Pioneer Camp (Part 1) – Westward Ho!

O Pioneers!

in the Tetons: Sam and McKay

This picture was taken long before Grandma Dottie’s Pioneer Camp. It was taken when my grandson was about 2 years old. But doesn’t it just make you want to be a pioneer for a day?

  I have several ancestors who trekked across the Plains and  Rocky Mountains to settle the West. This particular camp was prepared to help my grandchildren gain an appreciation for these pioneers and a little understanding of the way of life in the 1800s, all while making happy memories of our own.

Everyone has ancestors who lived through the 1800s, and no matter where they were, life was similar in the type of clothing, ways to cook, clean, wash, travel and hunt, so this camp works for anyone and activities can be associated with family members from the past. I based many of our activities around the stories of some of our family’s pioneer ancestors.

Preparing for Pioneer Camp--loading our handcart

My first Pioneer Camp at my home. We have our “handcart” (wheelbarrow) packed and ready to trek. Instructions are being given…um, no one appears to be listening.

McKay and Weston

Panning for gold at Grandma’s Camp: Pie plates were used for panning gold marbles buried in a little pool filled with dirt, sand, and water. The kids learned to swirl the water and sand like real gold panners.


We visited the grave of Ann Jewell Rowley who had been part of the Willey Handcart Company.

The Pioneer Camp theme with my grandkids was so much fun that I used the ideas a second time. When it was my turn to plan the annual family reunion, I decided to have a mini Pioneer Camp again, this time with children and adults of my extended family.

Some of our family’s pioneer ancestors:

William Morely Black-001

William Morely Black

William Morely Black headed for the gold fields in Oregon. His wagon train stopped in Salt Lake for supplies. He met some Mormons and was invited to church. He joined the LDS Church and let his wagon train go on without him.



Ann Jewel Rowley

Ann Jewel Rowley joined the LDS church with her husband in England. As a widow and mother of seven children she immigrated to the United States. Traveled by train to Iowa. Joined the Willie Handcart Company and walked to Utah with her children.

Come, Come Ye Saints!

Family Reunion Pioneer Trek

Pioneer Trek Camp for the whole family had to be adjusted to accommodate about 30 people. I sent my brothers and sisters and their adult children an email invitation, “Call to Move West” which included a list of a few supplies that would be needed.

Dear Families,

You are hereby called to organize into The Hawkins Handcart Company that will head West into the frontier. This Company will meet at the Huntington Park on Saturday, August 1 to assemble. We will then head up the canyon and start our Westward  Journey.  

Every person needs to bring a bedroll (a blanket folded in thirds and rolled like a sleeping bag) and a water gun or super soaker for our buffalo hunt.  We will divide into four families.  We will need four “handcarts.”  Other supplies will be distributed after the company has assembled.

After the trek we will all have pioneer Dutch Oven Supper before heading home.

(The location of our meeting point and map were included in the email.)

I look forward to seeing you all at the gathering place!


The Gathering

HawkinsTreck 068

We all met at the spot in a canyon near my home that my husband and I had previously chosen and mapped out. The children were divided into families, with a Ma and Pa appointed for each family.

The required supplies from their call letter were accounted for…

  • Handcarts (red wagons or wheelbarrows–we only needed three or four)
  • Bedroll (a blanket to use when we stopped for lunch)
  • A Water Gun (the bigger the better)HawkinsTreck 006-001

Next, individual supplies were given to each child:

  • A hat–sunbonnets for girls, cowboy hats for boys. My sister made about 20 pioneer bonnets. I bought the hats at the Dollar Store or somewhere cheap.
  • A small bag to hold the gold they were going to find. My sister also made the little bags for gold–about 25.
  • A lunch of cheese, jerky, apple, and dried fruit. I bought these.
  • A gold-panning-pan. We decided not to use these, so they were eliminated from this version of the trek.
  • A trek map for each family. A simple drawing showing the events and stops we would be making.
HawkinsTreck 128

Cowboy hats and sunbonnets and little linen sacks for gold discovery are some of the supplies handed out. Even the babies had hats and bonnets.

The kids are ready to find out which family they belong to, put their bedrolls and guns,  in the family “handcart.”

I love the expressions on their faces as they WAIT for adults to get organized and ready to go. I hated waiting as a child–I still do.Hawkins Pioneer Trek

Wagons Ho!

Then the Wagon Master called out Wagons Ho!  Anyone remember that old TV shows “Wagon Train?” And  so, following the Wagon Master, our train of  (little red) wagons (and wheelbarrows) began to move and our journey/adventure begins.

“And Soon We’ll Have This Tale To Tell!”

Secret Garden Camp – (part 1 of 3)

 A Bit of Earth

GrOur own “Mary and Dickon” unlocking the door to The Secret Garden at Thanksgiving Point Gardens

“Can I have a bit of earth?” – Introduction

One of my favorite Grandma’s Camps was Secret Garden Camp, which of course, was centered around the book by Francis Hodgson Burnett. I love the movie adaptations as well. Not many of my grandchildren had read it, so we watched the movie the night before our camp really started and talked about the parts we loved. Actually, the preteen boys hated the movie–but they loved the camp.

There are three parts to the book A Secret Garden that I chose to use for activities in this camp: Gardening, Character Values, Mystery.


I used a few books to get ideas (see here for those resources). For this post I’ll focus on the hands on gardening activity.

Mary and Dickon discoverying the secret gardenDiscovering the Secret Garden

After Mary discovers the garden that has been shut up for 10 years, she asks her uncle for “a bit of earth”. He tells her to take it anywhere, so she takes that as permission to care for the secret garden.

“A bit of earth?” – Gardening Prep

In my side yard, I had previously tilled a section for the Secret Garden Camp. Before we could plant, we talked about how to prepare for creating a garden.

  • TOOLS – Buckets with garden gloves, a spade, a garden fork, and a package of seeds were given to each child.
  • DIVIDE & TEAM UP – The children were paired–one older child and one younger one–into gardening teams to prepare, plan and plant their portion of the garden.
  • SHOPPING – Each team was given some money and we went shopping for plants and things.  I had separated some flowers in my yard, such as daisies and irises, that they could choose to plant in their garden, and they had flower seeds, or they could buy all new plants and flowers. –Two of my grandsons decided they wanted to buy things instead of flowers. They would use the plants at home and that way they could spend their money on more manly things like an ornamental garden squirrel and a cactus!
The two busy kids by the pond were supposed to be helping Weston.

Planning and planting their “bit of earth.” The two little ones playing in the pond are supposed to be helping with the planting.


‘To plant things. To make things grow.” 

Back to my yard, we learned how to plant a garden in two basic steps–with a secret mixed in.

  • TURNING THE SOIL and mixing some mulch into it.
  • PLANTING the flowers and seeds the children had chosen.

For extra fun, I had previously buried some items into the areas they would be digging such as a small ceramic figurine, an old fork, a tube of lipstick (remember the lipstick in the movie/book Holes?),…


…and an envelope which held a key and a cryptic note inside. This went along with the mystery part of The Secret Garden story and I hooked their interest for their own Grandma’s Camp secret to uncover later.

Secret Garden Envelop


“Open, and awake, and alive.”

Around the side yard waterfall, with its tiny stream and wading pool, each garden plot was planted and signs were placed for whose garden it was. My grand kids’ bits of earth results were adorable!

Secret Garden Camp — Garden Magic Part 2 of 3


There are three parts to the book A Secret Garden that I chose to use for activities in this camp: Gardening, Character Values, Mystery.


I used a few books to get ideas. This one is fabulous! Other than our secret garden, we also made this spider web climber and Safari Hideout, and a scarecrow for Grandpa’s vegetable garden.


Great Gardens For Kids, by  Clare Matthews. This book is full of fabulous backyard ideas for kids!

2-The Magic Is In Me

There is “magic in all of us” is a lesson the children in the book learn that comes through positive thinking, believing in ourselves, and being likeable, and being happy.

Mary and Collin are often described as being unpleasant and rude. The servant Martha, in fact, says Mary is “as tyrannical as a pig” and that Collin is the “worst young newt as ever was.” At camp we talked about why  both of these children were so ill tempered. No one liked to be around them. Would we like to be like them? How did they turn their attitudes around? The gardener Ben Weathstaff told the children, “Two things cannot be in the same place. Where you tend a rose, a thistle cannot grow.”  Perfect teaching point.

Our smiley baby–Little one year old with a broken arm. She never complained about her cast–no big deal–she just keeps smiling–always happy.

Toward the end of the book Collin said to Mary,

“’Of course there must be lots of Magic in the world,…but people don’t know what it is like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen until you make them happen. I am going to try and experiment.’ It made her think that it was curious how much nicer a person looked when he smiled.’ She had not thought of it before.

Both Colin and Mary learned the lessons of positive thinking, happiness is created within, and believing in yourself from Dickon and his family, as well as the gardener Ben Weatherstaff. These are the elements of the magic we can create. and developing these characteristics was a major focus for this Grandma’s Camp.

Smiling was a good place to start.

For Younger Children:

  • The Smile Song: For the smaller children we sang the Smile Song  (LDS Children’s Songbook, 267) and do the actions below with the kids. There is a graphic of a smiley face that you turn upside down and it’s a frowny face.  (It is in the LDS nursery manual, but I cannot post the link. You can search for it.) Here are the words and actions of the song. I sang it as a child and still love it and sing it to my grandkids.

If you chance to meet a frown, (pull corners of mouth down to a frown) ; Do not let it stay. (shake head from side to side);  Quickly turn it upside down  And smile that frown away. (push corners of mouth into a smile);  No one likes a frowning face. (pull corners of mouth down to a frown); Change it for a smile. (push corners of mouth into a smile) ; Make the world a better place  By smiling all the while.

  • The Little Engine That Could: This story written by  story for younger children to teach optimism and hard work.IMG_2775-001Everyone loves this story about a little train. After reading it, we talked about things they tried even though it looked too hard for them.Then we went outside and hooked together as a train and climbed one of our hills, repeating the phrase,  “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” as the little train did. This demonstrated team work and “keep trying.”

For All Ages:

  •  The Good In You:  Pass slips of paper to the children. Have them write something good about each of the other children–put it in a basket and draw them out and read them to the children. Then have each child write something good about themselves. Attach these to their journals.
  • Are You A Filler or a Dipper? Mary and Collin were both Dippers. Dickon and Martha were Fillers.
  • The kids each had a small bucket with a few pieces of candy in it and a scoop.
  • They stood in a circle, with two or three judges on the outside.
  • They were to talk to each other and tell each other something they liked about them.
  • When a positive thing was said (“you are a good friend to people”), the judge put a few more candies in that person’s bucket.
  • When a snide comment was heard like “yeah, only sometimes.”  The judge scoops out some candy from that bucket.
  • As it keeps going, the kids begin talking over each other, but unkind comments disappear.
  • Then is a perfect time for a discussion about two kinds of people–some fill others buckets and some dip out of people’s buckets. Mary and Collin were dippers until their attitudes and actions changed. Which are we?  The Internet has a lot of ideas about using this book Have You Filled A Bucket Today? See BUCKET FILLERS.
  • Doorknob Signs

Foam doorknob signs can be purchased at any craft store.  Cover the signs with scrapbook paper and embellishments. This is a good activity toward the end of camp. I used all of the following quotes as we discussed what Mary and Colin learned from Dickon and his family.

Remind the kids and summarize with these quotes, then have them choose one to use as a doorknob sign:

  • Happiness is created from within. –Grandpa Parker
  • “They can because they think they can.”–Virgil
  • “If you think you can or if you think you can’t, you are right.”–Henry Ford

  • Where a rose is planted, a thistle cannot grow– Frances Hodgson Burnett’s

  • Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” – Abraham Lincoln
  • “Every day is a good day if you pray.” –Norman Vincent Peale

Secret Garden Camp — Mysteries part 3 of 3

Secret Garden Camp Part 3

3– Mystery

There are a couple of mysteries in the book. Mary found a key and hunted for a secret door to a walled garden. There are a couple of other mysteries in the book, so  I wanted to include a mystery in our camp. We had a treasure hunt with clues. I always have a treasure hunt, but this one started with a key and finally found the box that it fit.

As the gardening proceeded, more clues were discovered. One of my daughters had created a treasure hunt that was designed for the teenaged kids. All clues were very complex and took a lot of thinking and discussing to figure each one of them. These older kids loved the challenge. IMG_0905-001

One of the clues was musical notes, they had to play the tune figure out the words which led them to the next clue. This one was “In the Leafy Treetops,” so they had the little kids climb the tree and look for the clue.

On the third day they found the spot where the treasure was buried. They dug it up and opened the box to find a wooden locked box inside.

Treasure finally found

They found the clue near an old log that some of my kids called The Whale.


The key found on the first day fit the lock on the box…and it was filled with money–coins–all silver!


Grandpa became the treasure broker; each person could get as many coins as their fists could hold.

It was a happy ending to our three day Grandma’s Camp.


Our youngest grandson playing in the waterfall in our newly planted Secret Garden.

Camp lasted three days and then we went on a field trip to Provo area where we visited the Thanksgiving Point Gardens. They were all beautiful, but the Garden we wanted to see was the Secret Garden.


This was to be a perfect photo op for me with my grandchildren in the Thanksgiving Point Secret Garden–the crowning picture of our camp.  The garden is beautiful, but the kids were hot and tired and hungry. One of the kids refused to sit with us; the little girl toward the front of the picture is quietly scooting backwards to get away. She is in no mood for a picture. And the little one in the middle is crying loudly and crawling out of  the circle and ready run!

It’s one of my favorite pictures.



Secret Garden Camp Resources


Here are a few fabulous books I pulled from to create the Secret Garden Camp.

(Click on the links for more info on books and where to purchase online.)

IMG_2591-002 Great Gardens for Kids - by Clare Matthews & Clive Nichols

IMG_2592-001 The Secret Garden  by Frances Hodgson Burnett

IMG_2590-004 The Secret Garden, Garden MagicA pop-up book, for younger kids

IMG_2589-001 One Small Square Backyard - by Donald M. Silver

IMG_2593-001 The Secret Garden Activity Kit  - by Silver Dophin Books

This kit contains a beautifully illustrated book, a wood and metal trowel, a magnifying bug viewer, 20 wooden garden markers, and a set of 21 stickers for identifying your plants. The book offers over a dozen gardening projects and nature activities based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s story The Secret Garden, with illustrations by best-selling artist Graham Rust. For ages 3 and up.

001SecretGardenPop-up The Secret Garden Pop Up Book - by Breslich and Foss

This pop up book lets you create the whole Secret Garden by opening the book and tying the front and back covers together. It is an amazing book.  I bought it years ago, but can only find it on used book sites now.

Other Resources:

The Power of Positive Thinking – by Norman Vincent Peale

How to Win Friends and Influence People - by Dale Carnegie

A great website for teaching various aspects of A Secret Garden to children.