Camping with Kids II
I know I have written before about camping with kids, and while I was on my trip last week I thought about what an awful place that would have been to take kids camping simply because of the people who camped there before me. Not only did they leave behind a lot of trash, but also a lot of things that would be very dangerous to little kids. There were broken cross bow bolts with arrow heads still attached, tons of broken glass from shooting bottles, and other various sharp pieces of metal laying around. So I thought I would write a little bit about the subject tonight.
First of all, don’t be like those people who camped at that place before me. The idea of camping in the wilderness is to leave no trace behind, especially things that are dangerous. I remember camping once when Kyle was very little, we were at a lake with big sandy beaches for him to play in. All I kept thinking was I hoped he didn’t dig up a broken beer bottle with his hands, which would have been a disaster. Leaving trash behind is just inexcusable. The people that were camped where I was last week had kids (I could tell from some of the trash left behind), and what kind of campers do you think they will grow up to be? They will probably be slob campers just like their parents because they think it’s OK to leave trash behind. It really just sickens me to be in the wilderness and find other people’s trash, and I even cleaned up all of what I could from that place before I left.
That’s my lecture on not being a slob camper, now on to the fun topic of taking kids camping. You can read my previous article about camping with infants and toddlers by clicking here. As I mentioned in that article it is never too early to take your kids camping, and it is very important to make the first camping experience fun for the kids, and that takes preparation on your part. I won’t repeat all that I said in that article, but I have a few tips to add.
Young children like to mimic adults; they like to be part of the activity. One thing that works really well to make a child feel like part of the preparation is to get them their own small back pack or duffle bag and have them pack it with toys they want to bring. If the child is a little older and doesn’t play with toys, you can have them pack a journal to write about what they see on the trip, their own flashlight, their rain coat, a compass, or whatever outdoor types of things interest them and they can use on the trip. One of my favorite things from my earliest days camping was a book for kids about camping. It had a lot of fun activities to do while camping, and also included some good practical knowledge. I still have that book; it has to be 50 years old by now, and I still look at it occasionally. The key is to involve the child in the preparation, and to give them something that is their very own for the trip.
When it comes to clothing, be sure to pack for all types of weather you may encounter, and bring lots of extra clothing for the little ones. One thing my mom did for me when I went off to cub scout camp was she packed one day’s worth of clothing in a gallon-sized zip loc bag and wrote a day of the week on it. So for every day of the week, all I had to do was take out that bag for which ever day it was and there were my clothes for the day. She also put in three other bags each with a day’s worth of clothes and wrote “extra” on those bags. It is a very good way to make sure you have everything, but also keeps things well organized in your duffle bag.
The main reason to bring extra clothes is your kids are going to get filthy, and that’s OK, let them. Typically everyone is a little dirty on a camping trip, but let your kids play in the dirt or in the stream (safely of course), or whatever else they want to do. There is no need to stress over the fact that your kid is going to get dirty, and the last thing you want to do is constantly be nagging at them, the dirt will come off when it’s time to clean up.
As I mentioned above, your child wants to be like you, so be sure to bring things for him or her that allow that. Make sure they have their own camp chair, which you can get in child sizes for pretty cheap. This is an important one; make sure they have their own flashlight, one for every child. You can get a cheap flashlight for each kid, and have an extra or two because it will inevitably get lost. Also bring extra batteries and expect your child to turn on the flashlight a lot more than a grown up would. If it makes the kid feel safe to shine the light around at night into the scary woods, let them.
To have a successful camping trip with little ones, have a lot of activities in mind before you go. Keep in mind that it is going to be different than when you camped without kids, and until they get older you have to think about how to keep them entertained. One of my favorite things to do when camping with little kids is simple nature activities, like finding bugs, identifying plants, searching for interesting rocks, looking for wildlife of any kind, looking for constellations or falling stars at night. Bringing simple craft materials on the trip like glue, paint and brushes, string, etc. can turn a pile of pine cones and sticks into some interesting project for your child. Just be creative ahead of time and have several options for activities.
The first time I took Kyle on a horseback trip to the Flattops Wilderness Area I was going with my friend Rich and his young daughter and son. I came up with a plan for a treasure hunt, and I bought three bags of fool’s gold from a gift shop. Rich’s assignment was to draw up a map to the “buried treasure.” After the second day at camp the kids were getting a little bored, so we executed our plan. I went to bury the gold in a shallow hole while Rich “found” a map to buried treasure. The map had us travel in a circuitous route to the treasure, and the kids were thrilled! The only problem was they thought they were all incredibly rich and we had to listen for the next two days about how they would spend their gold. When the wrangler came to pick us up he quickly dashed their dreams by telling them they had found fool’s gold. It was still a great activity though.
The most important factor in camping with kids is the attitude of the adults. You have to be prepared for inconveniences, for unexpected time spent in the tent due to a rain storm, for things getting lost, or whatever it is. Take a laid back approach to the camping trip, and leave stress at home. I know that isn’t so easy when you have a very small child tripping over rocks, or crying because it is pouring rain and they are uncomfortable, or they find one of the many ways to hurt themselves during a camping trip. But if you have the mindset that these things are going to happen, hopefully you will be able to deal with it when it does. As I always say, attitude, preparedness, and organization are the keys to a pleasant time spent outdoors, and if you are taking children camping, that only magnifies the importance of these principles.