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Keeping Cousins Close

Studio 5 Contributor Kiersten Blanchard has some ideas for setting up a Cousin Camp.

Cousin Camp
Cousin camps are now in session all over the country. Most are hosted by energetic grandparents; others, by one set of cousins for the rest. With different lengths, locations, and rules, they have one thing in common: a great time for cousins to bond and create memories. And if the grandparents put it on, there's the added bonus for the parents"a little time off.

Here are a couple of guidelines to make your camp a huge success:

1. Set some rules: Any time kids gather, rules need to be created. Begin by determining what ages you want to attend the camp. Potty trained is a must, but you may even want to push the youngest age up to 4 or 5. Be sure to post the rules in a conspicuous place.

Other ideas for rules:
" "No baths" rule"as long some time is spent in pools and sprinklers, with one big wading-pool bubble bath at the end of the week.
" Everybody participates in clean-up time each day.
" Treat each other with respect; no name-calling, put-downs, fighting.
" Always let grandparents know if you're going somewhere away from the group.

2. Create a plan & prepare ahead:
" Determine camp length - up to one week.
" Choose a theme, if desired
" Send invitations to the grandchildren/cousins.
" Look into local attractions and ticket prices. (Zoo, kid's museums, movies, etc.)
" Collect and prepare craft items, if necessary.
" Stock the freezer and cupboards with simple foods children like. Include a wide variety.
" Plan different activities for each day (swimming can usually be repeated).
" Have grandchildren cook at times or help along.
" Keep each day's activity and menu a secret to build suspense.
" To adjust for differing ages, grandma can take little ones and grandpa older ones.
" Allow several half days for unstructured play.

3. Be flexible: Now that you have your plan, plan to stray from it as needed. If the kids are tired one afternoon, let them relax around home instead of engaging in a planned activity.

Ideas for activities
Have themed days (i.e. Water Day might include splashes in the sprinkler, wading pool games, snacks of blue Jell-O dotted with gummy fish, and a viewing of Finding Nemo.
Build forts
Make birdhouses
Run through sprinklers
Tell scary/silly stories
Have a ping-pong tournament
Create a Camp scrapbook
Record a home movie
Make stepping stones
Put handprints in fresh concrete
Play croquet
Go on nature walks
Eat watermelon and have a seed spitting contest (outside, of course)
Build a teepee
Go to a movie, or create a movie theater at home
Dip chocolates, pretzels, marshmallows, etc.
Make postcards for parents
Campout in the backyard
Eat breakfast in the park
Fly kites
Decorate t-shirts or visors using fabric markers or fabric paint. (You can also design t-shirts and have them screen printed in advance.)
Make a Sweet Family Tree (instructions below)
Quiz the kids with Cousin's Clues (instructions below)
Make fun felt pens (instructions below) and encourage them to use the pens to keep in touch
Create a grandparent birthday calendar

When travel and cousin camps aren't possible, try keeping in touch with some of the following ideas:

Linking Letter
Start circulating a newsletter supplemented with photos, mementos, and treats and you'll have a chain letter everyone's thrilled to receive. Here's how it works: One family sends a "care package" to the next, which adds its own materials and pops it back in the mail to a third branch of the extended family"and so on. When the package makes its way back to the original household two or three months later, they remove their old news and photos, add updates, and send the whole thing on its merry way again.

Sweet Family Tree
Have the kids create cookie portraits of all the cousins and their families, and you've got a scrumptious treat, a great group project, and an education in family history all in one.
The flat undersides of store-bought cookies provide the perfect surface for decorating (I used Nabisco Honey Maid Oatmeal Cookies for adult faces and Nabisco Nilla Wafers for kids and pets). Starting with white frosting, add a bit of red food coloring or chocolate frosting to create skin tones, then frost the cookies. Use chocolate frosting for dark hair and white frosting dyed with food coloring for blonds or redheads, piped from a plastic bag with a corner snipped off. Add the other details using frosting and candies affixed with a dab of frosting (see suggestions below).
On waxed paper taped to a sheet of sturdy cardboard, stick the licorice and cookies in place with frosting, then write the names with a permanent marker. Decorations: White Smarties for the whites of eyes; M&M's Mini Baking Bits for eye colors and dog nose; Twizzlers Pull 'n Peel candy for mouths; Licorice twists for straight hair and cap; Chocolate sprinkles for short brown hair; Mini marshmallows (cut in quarters) for white hair.

Perennial Birthday Calendar
Print out a bunch of family photos, set out some felt and ribbons, and you've got the makings of a simple but useful craft project to keep the kids busy and the family connected. This hanging keepsake tracks VIP b-days and can be easily updated as new family members arrive: just print a new list and slide it into its frame. You can list only birthdays, or add fun gift information such as favorite colors and hobbies. Click here for instructions on how to make the calendar.

Cousin's Clues Quiz
Try a homemade trivia game that turns this cousin get-together into a cousin get-to-know-you-better. The game is simple: each of the cousins gets the same list of identifying questions (asked and typed up in advance) -- "Who went to a national cheerleading competition?" "Whose favorite food is cabbage?" -- and then they mingle, talking among themselves until one of the cousins has guessed all the answers.

Fun Felt Pens
These friendly-faced pens are so simple to make, the cousins can create a zoo in an afternoon. You will need a ballpoint pen, felt, scissors, hot glue gun and glue stick, and googly eyes. Simply cut a long strip of felt (tall enough to extend from the writing end of the pen to about ¾ of an inch past the other end and wide enough that it can be wrapped around the pen with a little overlapping to glue.) Cut the end so it is rounded for the head of your animal. Run a thin band of hot glue along one edge (adults will need to help with this part.) roll up the pen in the felt and glue the other edge. Once the glue is dry, glue on googly eyes and other felt details like wings, ears, mouths.

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