Parents make the rules for their children in the extended Dierks family 51 weeks out of the year. But one week each summer, grandparents and grandkids join forces, while parents are not allowed. From swimming to childish pranks to picnics, Granny Camp in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas provides a week out of the ordinary. “Yes, I’m very strict about that. Parents have never come to Granny Camp,” insisted Anne Dierks during our chat.
Dierks and her husband, Don, are the proud grandparents of 14 grandchildren who are scattered with their families in at least four different states. The Dierks started in 1996 hosting their grandchildren for a week each summer. “It’s too many bosses when all the parents are there,” Dierks continued. The kids know they’re in for a week of fun, without the usual constraints of home. They mostly look forward to playing with the cousins they seldom see. The week might be messier, more casual and focused on fun, but not entirely without rules. Granny’s rules are few: the Golden Rule and no jumping on the beds.
Dierks said that in the 90s, when more grandkids started coming along, she realized she needed to get organized. So she started planning meals ahead for the week, writing down a few guidelines, and gathering the necessary forms. She keeps medical release and insurance forms with her at all times, in case of accidents during camp week. These forms, planning lists and tips from experience have gone into the Granny Camp book now available at her website. It’s a hard-cover, spiral book designed to work as a reference for other grandparents.
Grandad Dierks is also involved in camp. The retired geologist teaches workshops on Grandad’s G’s include everything from rock and mineral identification (geology) to the Christian gospel. Dierks said she turns the countless photos from camp week into individualized photo books that become the children’s Christmas gifts later each year. Dierks sweetly revealed her ulterior motive for a week of silliness. They want to pass on an inheritance of faith, and “we don’t want them to forget us.”
When parents come to retrieve their children at week’s end, they’re entertained with a talent program and family Olympics. Some of the neighbors come out to watch.
Dierks acknowledged that Granny Camp won’t look the same for every family. Your family might have different priorities and interests. You might even find the generations living in the same town, frequently spending time with each other already. Dierks stressed that the spirit of Granny Camp is to set aside time that is different than dinners or holidays with the whole extended family, and even different from merely babysitting. The time should be mindfully focused on the grandchildren. She conceded that one year when she had major surgery, Granny Camp had to be modified to just one day. She and the grandchildren had a purple theme that year from crafts to food — and still managed to make memories. “I think the grandparent-grandchild connection is so important because it’s just a totally different connection. It’s very special.” Dierks shared, “one thing that society is missing is family.”