Cousin Camp

Illustration of 5 little cousins sitting on dock of a lake happily feeding gold fish. Row boat in background with a sign hanging above that says Cousin camp
Ariel Pang

"Aunt Linda, what's today?"

"It's Saturday, Lawton. Why?"

"Can we do this every Saturday night?"

Cousin Camp had gotten off to a good start. Already one of the cousins wanted to make it a weekly thing!

Since my brother, sister and I don't live in the same town, our children don't spend a lot of time together. And while the eight cousins' ages range from 6 to 25, I didn't want my children to grow up unacquainted with their first cousins. I determined to create an event for all the kids to come together. So Cousin Camp began.

Parents are invited to stay for lunch on opening day. But when late afternoon comes, parents leave, and I, fearless camp director, let Cousin Camp commence.

Our first year felt like an awkward orientation. The kids didn't know how to break the ice. We found that activities helped the kids warm to each other. To make it easier for the cousins to get settled in, we now post activities, meal times and menus, and duties for each camper. We also factor in lots of downtime.

While each year is different, some activities have become favorites. One year we gave the kids complete freedom at lunchtime and had MYOS, or "make your own sandwich." One camper chose to create a monochromatic lunch by piling Cheetos, cheese, carrots and other orange offerings on bread slices.

Cousin Camp isn't elaborate. The important thing is to have a place big enough to accommodate the kids and have adequate outdoor space for a little exploration — especially since some of our best activities involve wide-open spaces and fresh air. Along with the more common camping pastimes such as fishing, campfire songs and crafts, we have also taken up the following activities:

Field trip. Because we host our camp at a lake house, our field trip is to visit the "Fish Man." A self-proclaimed local attraction, the Fish Man heavily baits his boat to attract fish that swirl in his corner of the marina. Just one piece of bread thrown in the water creates a frenzy among the feeding carp. Kids even use their toes to deliver the bread to the fish. Youngest cousin Celia was hesitant to tuck bread pieces between her toes and offer her feet to the carp, but her cousins cheered her on. She loved it!

Jokefest. We tell everyone before camp to think of one joke to share. And we give shy cousins lots of encouragement. The rules are simple: Everyone must participate and laugh at all jokes.

Airplane throw. To make it easier for young kids, we use a paper airplane template with fold lines as a guide. Everyone gets the same pattern and allotted time for airplane construction. Campers line up in the yard for test flights and for a friendly competition to see who can throw theirs the farthest.

Pajama cruise. After donning their pajamas, we all board our boat and tour the lake at night. Well-stocked with flashlights and snacks, we tell stories and gaze at the stars.

Since our camp often ends on a Sunday, we do a quick Bible lesson at the dock. The kids love the unusual setting, and they learn that worship can take place anywhere.

Recently we added a new camper — a cousin-in-law. Our married daughter brought her husband. And, about a week before camp this year, I was visiting my daughter's house when she asked, "Mom, do grandchildren get to come to Cousin Camp?"

I looked at her in surprise. "Is this some sort of an announcement?"

"Oh, no," Kristi said. "Just planning ahead!"

I think Cousin Camp has a long future in our family. And although we can't do it every Saturday night, we'll make plans every year.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of Thriving Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.

Copyright © 2011 by Linda Gilden. Used by permission.


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