Every homesteader (modern or traditional) with grandchildren wants the youngest generation to learn some self-reliance skills. A surefire way to get young people interested in living more sustainably is to make it fun. How about a week or two of Homesteading Grandparents’ Camp? It’s a great way to build intergenerational bonding.
Even if you’re not a homesteader yourself, you can help your grands discover basic do-it-yourself skills while they learn greater appreciation for Mother Earth. Many of the following ideas can be used by urban grandparents, too, even if you have no outdoor space of your own.
Here are some tips for hosting a memorable and earth-friendly camp experience for the young ones.
Take a family farm tour—especially one with animals. Think baby goats!
Visit a farmers’ market and let the kids help you select some fresh vegetables for the week’s meals. Chances are they’ll meet some kid farmers while they’re there.
If you don’t have chickens of your own, maybe a friend does. There’s nothing quite like the face of a five-year-old holding her first chicken or gathering eggs from the nest. The next day’s breakfast will be a special treat.
Look for a nearby pick-your-own blueberry or apple orchard. Some may have pastoral picnic areas or even some storytelling or musical entertainment.
Other Outdoor Adventures
Go for nature walks in the woods or a field of wildflowers or a nearby park. Add a pair of binoculars for bird-watching. Have the kids hold an ear to a tree to listen for sounds. Count rings on downed trees. Look for different kinds of mosses and lichens.
Grab a good field guide and teach the young ones about edible flowers and ‘weeds.’ You probably need go no further than your own yard. Look for chickweed, purslane, or young dandelion leaves to use in a salad. Top it with nasturtium, pansy, or daylily blossoms for a pop of color.
Got an ice cream churn? Put it to use. Let the kids lick the equipment afterwards—it’s camp! (Be sure to take pictures.)
Find a creek. Let them wiggle their toes and make mud pies while searching for salamanders or watching water striders ‘walk’ on water. Children can sail homemade boats or build a tiny waterfall with creek stones. (Instruct the parents to send along some mud-worthy old clothes. Water shoes are a good idea, too.)
After dark, watch fireflies or lie on a quilt and look at stars. Your grandchildren may have never seen a sky full of stars if they don’t live in the country. If light pollution is an issue where you live, drive out into the countryside.
Snatch a couple of paper bags and hunt for woodland treasures—twigs, small cones, leaves, seeds, acorns, etc.. Back home, the grands can arrange their finds on a piece of plywood or scrap lumber with some hot glue (with adult supervision, of course).
How about building a fairy garden in a secluded spot with natural findings? You can enhance it with a purchased fairy or other items from a dollar store, if you wish.
In the Kitchen
Make sprouts. You can buy seeds at a local natural foods store. They’ll be ready before the week’s up. You don’t need special sprouting equipment. Here are some growing tips.
Most kids find it fun to help cook, especially if they haven’t had much experience. Start with something simple, like a grilled cheese sandwich, or a pizza with fresh herbs and veggies from the garden. For a stove-free activity, make lemonade together and share an afternoon snack.
Make mozzarella cheese and then add it to a homemade pizza. Yum! (It’s not hard, and only takes about half an hour.)
Make butter in a mason jar. It takes some hard shaking, but it's magic.
You can find simple wood working kits at home improvement stores for birdhouses, model trucks, and so forth. Add a mini-hammer and a grandparent for an hour’s worth of productive fun and bonding. Your grandchildren will learn simple woodworking skills and have a take-home project.
Engage them in a bigger building project. A fairly simple one is this bench—they can take it home or keep it at your place for when they need alone time or want to read a book out in nature.
If You Have a Garden
Let them help you plant seeds or seedlings, even more fun if you surprise them with kid-sized gardening gloves and tools. They can reap the benefits of their efforts on a later visit. Or if they live too far away, send photographs of the growing plants or the prepared dinner dish.
If the kids come for a visit at the right time, they can help harvest the evening’s meal. How exciting to dig in the earth and discover potatoes there! In our experience, children also love to twist ears off of corn stalks and shuck them. But watch out—they may chomp down on raw corn before you have a chance to cook it.
Here’s one that needs some advance preparation. Plant a bean tepee. All you need are some tree branches (or bamboo poles from your local gardening center), some twine, a handful of pole bean seeds, and a small well-composted space. Plan a visit for some time after the vines have reached maturity and you’ll have a unique shady spot for children to play in.
Be sure to include quiet activities. Try storytelling and reading together. Talk about when when their parents were young.
Hang up a hammock for some sky gazing, daydreaming, or a stress-free chat.
Help them make their own book about their camp experience. Poster board cut into 5x8 sheets makes a sturdy background for drawing or gluing magazine cutouts and relatively flat nature findings. Punch holes and string them with colorful bits of yarn to finish the book.
Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.