Each fall, my wife and I get the same dreaded email from our parents:

“What do the Grandkids want for Christmas?”

Grandparents want our help finding the perfect holidy gift for the grandkids.  They want to give something that satisfies two criteria:

  1. The gift should be something that the kids appreciate and enjoy.  In other words, they want a gift that makes an impact.
  2. It should be something that is consistent with our parents’ values.
While choosing gifts for grandkids sounds easy, it is not.  Children today get a lot of gifts, far more than we did as children.  Rather than getting 3-5 gifts at birthdays or special holidays, they often receive over a dozen.  As a result, it becomes harder to give a gift that is deeply appreciated or that makes an impact.

Challenge Choosing Christmas Gifts for Grandkids

This challenge of choosing holiday gifts for grandchildren is made even more difficult when we realize that much of what our children and teens now want are items that grandparents dislike or even disapprove of. For example, few grandparents want to give a child a first-person-shooter video game.  They do not want to give music that might be violent, misogynistic or materialistic.  They see their grandchildren spending too much time with electronic devices (phones, computers, TVs, games) and not enough time outside with friends.  They bemoan the fact that face-to-face time is replaced by screen-to-screen time.

So we have a true dilemma.  They want to be relevant in their grandchildren’s lives and they want to make them happy, but so much of what the grandchildren want are unappealing to them.

In the last decade, I have seen a trend that seems to address both challenges.  I have talked with dozens of grandparents who have found a gift that the children love that is completely consistent with their values:

Summer camp.

One grandmother explained it to me this way.

“Last summer, I gave my 8 year-old granddaughter a 3-week session at camp.  She was a little homesick at first, but she quickly got over it and fell in love with the experience.  For 21 days, she never touched a phone, iPad or TV.  She played outside , made powerful friends and saw exceptional adult role models.  She even tried some activities that none of us thought she would do.  For example, she scaled a 35 foot climbing wall.  When she returned, she was more confident, independent and , well, happy.  When we picked her up, she gave me a hug and said that it was her favorite gift ever.  I felt like I won the lottery.  She loved it and I loved what it did for her.”  

Having been a summer camp professional for 21 years, I have seen firsthand the many benefits of a quality summer camp experience.  I see children develop resilience, self control, optimism and interpersonal skills.   I, however, had never really thought about camp as a cross-generational gift.  After the grandmother explained her reasoning, it become more clear to me.  I then called the Silver Fox (my mother) and got her thoughts on it. 

She echoed the ideas of the grandmother.  She always sent us to camp.  She is a big believer that raising children is way too important to be done by two people.  Each quality adult brings something to a child’s life – great teachers, coaches, and mentors all help with the most important job any of us will ever have.  Summer camp counselors are particularly effective because they are old enough to be heroes, but young enough to be cool.  When a enthusiastic and caring 19 year-old focuses his or her attention on a shy 8 year-old, that interaction is powerful and lasting.  She said that camp is an investment in the long-term success of a child or grandchild that dwarfs anything electronic.  The fact that the children love it is simply the icing on the cake. 

I admire grandparents who think this creatively and generously (camp can be expensive, so some grandparents simply help subsidize a session at camp).  But I also see the benefits of the gift.  Not only does it foster growth in their grandchildren, but it also strengthens this cross-generational bond.  The grandparents I know who do this seem closer to their grandchildren – more relevant.  All in all, it is hard to do better than that.

 If you would like to learn more about what summer camp has to offer your grandkids, please download our brochure by clicking below:


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