My husband, John, and I recently hosted our 3rd annual “Cousins’ Camp.” It was exhilarating, enlightening, and exhausting! This year we had eight campers ages 4–12.They dubbed themselves “the exceptionally awesome eight!”
Now that we’ve done this three times, we’ve learned a few things!
- You have to be four years old to come. This gives the little kids something to look forward to, and by four, they have learned what “obey” means (maybe not all the time — but they always behave better for us than for their parents!). It avoids having whiney two- and three-year-olds spoil activities for the older kids.
- Keep it brief. We gather at our small farm for three nights and three days. Then all the families arrive with the little cousins for the bigger reunion! Kids like a schedule. It gives them a sense of security. So we post one with great flexibility in mind. Each child can see a battery-operated digital clock. They know the “seven o’clock rule!” You can’t come out of your room until 7 a.m.! When one grandchild got to camp this year, his first question was, “Gee, where’s my clock?”
- Children love tradition. At first I thought I needed to make each year different — a daunting thought — but a wise older friend who has done this for years said, “Kids love doing the same things. You don’t have to change much.” And so we did much the same: s‘mores in the fireplace, a picnic in the tree house, Bible study and writing in their special farm journals, horseback riding, identifying trees and labeling them, catching crayfish in the creek, craft times, and berry picking at a local orchard. Our theme this year was Joseph. We listened to Focus on the Family’s excellent “Adventures in Odyssey” tapes that tell the story. The last day, the rest of the families arrived to a “camp closing” at which each child tells their chosen name. Isabel was “butterfly girl” while Tucker named himself “miraculous muscle man.” The children shared a favorite memory, and we sent the dads on a scavenger hunt that we created! Then, of course, we celebrated with Warren County’s largest banana split — tons of ice cream and toppings in a long gutter.
- Maintain a long-term perspective. Your grandkids won’t necessarily appreciate what you do. (We are still training in “thank you” and “please.”) They have no idea how tired you are or the work it takes to pull this off. Two cousins still may not get along. Two siblings might not, either! But we are building for the future, just like their parents are; only for us, it’s all over again, and we have to remind ourselves not to expect immediate results. Instead, we wait for a year in the future when two cousins realize they are best friends. And perhaps one initiates a family reunion and leads their next generation in Bible studies and scavenger hunts!