One of the reasons I retired was to spend more time with my grandkids, while they were still young. In the early months of the pandemic, during the spring of 2020 when many of us started working from home and our kids transitioned to online learning for safety reasons, we just didn’t see each other. By the time schools let out in June of 2020, I was placed on a one-week unpaid, unplanned furlough due to concerns about the county budget. What do you do when you have time off, nowhere to go and everything is locked down?
My answer was to invite my grandkids up for a few days and we called it Nana Camp. We simply played, laughed, had a sleepover and it was fun and exhausting all at the same time. As I was seeing the world through the perspective of elementary school-age kids, I came away with the idea that I’m missing out. This solidified my decision to choose to retire early to spend more time with them.
It has been a crazy year since that major decision was made, so I chose the last week of July for Nana Camp 2021. I have absolutely no regrets about retiring! For this camp, I was able to put my project management skills to work. With all that we missed out on last year, I think I went into “planner overdrive” and was striving to create an unforgettable camp experience for my grandkids with the bonus of giving their hard-working parents a break.
My daughter and her husband took the opportunity to enjoy an entire week away to celebrate their 14th wedding anniversary in Mexico. My son and his wife traveled with a huge group of friends to beautiful Lake Chelan and joined in celebrating one of the couple’s 10th wedding anniversary.
I spent months planning, ordering things online, and creating lists and lists of activities. Then I began organizing and programming each day of activities. More than once my husband said, “You just need to stop!” The weekends, like two bookends, were left open to play with cousins, soak in the hot tub, watch Disney movies, and just chill. But starting on Monday, I had five full days planned for Nana Camp week.
My goal was to:
Share what we believe: “We Love God” and “We Love Each Other.”
Teach them about our family heritage and genealogy.
Experience lessons on geography and history.
Learn how to do something new.
Be challenged to develop problem-solving skills.
Work together as teams.
The theme to tie all of this together was The Amazing Race. The kids love watching the show with their parents and understood the rules of the game. I was able to purchase the bright yellow envelopes and a template to make the clues on Etsy. Challenges included finding the Route Info, Road Blocks, Speed Bumps, Detours, and every day just like on the show there was a Pit Stop (a mandatory rest break from racing).
Starting with each team of two, they had to put up tents with minimal assistance. They could ask Papa questions but it was fun to see them struggle and work through figuring it out. These became our home base and their “Reading Dens” for discussions and looking at books.
We are of Norwegian descent so for most of the first two days we spent learning about the Vikings. The clues directed them to put together a map, hear some family stories, read some books, and then they watched several child-appropriate Viking videos on YouTube. They learned about their Norwegian ancestors and started making a family tree on index cards for each branch of the family.
My creative and patient husband spent hours creating some replica Viking Shield bases from plywood and then we purchased the remaining parts to make a functioning shield. Each morning they received clues that took them deep into the “Viking Forest” (the woods behind our neighbor's house) searching for parts of a Viking costume. They traveled to the Rock Fairy Garden, the Valley of the Green Frogs, the Viking Village, and the Secret Viking Tree Fort looking for yellow clue boxes and their next clue.
After they found their wooden shields they came running back and were given replica templates they could use as design inspiration for Viking colors. They did an amazing job making decisions and painting their shields. Then they went to Papa’s workshop to put them together.
I haven’t sewn in 25 years but for Nana Camp, I braved the fabric store, watched some more videos borrowed a sewing machine, and created Viking capes, complete with faux leather and fur and chains. Then I purchased some wooden swords and plastic Viking helmets. My husband said, “This is a really bad idea to give 5, 8, and 9-year-old kids weapons.” But my daughter and daughter-in-law both gave their full approval thinking it would be fun and maybe take care of future Halloween costumes.
Included in those first days we highlighted our Russian heritage, my great grandmother was born in Odessa Russia, and was a pioneer at the turn of the century, by traveling to a Russian bakery. The Amazing Race clue cards included their own money to spend on a treat and a Pirosky for their lunch. When learning about the Romans and Italy I ordered pizza and served some Italian cookies for dessert.
After their swords and shields were completed the next day the race had them back in the forest. They learned some more about our family tree, checked the maps, and heard about even more history. Then they had to search for the rest of their costumes hanging in the trees. The final clue for that day was to come back to the reading den screaming their best Viking battle cry in their full regalia.
As my husband and I watched them running up the hill out of the forest he was laughing. I, however, had tears in my eyes. Working together we had created an “eternal moment” neither of us will ever forget. I hope in the future my four grandkids won’t forget either! Days 1 and 2 are complete. Time to get ready for Day 3 – Cousins Day! I need some sleep.