Of all the titles and labels I’ve ever worn, “Gigi” is my favorite. Being a grandparent is an absolute hoot! But when your grandkids live hundreds of miles away, it takes INTENTION to engage with those precious little humans. And so, Camp Joplin was born. Now a cherished family tradition, the grandkids leave their parents at home and come see Gigi and Papa (in Joplin, MO) for a week of fun, adventure and spoiling every summer.
I began planning our 2020 Camp Joplin in January, before the coronavirus upended the world. As the reality of the pandemic sunk in, it looked like we might have to break tradition and skip it this year. Certainly, flying was out. What now?
By late May, my daughter proposed a solution. Our son-in-law, Brandon, would drive the kids out from Arizona, as long as we agreed to avoid all public places for our Camp Joplin activities. Deal! No swimming, no amusement parks, no movies….uh, sure….no problem!
In a stroke of serendipity, I had an idea that maybe we could treat Camp Joplin like a scouting camp, filled with outdoor adventures with the opportunity to earn badges for skills mastered. A quick Google search landed me on the SnappyLogos website, and oh, my! In no time, I had placed on order for more than 20 different badges, and my wheels were turning! Then I found a scouting website and ordered several vests. The plan was coming together.
In another stroke of serendipity (I’m telling you, God loves Camp Joplin!), I found the CUTEST outdoor adventure gear at Target, in the dollar section at the front of the store. I mean, just look at this great stuff! And for cheap! 🙂 They had 4 different backpack designs, 3 different canteen designs, little notebooks for keeping field notes, and handy flip guides to identify birds, bugs, and North American wildlife. I only wish they had backpacks in adult sizes! I threw in a flashlight and wrist compass, and we were ready to roll.
With the exception of touring the Bluff Dwellers Cave in Noel, MO, all our activities were outdoors or at home, so social distancing was never a problem. And the Bluff Dwellers Cave folks did a fantastic job of keeping everyone safe. Masks are required in the cave and gift shop, and they keep tour sizes small even in normal times. Our kiddos ranged in age from 3-9, and they loved the cave! After exploring, we enjoyed a picnic lunch on the grounds.
We had three sessions of Camp Joplin fun this year. First we had our three Oklahoma City grandkids for 4 days, then the Phoenix crew for a week, occasionally joined by the Bentonville duo. Then the Phoenix crew headed to Wyoming with us, where Camp Joplin morphed into Camp Dubois. Our Wyoming adventures offered the chance to earn fishing, photography, animal tracks, and starry night badges.
With more activities than we could possibly complete in our timeframe, the kids chose their favorites. We modified the badge criteria to accommodate the younger kiddos, and generally, every activity worked for every age. Some activities included everyone, but the kids could opt out of an activity they didn’t find exciting. Keeping our two goals in mind — have fun and learn something — we acknowledged “different strokes for different folks.”
Everyone loved rock art, even our not-quite-three-year-old. Such concentration as they created their designs!
J and K were determined to spot a blue heron, and we finally did! They loved the hunt. And oh how handy to have a swig of water from your canteen on a hot day!
First time to pick blueberries, and J and K proved to be quick learners. They baked a blueberry cobbler for their daddy and earned Baking badge in addition to the Blueberry Picking badge. A good day’s work!
How appropriate that SnappyLogos had a Covid-19 Awareness badge, as well as a Washed My Hands badge! Someday this pandemic will be a dim memory, and those patches will remind us of the perils we endured in 2020.
Our kiddos LOVE being outside, so earning the Hiking, Birdwatching, and Compass Fun badges came naturally. They even scouted for trash so they could earn their Picked Up Trash badge! Once we got to Wyoming, we added Animal Tracks and Photography as we explored some truly wild places. iPad time lost its allure, a sure sign of success!
One of the kids’ favorite activities was marksmanship. The BB gun we had planned to use failed us, so we had to pull out the big pellet gun. It’s more powerful than I liked, and comically big for our little 6-year-old, but it turned out to be a blast. (Pun intended!) Before they could handle the gun, we watched an excellent You Tube video on gun safety geared especially toward kids, and in no time, they could each recite the 5 rules of gun safety.
My past attempts at tie dye flopped, but somehow we nailed it this year. The kids loved choosing their designs and colors, and they were so proud of the finished results!
As Camp Joplin concludes for another year, we are so grateful for the memories we made with our grandchildren. In the face of a pandemic, our time together has never been more precious. May we always take the lessons of 2020 with us, holding tight to each other as we face uncertainty with wisdom and courage, finding adventure along the way.