang in a military cadence beat)
Camp Gram and Grandpa is the best of all
We just play and have a ball
They will spoil us every day
Then they will send us on our way
Sound off 1, 2, Bring it on down 3, 4
1, 2, 3, 4,
- Go for a hike on a local trail, park or even neighborhood. If you are up on nature identification, spend the time showing grandkids different kinds of trees, plants, animals, and other natural wonders. It might even be a good time to talk about the dangers of poisonous snakes and other critters in the wild.
- Go for a picnic. We have a picnic almost every day if the weather is good.
- Roller skating
- Putt putt golf (indoor or outdoor)
- Build a fort in the woods
- Build a fort inside by draping old sheets over furniture. Even a large box can be fun to play with if properly vented. Cut out a door and windows. Allow the kids to use crayons or markers to decorate their fort or home
- Go to a local farm for pony or horse rides
- Visit a petting zoo
- Enjoy a bonfire, complete with weenie roast and s’mores
- Visit a playground or ball field and play kick ball or whiffle ball
- Visit a place to feed ducks
- Visit a local lake, river, pool and enjoy the water
- Play outdoor games that you might have available. Introduce them to age-appropriate games that they may have never played like horseshoes, badminton or ring toss
- Go to a local farm to pick fruit
- Enjoy a hay ride
- Visit a local river or stream and find tree leaves that float and have the kids race their “leaf boat”. Better yet, carve a little boat out of wood or a chunk of pine bark
- Take a field trip to a local zoo or Childrens museum
- Go on an overnight campout or even camp in the back yard
- Go fishing
- Go canoeing, kayaking, or float on a tube down a river
- Visit a water park
- Visit a theme park
- Allow time for free play where the kids simply enjoy their own time to do what they might enjoy doing
- Visit a local snow cone or ice cream place
- Visit a gem or gold mining business (or I am sure with some imagination and creativity, you can create your own gem mining fun)
- Setup an ice cream sundae station and enjoy
- Visit a local rock climbing or bounce house business
- Do a scavenger hunt
- If available, go boating on a lake
- Catch a movie at your local theater
- Catch a movie at your local drive-in
- Play hide n seek
- Complete a special craft like painting a small flower pot, add a small plant or flower and deliver it to neighbors or even a nursing home
- Enjoy water balloon fun
- Play on a slip and slide
- Go to an arcade. Give each child a few dollars to spend. The hard part is pulling them away, so be sure to communicate spending limits in advance
- Teach your grandkids games that you played as a child, that they may have never played (red rover, etc)
- Host a talent show or dance contest (be sure to introduce them to the music of the good ole days)
- Explore your local attractions – in or near Blue Ridge, we have a Big Foot Museum, Brasstown Bald, indoor putt putt, a pinball arcade, a train, and a drive-in theater
- Nap or quiet time
Camp Packing Checklist
- Water shoes
- Hiking shoes
- Swim suits
- Life vest
- Hat or cap
- Swim goggles
- Clothes (incl. underwear, socks, etc)
- Clothes that can get dirty
- Sleeping bag
- $10-$20 for miscellaneous spending by the grandkid
- Copy of health insurance cards and authorization for medical treatment
Gilligan’s Island Overview
Lake Blue Ridge is beautifully nestled in the Chattahoochee National Forest and has a few small islands within the lake. While enjoying the lake one day, I came up with the idea that one of those small lake islands would make a great place for a shipwreck of castaways as part of a 3-hour tour. The wheels started turning and soon I was planning a Gilligan’s Island themed day for our camp. I even matched the personalities of our grandchildren to characters. Gilligan, the Skipper, the Professor, and Mary Ann. Gram and I are, of course, Mr. and Mrs. Howell. Our dog even joined in as Ginger (no offense to the actual Ginger…).
I secretly gathered simple costume items – a sailor’s hat, a captain’s hat, and clothing items for the Professor and Mary Ann. Although we kept the special day a surprise from the grandkids, at the beginning of camp we watched a few episodes of Gilligan’s Island to familiarize them with the characters, the setting, and the storyline. We told them that it was important that they pay close attention to the characters and how they survived on a deserted island. Luckily, they enjoyed the show.
The morning of our surprise, I set up our deserted island (did I mention I can be over-the-top?).
- I transported bamboo poles that I cut in a nearby area and some firewood. I scattered the poles and wood around the island, so the castaways would have to search for the items to build their hut and fire (all under strict supervision of Mr. and Mrs. Howell, of course).
- I hung bananas and a pineapple high in the trees.
- I filled a couple of plastic bags with food, water, and a few random items – I secured these bags high up between trees so the kids would have to figure out how to get them down.
- I packed a small hatchet, small saw, rope and cloth for hammocks, cord for a hut, golf ball, hammer, wooden mallet, a small knife, zip ties, a few colors of kid’s paint and a small cloth for a flag, pieces of paper for fire starter, matches, an old tarp, an old cooking pan, paper plates, roll of paper towels, soap, hand sanitizer, tape, and a few other very random items.
- I had also prepared several torn, partially burned pieces of paper with written instructions and placed them in plastic bottles. Those became their “messages in a bottle” and as their adventure got started, I would throw a bottle into the water, which they had to retrieve. After following each set of instructions, another bottle would drift ashore. They sometimes had to use the little pocketknife to cut the bottle open (luckily, they are trained on how to safely use a pocketknife… and the Howell’s helped supervise). The following are some of the messages:
- Welcome Castaways,
You are shipwrecked on a deserted island. You must be very careful in your surroundings by watching for snakes and other things that could hurt you. As you know, each of you were named prior to your arrival.
Skipper: Brave and sure
Gilligan: Fun and energetic to help
Professor: Smart and inventive
Mary Ann: Sweet, helpful, and practical
Mr. Howell: Rich, boring, and lazy
Mrs. Howell: Rich, spacey, and lazy
You must act like your described character the entire time and refer to each other in character. You are not to do anything dangerous. Although the Howells are snobs, you may be provided with certain clues at certain times by them. Clues for living. Clues for survival. Clues for possible rescue. Do not ask them for clues. They will only provide them whenever they want to. As Castaways, your first goal is to set up your new home. You will need a hut in case of rain, a place to lay down to rest, food, and create your own entertainment. Additional clues for living and for getting off the island may be found on the island or possibly a message in a bottle. Good luck Castaways. You will need it!!!
- The only way for you to survive is to work together. You must all agree to work together. If one of you can’t work with the others, none of you will ever be rescued. What is the best way to get things done? By using your talents, the tools you have, and the items you find, you can construct your new home. Mr. and Mrs. Howell will tell you if you do something that you should not. You must listen to them.
- Always be careful not to waste supplies. You may need some of them later. (Example: bottles to be cut up for drinking cups)
- Any great group of castaways know that they need an official Castaway Flag. (Use paint and cloth to make a flag}
- All smart castaways know that the one way to get rescued is to make a large “HELP” sign out of things found on the island.
- Food is very scarce on the island. Be sure to look for food in all kinds of places where it might grow. Even monkeys know that. (Pineapples and bananas up in trees)
- You never know what might wash up on a beach in the middle of the ocean. Some things might be edible or useful. (Watermelon)
Our Gilligan’s Island theme day started with the theme song as we rode our boat to the island. Once they arrived, the first message in a bottle was spotted by the Howells. The kids quickly started to search for items on the island that they might need to set up their living arrangements, some of which were tied in the trees and they had to get down. They gathered up items for their hut, and the Howells did help with some of the construction. They made hammocks and set up their sleeping quarters. Next, the Howells suggested that they eat. Their bag of food included crackers, Vienna sausage, potted meat, and sardines. Believe it or not, they actually ate some of the items provided, and our youngest even tasted the sardines.
Once we had enjoyed the grimaces and talks of disgusting food, we then surprised them with the Howells’ stash of hotdogs, buns, and a can of beans. With the Howells’ help, they built a fire, roasted the hotdogs, and cooked the can of beans. They also found the pineapple and bananas, followed by the watermelon.
They were encouraged by the Howells to create their own fun. The Professor found a stick and taped it to the wooden mallet. He then dug a hole in the ground to create hole one for his golf course. He put the random golf ball I packed to good use.
The kids worked great together and had an absolute blast as castaways. With the help of their flag flown at the point of the island and their “HELP” sign made of rocks, they were rescued. It was a happy ending to a great day. The preparation was definitely over the top, but I can truly say it was worth it. I believe they will remember the adventures of “Gilligan’s Island” for the rest of their life.
Make sure you check out Atlanta Mom’s fantastic Summer Camp Guide.