In the busy world of kids, how do cousins, separated by age and distance, get to become lifelong friends? For grandparents Pat and Dennis Kaldor, the answer became Cousins Camp. This weeklong summer gathering at the Kaldors’ home in Door County, Wisconsin, brings their 10 grandchildren together from Sunday to Friday (parents can stay the following weekend but can’t arrive early) for crafts, cooking, games, entertainment activities, and a special focus. Last year, the cousins studied the Lord’s Prayer. This year, they will be learning about the “nine fruits of the spirit.” With cousins ranging in age from 3 to 13, choosing a focus becomes both challenging and fascinating. As Pat says, “We want them to all have fun and build a life memory of these experiences, but we would like for part of that memory to have some life-sustaining impact.”
Each day has at least one special activity, like going to a local arts-and-crafts center, horseback riding, or playing miniature golf. There is also cooking to be done, the surrounding woods to explore, bonfires with s’mores, and even special sleep-outs — one night for Grandma and the girls and another night for the boys. And there is the daily quiet time in the afternoon for napping, reading, or just chilling out. Pat comments, “It is important for the kids to pause, take a deep breath, slow down a bit, and re-energize. (Grandpa also appreciates a nap.)”
Planning for Cousins Camp is thorough and involves everything from preparing child-friendly menus and making sure all necessary supplies are in the house, to the design and creation of personalized T-shirts for each grandchild and grandparent. Dennis says, “The more you can plan and anticipate the week’s activities, the smoother things will flow and the happier the campers will be. It’s better to have a plan that you may have to alter than to try to improvise.”
For those contemplating such an event, the Kaldors have the following tips:
- Post a daily schedule. Children like to know what to expect, look forward to, and be excited about. They like to be busy and involved.
- Post a daily “Buddy List.” Pair the older children with the younger ones, rotating each day, for safety, responsibility, and relationship building. Minimize the formation of “cliques.”
- Post the week’s menus. Children have favorite foods that they anticipate. This is not a week to train new dietary tastes (after all, we are the grandparents). Let them help in the preparation and cooking. They love to contribute, be helpful, and be needed.
- Provide frequent snacks. Nothing breeds discontent like hunger.
Do creative things. Learn a camp song; do skits; have simple craft activities; maintain daily journals; go on scavenger hunts.
Create “camp rules.” (No whining, what’s served for meals is what we eat, etc.). Let everyone know who’s responsible for table setting, dish clean-up, etc., on each day. Use a “coach’s whistle” — you’ll be amazed at how the kids respond when they know that the whistle means we’re either eating or leaving.
Samples of schedules, lists, plans, activities, and what to bring are available from Dennis and Pat Kaldor at [email protected].