“Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses. Given a chance, a child will bring the confusion of the world to the woods, wash it in the creak, turn it over to see what lives on the unseen side of that confusion.” –Richard Louv, Last child in the Woods
Camping with kids will give you and your children memories that will last a lifetime and give them an intimate connection with the natural world. But taking that first camping trip with your kids can seem like an enormous task destined for disaster. You may even have fond memories of camping with your parents and are now wondering just how your parents managed a camping trip with you, your siblings, and invited friends. The key to a successful camping trip activity planning is know that less is more.
First some rules: no electronics, that means you too mom and dad. Do not turn on your cell phones, and do not bring laptops, TVs, DVD players, video games, or even iPods. All of these defeat the purpose of camping with kids. Yes, your kids might get bored, that's the plan. They can't truly experience and discover the nature around them if they are not bored.
Campsite Set Up and Takedown
Camping with kids should involve the kids in all aspects, starting from the moment you get to the campsite to when you leave. Give your kids age appropriate responsibilities when setting up and taking down the campsite. Older kids can set up tents or help raise the pop up trailer camper. Younger kids can set up chairs or sweep out the tents or trailer.
Campsites should be left in pristine condition and most campers follow the ‘trash in, trash out’ camping code of conduct. However, small bits of trash still get left behind. When you arrive at your campsite and before you leave, make a contest to see who can find five pieces of trash first, or the most pieces of trash to throw away. This game will keep kids busy and out of your way if you need the distraction when setting up or taking down your campsite.
Most campgrounds have both short easy hikes and daylong strenuous hikes. Choose one that both you and your kids can handle. And it's not a race. Meander and stop to look at the plants and critters along the way.
If you camp near a beach take advantage. Pack the cooler with lunch, snacks, and drinks, bring the sunscreen and spend the day at the beach. If your park allows it, bring dinner too and barbeque on the beach at sunset.
Try geocaching for the first time. With a GPS (one allowable piece of technology) and geocache picked from the Geocaching.com website, go on this 21st century treasure hunt. This will take you to places you may have missed otherwise.
Make a scavenger hunt for your kids. Create a list of items they need to find such as a pinecone eaten by a squirrel or particular type of leaf.
If your campground has a ranger station or nature center, go visit it. There may also be a group campfire and nature talk in the evenings to attend. Wildlife rangers love to talk about their forest and share it's wonders. It's a sure way to get your kids interested in nature.
Give your kids child friendly cameras and set them loose. When you get home you can make photo book of their camping trip.
Bring several board games to play on rainy days and after dinner. Bring sports equipment such as soccer balls, volleyballs, badminton, and other active games to just keep out for the kids to play with whenever they want.
Pack the bikes. If there's a small store, kids will love the freedom to hop on their bike anytime to get an ice cream cone.
You don’t have to have ever fished before to take your kids fishing. In most states, kids under 16 can fish without a fishing license. All you need is a pole, a hook, and some bait. And maybe a net and bucket, just in case you do catch a fish. Put the hook and line in the water and sit down with your child. Talk about how you will cook the fish, watch the fish in the water consider your free meal, or just sit quietly. Use this as time to spend with your child without electronic distractions.
Don't plan anything. Relax and read a book while your kids make their own adventure right in the campsite. If they complain they are bored, then you are doing it right. Send them to play with no instructions (other than some safety rules as needed) and this may turn into the most memorable part of the camping trip for them.
Remember less is more. Don’t stress about planning activities. Camping is about throwing away the clocks and just enjoying the outdoors. Choose one major activity and day and just go with the flow. You may find your kids get sidetracked and the best camping with kids activity is one you never planned.
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