Some years ago, I connected with a woman on social media who held periodic ‘Grandma Camps’ with her grandchildren. They did lots of fun things together, and I thought it was a really cool idea. A few months later, my oldest daughter decided to send her two small children to visit Grandpa and me for a week. I knew we would need to keep them very busy and happy or they would be homesick, as they were quite young.
Our youngest daughter was still living at home at the time, so she helped me come up with some fun ideas. I started to refer to this time as “Granny Camp.” She helped me do prep work for crafts and games. She would participate with us when she was not working or fulfilling other responsibilities. Grandpa and I had a very busy week. It was so much fun that we later expanded the idea to include the cousins. It became a highly anticipated annual event for the grandchildren, and it has also been good for the adults in my family.
Granny Camp exhausts me. By the end of Granny Camp week, I’m a dead woman walking. Is it worth it? Absolutely! Every single minute of Granny Camp is worth the preparation, work, sweat, physical stress and pain, and exhaustion. Ironically, this isn’t something that I originally put any thought into doing. I wasn’t trying to make my family cohesive, nor was I trying to be the perfect granny. That first year I was just trying to keep two young grandchildren from becoming homesick on a visit. This summer Granny Camp included 9 grandchildren between the ages of 12 and 9 months.
I could not do this without the help of my husband, children and their spouses. They have seen the benefits to the children, as well as adults, from this experience. They rearrange their schedules and work hard to help make Granny Camp a success.
Why am I writing about Granny Camp in the “Strengthening Our Faith” column? I’m writing about it because it does strengthen our faith. Strengthening our families strengthens our faith. Actually, our faith is all about family. Heavenly Father’s plan is for us to return to Him as an eternal family unit. Anything we do which strengthens our families furthers His plan.
“The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally. … Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”
– The Family: A Proclamation to the World (emphasis added)
Granny Camp is different every year. We repeat favorite activities, but also try to include new things every year to keep it fresh. The children are now old enough to suggest activities, and a couple of them can even help with or run some activities. Granny is sort of the facilitator. There is no right or wrong way to do Granny Camp. Each family is different.
Below are some suggestions to get you started from successful activities we have done through the years. This is only a sampling of things we have done. This year I had twice as many ideas as I could handle. There is no way I could have fit in everything I was prepared to do. It was nice because we could decide on the spur of the moment to switch directions if we needed an indoor activity to get out of the summer heat, or if we felt the children needed a more active schedule to run off some energy.
Favorite Activity the Children Ask to Be Repeated Every Year
Dinosaur Eggs – Place a small plastic dinosaur (or other animal) in a fairly large balloon, fill with water and freeze. Give them a spoon to dig out the dinosaur—they soon learn to smash the egg on the cement to get at it faster.
- Clean the church building
- Make a craft to take to elderly people
- Put together hygiene kits and deliver them to a homeless camp
- Visit a nursing home
- Mend broken backs on hymn books from church with hot glue
(Do some research and find out what is available in your area.)
- Nature Parks (We have been to several.)
- Tour of Round Table Pizza (Tour of the kitchen and they make their own individual pizza.)
- Jelly Belly Factory
- Art Museum
- Science Museum
- Municipal Swimming Pools
- Water Parks
- Bargain Movies, Movie in the Park, or play a movie at home with popcorn and treats
- Tour a fire house and meet the fire fighters
- Tour a friend’s garden, sit on a tractor for a photo opportunity
- Safetyville (This is a miniature city where the kids can walk around and learn how to properly cross streets, walk on sidewalks, learn fire safety at the miniature fire station, learn that police officers are their friends, etc.)
- Fairytale Town (or something similar in your area—or a zoo)
- Adventure Playground (A junkyard for kids where they get to build things with real tools.)
- Tie Dye Granny Camp T-shirts
- Make Slime (Many easy recipes available online.)
- Color wooden picture frames, melt the crayon drawing with a blow dryer for cool running effect of the colors.
- Paint wooden flowers, stars, or whatever, hot glue a magnet on the back for a refrigerator magnet.
- Plant succulents in a small can or container wrapped in decorative duct tape. (We did this for the 4th of July with patriotic duct tape. We stuck small American flags next to the succulents.)
- Make musical instruments from paper plates and rice or pinto beans
- “Minute to Win It” games (There are a ton online.)
- Obstacle Course
- Water play (Water balloons, water guns, sprinklers, Slip ’N Slide, wet sponges, buckets of water, the hose, etc.)
- String a beaded necklace (little kids); make lanyards or friendship bracelets (big kids)
- Backyard Camp Out (Granny is too old to sleep on the ground, so I pull my recliner to the back yard)
- Paint self-portraits
- Make candles (lots of adult supervision)
- Cut the bottom off a plastic water bottle, attach an old sock on the bottom with a rubber band, dip it in dish soap, and blow bubbles.
- Do a skit from a scripture story—kids can paint backdrops and make props for another activity
- Reenact a Family History story
- Tell Family History stories
- Computer safety lessons
- Stranger danger lessons
- Talk about fire safety and plan your fire escape route
- Grandparent interviews one-on-one
- Story time
Idea Suggested by a Child (which turned out to be wonderful!)
Have a tea party (and learn manners)
Make “wish boats” — (Tongue depressor cut in half for boat, construction paper triangle on toothpick for sail, powered by a birthday candle hot glued to back of boat.) Make sure the kids’ names are on the sail so you can tell them apart. Everyone (kids and adults alike) tells their favorite Granny Camp activity, or favorite moment from the week as their boat is placed in a pan of water and make a wish for next year’s Granny Camp (I use a sheet cake pan—a 9” X 13” pan would work for a few boats, or a kiddie pool for many boats).
As more boats are put into the water, the sails catch on fire (yes, we are pyromaniacs). As the boats burn, they create fun memories making their wishes for next year’s Granny Camp come true. If you have a lot of children, it is best to have adults place the boats in the water. Children need to be a safe distance from the boats (preferably with hair tied back). Need all adults on board to supervise this, but it is a really cool memory maker.
Food Suggestions (Always plan one night to eat up the leftovers)
- Barbecue—hamburgers, hot dogs, and s’mores
- Fresh fruit—a ton of it—with lots of variety
- Pulled pork sandwiches (Make the pulled pork up ahead of time and freeze it—and don’t forget to pull it out of the freezer . . . sigh.)
- Large quantities of chicken dinosaurs
- Macaroni and Cheese
- Green salad
- Cookies and/or brownies
- Frozen hash brown potatoes
- Potato Salad
- Individual Pizzas made by children
- Milk—lots of it
- Ice Chest on front porch with water bottles and soda pop
- Juice boxes
- Ice cream (after the dinosaur eggs are out of the freezer). (Cones are easier, but sundaes are fun, too.)
- Paper plates—lots of them
- Paper cups (or cheap plastic cups from the dollar store that can be used all year round)—with their names on them
Local friends, as well as online friends, know that I do this every year. If they see something fun, they shoot me a link, or send me a message. It’s now come to the point that I don’t have to do a lot of my own research because people are watching out for me. That has saved me a lot of time and energy. Pinterest is also a great source for activities.
As the “facilitator,” I make sure I have plenty of craft materials on hand, and plenty of ideas—with nothing set in stone. I plan some meals that are easily prepared. (We eat out sometimes too.) The local families also help out with some meals, and those who come from a distance are great about picking up last minute items from the grocery store.
The adults get together either the day before Granny Camp officially begins or on the first day, and figure out a “schedule of events.” This schedule is very fluid. It is basically to make sure we have enough to keep the kids busy, but things move on that schedule daily—sometimes hourly. The purpose is to have fun, not put them in straight jackets, so we judge their moods and exhaustion level, as well as work around the heat of the summer. Flexibility is of paramount importance for success.
As we have done this, I have seen significant growth in our family unity and spirituality. Doing things for the sake of the children has also brought greater cohesiveness among the adults. Granny Camp has been a wonderful blessing to our family.
I didn’t start out to do this on my own. Heavenly Father set this in motion for us by placing a certain woman in my life at the right time with the right idea. The Holy Ghost prompted me to take her idea and run with it. Blessings abound. Heavenly Father wants strong eternal families. There are many ways to make that happen; this is only one of them. Strong families strengthen our faith—and strong faith strengthens our families.
Tudie Rose is a mother of four and grandmother of ten in Sacramento, California. You can find her on Twitter as @TudieRose. She blogs as Tudie Rose at http://potrackrose.wordpress.com. She has written articles for Familius. You will find a Tudie Rose essay in Lessons from My Parents, Michele Robbins, Familius 2013, at http://www.familius.com/lessons-from-my-parents.