We have 17 grandkids; 12 of them are adopted. It is a special dynamic that we have chosen to live in our family and we try to do the best we can. Our Christmas’ are crazy and amazing. My wife and I try to stay connected to them as much as possible but it is difficult because of the number of grandkids we have.
One of the connections we make every year is a thing we call “Cousin Camp”. It is a 24-hour period that the kids stay at our house. We do a lot of stuff like crafts, food, and fun things like swimming and hiking. It is something I look forward to every summer. And the kids really like being with their cousins.
We have had to divide the kids up into 3 groups now. The 5 younger boys, the 6 older boys and the 5 girls. Our youngest granddaughter hasn’t attended yet. The rule is they must be potty-trained to attend!
It is part of the whole parenting by permission philosophy that we live by. We want to have input into their lives but they aren’t our kids. *** We have an open door policy with our kids, that they can come and talk to us about their kids if they feel the need. We don’t intrude on their decisions and their parenting style unless asked.
We also get permission to do things we know could be something their parents might not like. We don’t violate the parents word, but try to reinforce what they say. We try to build on the foundation they have already laid at home.
Cousin Camp is a way for us to continually build relationship and connection. Many times grandparents are either overly involved or disconnected. We try to strike a solid balance.
We have done lots of things like boat riding, swimming, skateboarding, and we have even taken an airplane ride at one of our Cousin Camps. It has gotten kind of expensive so we have concentrated more on activities we can do at our house like crafts and art.
The kids get to our house at 9:00 AM and leave the next day at 9:00 AM. (This year we did 10:00-9:00 which worked better for us.) We start with rules like…You always listen to grandma. No running in the house. Keep your voice down, and so on. The kids are almost always very obedient. I’ve never had to take the kids home or call their parents.
We always teach the kids a life principle using a Bible verse to reinforce what we’re teaching them. We go over the verse several times and try to coordinate the activities around it.
Some of the greatest memories that I have are related to Cousin Camp and that is one of the thing we are doing. Creating memories.
We get a different color of shirts each year (usually we buy at JoAnn Fabric for about $2.00) and take to Northwest Trophy where they screen print the front “Tracy Cousin Camp” with a picture and each name on the back
Invites and shirt delivery:
Each kids receives a party invitation in the mail with a few dollars or gift card in it. Kids LOVE to get mail! Then we deliver their shirts (and sometimes get their bikes or scooters if needed) the night before they come.
*Parenting by permission:
I mentioned parenting by permission. This concept is a mindset. We don’t do things that defy the parenting principles that are put in place by the parents. The grandkids are not our responsibility but we do have a responsibility. We teach the kids to always obey their parents. We try to have an open communication with our kids about the things we do. We have developed a trust over the years that has helped us stay on task. The kids know that we are good decision makers and won’t do things that are counterproductive. We have a series of principles that we all live by and we enforce and reinforce them. For example, we don’t give the grandkids money without their parents knowing. The grandkids know this and won’t ask us for money, especially the older ones, because they know we will tell their parents. I often have one of the grandkids here working so they can make money, however.
We try to be as authentic as possible with the kids and grandkids. We don’t keep secrets although we don’t necessarily tell the kids everything. We use discretion with information and try to handle little discipline problems as they crop up. If we feel that the parents need to know about a violation of some kind we tell them. Most of what we do is based in attitude. If we have an issue, which we do at every level, we stay positive and won’t let it dictate our day.
Ages and separations:
We realized very early on that we could only handle a few kids at a time and started doing multiple Camps per summer. Our first summer we only had 5 so we didn’t have to split them up. But as we gained more kids, we had to make some changes.
We try to set dates that work for everyone at least a month or two ahead of time. It is getting harder to get the older kids scheduled because of sports and other activities. They are very involved in the church and school. But we have always been able to do it. The most recent older boys Cousin Camp, we had to make adjustments to include all of the kids but we were willing to do that to have everybody there.
One of the questions we get is, “When do you stop making the grandkids come?” The answer is, we don’t “make” them come. We put the ball in the grandkid’s court with no strings attached. When they don’t want to come, they don’t have to. So far though, everyone has come. We have two sixteen year old grandsons and they both attended this year and loved it.
Divide your grandkids up into manageable groups. We can handle five or six of them at a time.
Preparation…not for cowards:
The preparation is the most difficult part of the camp. We develop a theme for each. The themes we did this year were “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” for the younger boys. “Queen Esther” for the girls and “Let another man praise you” for the older boys.
For example, we taught the younger boys that slow and steady wins the race. We just used the Ninja Turtles to do crafts and activities. We had them make a whole Ninja Turtles costume that we found online and made Nunchucks made from pool noodles. You can find almost any craft or activity on Google. Don’t over complicate it. Just get simple crafts and art projects that are easy to explain and for them to execute.
When the kids get older, you have to have more activities and less projects. You go places and do things. We try to do a community project of some kind that doesn’t take all day like cleaning up around the community center or at the church.
*We also plan a lot of outside activities because the kids do better outside and there is less cleanup. But we also have alternative projects and activities that we are ready to move inside in case it rains. The best Cousin Camps are when we are mostly outside.
*We have things the younger kids can cut out and glue. We have then color or paint something that reinforces our principle that we are teaching them. It is easy to get too complicated especially with the younger kids. Keep things simple. I always make a prototype of the craft we make so the have a visual example of what we are expecting them to make.
The older boys Cousin Camp is filled with activities. We went to the local prison and took a tour this year which was a big hit. We had to get permission slips signed and have a big enough van to transport everyone. We went kayaking, which was kind of expensive but was worth it. We did a tree painting as an art project. We also did an obstacle course for them riding a very small dirt bike which gave us all lots of laughs! And we did lots of games!
We start thinking about what we are going to do around the beginning of Summer. But, to be honest, we don’t get serious about it until about a week before the event. This fits our personalities better than stewing for weeks. We have a lot of energy for a week or so preparing everything. (My wife has a gift for research and I do the practical side. She finds art projects and activities and I put them together in the real world. )
We have a schedule filled with activities, projects and games but we very rarely get to all of them. And, we don’t stick to it legalistically. We just write things down and have them ready to pull out. We write them down thinking in one-half hour increments (or even 15 mins. for the little kids!) but don’t strictly stick to it. It is paramount to write down your activities, projects and crafts because crazy stuff happens and you need to have a plan to return to.
We also have a couple of movies in the ready if we need them in case of weather or time concerns.
We are fortunate to have a couple of photographers in our family. They take some before and after pictures. We also take pictures during some activities and crafts just to have a record. It’s really nice to look back at the family tradition of Cousin Camp and remember where it started and where it is now.
Scripture or principles:
This is the most important part of Cousin Camp. We feel like this is where we put a value or principle for life into our grandkids. We always write out the scripture or principle on a piece of poster board. We post it on the wall of our dinning room where we do most of the crafts. We don’t have them memorize it necessarily, but we do have them repeat it back to us several times throughout the day.
We always drive to several different locations to do activities of some kind to use up some time and energy. We go play putt-putt, go to a park, ride go-carts, go to the dollar store, do a wildlife hike, go fishing or swimming, go to a skate park, and so on. There are literally dozens of things you can plan to do that takes very little money and is an adventure for them. The best things are the ones that they learn something. A nature hike in the woods or a walk along the river where they pick up “treasure” is great.
*The key is to keep them moving. Another key is to give them time with each other. We’ve discovered that they really like to spend time with each other so we have some kind of play time.
One of the more fun things we’ve done is take the older kids to the airport for a plane ride. The pilot took three of the kids at a time up. He really played it up too. He acted like the plane had stalled which freaked the kids out. They talked about it the rest of the day. And we organized for a boat ride and they waded on a sand bar.
These are just a few we have done. I’m sure you can find many more.
Scavenger hunt, charades, musical “chairs”, frozen T-shirts competition, sock wars (like dodge ball, but the losing team has the most socks on their side, “TRAMP” game, balloon games, water balloons...
Plane rides, boat rides, photo booth, obstacle course, skate parks, (Paulding has a wonderful park with a skate park and very nice swimming pool!) swimming, fishing, hikes, paintball target shooting, bow and arrow target shooting, trampoline follow-the-leader, visit the dollar store, go karts, putt-putt golf, bicycle rides, kayaking, horseback riding, visiting jail/prison...
The craft part of Cousin Camp is really fun. We try to find things that are age appropriate and pretty easy to do. Almost everything you need for crafts can be found at the Dollar Store or at Walmart For example, we had the girls make a lunch bag puppet of Queen Esther with a cut-out crown, a dress, googly eyes and a drawn on face. It worked well with our youngest to our oldest girl. (They also made a crown for themselves out of pipe cleaners.)
Color, paint, paint pillow cases, create/decorate superhero capes, paper bag puppets, create/decorate crowns, We do most of the crafts at the kitchen table (covered of course!) and set up a paint station in the garage where they can leave it out to dry.
The food we have is usually the simplest things we can think of.; things that aren’t messy or take a lot of time to prepare or are prepared ahead of time. We want to spend time with the kids and not preparing food. We usually have one of our meals in a park before or after an activity, where we eat McDonalds, Taco Bell, or something like Little Caesar’s Pizza. For all you health food people…get over it.
I think the keys are to keep it simple and to make it enjoyable. (A junk diet is a treat with our family!) It’s not a time for cauliflower and tofu. It’s a time where everything is like Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory.
Breakfast is usually donuts or cinnamon rolls. Yum!
We have lots of snacks. Almost to a fault. We have cookies and fruit roll-ups, Jello and brownies…… We keep them wondering what the next snack will be. We had them make Jello cups this year and decorate the cup. We did that in the morning so it would be ready for our afternoon snack.
We always have ice cream during our movie. We play a movie as the last thing we do at night. It is a great way to get the kids to wind down. We have lots of types of toppings for bowls of ice cream, or sometimes we do a cone. The kids really look forward to this time. They get their blankets and pillows and claim their spot somewhere in the living room within eye shot of the TV.
We have a tradition for bed time that we started the very first Cousin Camp. The kids sleep in our bedroom on the floor. We have them bring a sleeping bag or a blanket that they mark their territory with. Once in a while you have to separate some of them or move them around based on their ability to be quiet after the light goes off. We don’t allow talking after we turn off the light. Usually they are very tired even though they probably wouldn’t admit it, and fall asleep pretty quickly.
The big boys are too big now to all fit in our bedroom on the floor. They just pick a place somewhere in the house or on one of the couches to make their bed. This year might be the last one where all of the kids are here.
We always say if you wake up, don’t wake anyone else up. Just come out and I (Tim) will put in a video until the rest of them are awake, but this usually doesn’t work. And so we begin!
A new day:
Usually Jill washes all of the shirts so after breakfast they can get dressed. We then clean up the house. They find all of their clothes, swimsuits, etc. so they are ready when their parents come. We roll up the sleeping bags, fold blankets, etc.
We tie up all the loose ends and have some crafts/games/activities so it ends with a bang. They put all the stuff we made in some kind of container we provide like a painted pillow case. One year I had my Uncle make the kids a treasure chest…which went over big.
The parents are prompt and they usually have something afterwards planned for their family so pick up is very short. The kids are ready and so are the parents.
Then we take a nap…..
photo provided by tommy-lisbin-211935