The key to planning a camp with your grandchildren is starting early. I recommend the day after the previous camp ends when you can review what you might change for the next year.
I first pick a theme and start coming up with ideas. A second theme came to me around Christmas this year, but I stuck with #1. I will do the other theme next year. No changing horses mid race! Starting early allows you to shop clearance and sales for theme items, especially after Halloween and Christmas. If you do "experiments", you need a collection of squeeze bottles and those are summer clearance items. Visit the dollar store often.
Pinterest is a goldmine of ideas. Anyone who works with kids knows to start with preschool ideas. When working with a group, you want the younger ones to have a lot of success, and try some extra things to challenge the older ones. I also plan more challenging ideas when the little ones are napping.
I usually plan the camp for a week and then something comes up that shortens it to three days and three nights. This is more manageable.
A great help to me is my youngest daughter. She is an elementary teacher and does not yet have children of her own. She is my right hand! My younger son's wife is also a teacher (which means they both have summers off) and she was able to attend with her 14 month old son. People under age 2 need one on one help. You will either need to recruit a parent or an older cousin to be their partner. You will need at least 2 adults at all times and remember, the more adult help, the merrier.
I usually schedule a big event around dinner time. By evening time I am getting pretty tired and providing supper means the parents can come by after work and lend a hand.
I mail out the invitations after Christmas. This gives the families time to schedule their summer activities around the camp. It also forces me to get to work on the theme and start planning activities.
I love camp t-shirts, but having shirts made can be very expensive. Craft stores will offer shirts on sale, so watch the ads. Unfortunately they do not offer infant and toddler sizes. Walmart stocks these shirts early, so start watching for them late winter if you need those sizes in certain colors. It is easier to buy the littlest sizes first so you can match colors for the others. Carry shirts with you. I wanted red shirts, and the reds were totally different even in the same store when I switched departments. Black is black, so I always include black shirts for picture day. Having camp shirts also means you don't have to be careful not to stain a special or expensive shirt that their parents send with them.
Avery makes an iron on printable especially for dark shirts that works for light colors, too. You can come up with a logo and run it through your printer. It has a peelable backing and you iron the white decal directly on the shirt. You can make multiple logos on the same page. I made this year's iron ons a little smaller and I have enough sheets left to do next year's shirts, too. I keep meaning to do shirts as Christmas presents, but I haven't made that goal yet.
After I determine my camp schedule, I start gathering supplies. It is easier to put each activity in a separate box so that you can just grab and go. I start collecting small boxes and plastic containers so I can do this and make a "staging" area. I was a scout and 4-H leader, so I have misc scissors, paint brushes, etc. It is nice if you have enough for each box. For example, we did a lightening bug craft. I bought plastic eggs on clearance after Easter. I gathered miscellaneous pipe cleaners from my stash. I added a sharpie for drawing eyes (I had campers too little for wiggle eyes). Shortly before camp, I added packages of LED lights from the dollar store. - craft in one box. Try to do little things before camp starts. The eggs needed holes to attach legs - I heated a large needle on a candle and poked them through. This needs done before camp.
I only have the out of town guests sleep over. I also require sleep over guests are potty trained. This will require keeping up on laundry during camp since it is amazing how many towels a child can use to shower.
I plan "themed" meals that are simple and easy to prepare. I do as much as possible ahead of time. Next year I plan to include freezer meals that can be prepared in the crock pot. I prepare desserts ahead of time. I also plan several snacks during the day. Remember to keep children hydrated.
Field trips are a special part of our camp.Field trips are great because someone else (the guide) is doing the talking and kids get tired of listening to you. Last year our camp dates fell in with our library's summer reading program and we were able to attend free craft and activity sessions. These are based on age, but the other children were able to explore the library on the day they weren't in the activity.
This year we were able to visit a local museum. I had scoped it out prior to camp and the annex, where the arrowhead collection was kept, had smooth floors, ideal for strollers. We spent about 45 minutes at the exhibit, which is plenty. We did not visit the entire museum (which was included in our admission price) since the attention span is not that long. We want things to be fun.
Another field trip this year was to the Dollar Store with the gold we mined from our goldrush. This was a huge hit. They each had a few dollar coins and knew they could only choose that many items. I paid the tax. We were there about 20 minutes.
Our big field trip is to a local beach that charges by the carload. We arrive the minute they open at 10 a.m. and stay until 11:30 a.m. We are usually the first and only ones there and there is a playset in the sand. We only go wading in the lake due to age of campers and because there is not life guard there. By 11:15 the beach starts to get crowded and we start packing up. We stop for lunch on the way home (our only meal outside of camp). After returning home, we have a movie/nap time since they are exhausted.
Field trips do require use of car seats. I try to schedule these when I have parent drivers. Car seats are so large these days that you can usually only put 2 in a regular backseat. You also cannot have children ride in your front seat with airbags. So there is a little finagling when you do field trips.
I really feel that the two keys to camp success are ORGANIZATION prior to camp and lots of HELP, as in aunts, uncles and parents. It also helps to keep in mind that this is FUN and it doesn't matter if an experiment fails or a craft falls flat, it is the experience, not the result.