Few activities can bring a family with children closer together than a camping trip. The cooperative effort, the time together experiencing the outdoors and new places, the shared laughter—all have the potential for lifetime-memory creators. These are the types of experiences parents want to give their children: great family times that grown kids can look back upon and cherish.
Not every child, however, takes instantly to the outdoor/camping experience (heck, not all adults do, either). While some kids seem to revel in all-things-outdoors, others may not find the occasional rigors and inconveniences of not having a flush toilet for a weekend all too appealing. Particularly younger kids may need some gentle prodding to become campers.
While no child should be forced into the wilderness against his or her wishes, there are plenty of ways to make even the most timid of children come to love camping. A bit of forethought, some pre-planning on mom’s and dad’s parts, and the kids will be asking, “When are we going again?” on the way home. Here are several suggestions for making the family trip an enjoyable one for all.
Get everyone equally involved
Start and keep a family camping journal. Each day have a different child fill out the day’s entry of activities, with input from everyone. Past entries make for fun campfire reading.
Have each child be “in charge” for a day, deciding what activities will be undertaken (swimming, hiking, games) that day.
Assign a rotating chore list, so that each child gets involved in the various responsibilities (cooking, setting up and cleaning up the campsite, firebuilding, gathering kindling) and has the opportunity to learn. Obviously, depending on age and safety factors, mom and dad will be assisting here.
Start family traditions
Whether it’s sing-alongs, ghost stories (maybe an ongoing ghost story), the sharing of family history, or a nightly game of charades, the after-dinner campfire is the perfect time to begin regular traditions that may be carried on from trip to trip, year to year.
Perhaps it will become routine or tradition that on a given day of each trip, your family always takes the big hike. Rotate the responsibility of who chooses the hike and who leads it. Back at camp, today’s journalist can record the highlights through words, art and photographs.
Make camping a learning Experience
The opportunities for children to learn while spending time outdoors are almost endless. With the aid of field guides (or perhaps mom’s and dad’s own impressive knowledge), just a few of the possibilities are: wildflowers, trees, plants, animals, animal tracks, birds, cloud types/weather, stars/astronomy, survival skills, knot-tying, fire-building and many more.
Consider making your family camping trip a geo-camping trip. Combining the quickly growing outdoor activity of geocaching with camping is about as kid-friendly as it gets. What child doesn’t love a treasure hunt? And it’s a great way to learn navigating one’s way through the woods.
Finally, for those very young or very timid children, consider easing into the outdoor experience by first renting a cabin or an RV. The family can still enjoy outdoor activities during the day, cook out, and have a campfire, but the comfort and familiarity of a real bed at the end of the day may be just enough to put that child at ease.
Regardless of sleeping quarters or activities chosen, family camping trips have the potential to bring the whole family closer together and create lasting memories. A child who is comfortable in the out of doors becomes an adult who is comfortable in the world. What better gift can a parent give a child?