KIDS AND CAMPING
KIDS AND CAMPING
Getting the kids away from the constant stimulation of TV, Nintendo, CDs, Toys, etc. and out into the woods where they can immerse themselves in the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of the real world will reap huge rewards for your little ones. You want to let them explore their world but you don't want them to get seriously injured, lost, etc. You also want to make camping (and outdoor adventures in general) a positive experience which they will want to pass along to your grandkids. With that in mind here are some ideas you may want to try on family campouts.
Yes, rules. Kids need boundaries and these should be established immediately upon arrival. They can be modified as necessary.
Have kids carry their survival supplies from this point forward (more on this in another article). Accidents/emergencies never happen when you think they will.
Everyone pitches in to unload and set up camp. You want them to learn about teamwork and the importance of discipline in the wilderness. Give kids tasks they can do fairly easily - make it fun.
Establish the perimeter. "You kids can play on this side of that big tree, over to that fallen log, over to the car bumper and back to the tree." The size of the perimeter will vary based on the area, the kid's abilities/maturity, etc.
Announce speed limits. We don't let our kids run inside the area bounded by the tents, fire, and "kitchen". We don't want them tripping over tent stakes, falling in the fire or knocking food into the dirt. We also don't let them run in the dark. They are usually getting tired and clumsy by then and we don't want them tripping on a rock and bonking their head.
You won't need a "training schedule" for your kids' time but you should have some things in mind that you would like to accomplish with them. We all keep busy schedules with work, getting meals ready, kids to school, sports, etc. Take time to relax and let things flow a bit.
Camp set up. Children should be taught how to put up the tent(s). This doesn't have to happen the first time, nor all at once. If you merely have them "hold this" or "bring me that pole", they will eventually get it. If they have their own "kids tent" you should give them a class on setting it up and supervise them the first few times.
Fire building. Everyone should know how to build and use a safe fire. Have the kids help gather wood. Explain and have them help prepare a safe fire area. Show them how, and when they are ready- have them light the fire. Have them help maintain it. Finally, show and have them help put the fire OUT when you are finished.
Cooking. Knowing how to prepare good meals over a fire/in the outdoors is a skill all survivalists should have. Have the kids help with every meal. (Try new things yourself every once and awhile). For lunch we usually just do sandwiches and juice but the kids help there as well. We keep fluids available at all times and push the kids to drink and unlike at home, we keep snacks pretty available too. Kids will be burning up a lot of energy and will need replacement. Try to keep it healthy.
Have them help. Teach them how to live comfortably in the woods. If you are in a camp ground with facilities you will of course use them. If you are in the outback; you will have to construct a latrine, set your kitchen up for dishwashing, maintain personal cleanliness, haul water, etc. All this is "taught" by doing. Teach a "class". I usually try to teach at least one class to my kids and then have them perform the task. Things we have done in the past include shelter construction (lean to, debris hut, wickiup, etc.); traps/snares; basic compass work; lashing, etc. When they actually perform the task they gain confidence as well as knowledge.
It sounds like a given but observation can be guided to enhance kids' abilities. Take a slow hike. Let the kids range out a bit. Find/identify animal sign, find water, identify plants (eat some), look at "cool" rocks, sticks, etc. We like to camp near little (like 2 feet across) streams and let the kids play in/near them. This will occupy them for hours. Let them climb rocks, swing on vines, throw rocks, etc. Toys. Ok we bring a few toys. If it's too hot, the kids are too tired or whatever, we let them spread out a blanket and play Barbie, Legos, etc. We control when and it is not much but if you are camping for a week or so the kids will appreciate it. Books are good too (especially if it is raining).
Make sure the kids are comfortable (warm/cool/bug-free enough). We let them use their pillows and we let them bring a stuffed animal if they want. When they were small they slept in mom and dad's tent. Now they have their own. We set their tent up so that we can see it from inside our tent. We hang a kero lantern turned down low so they can be oriented if they have to get up in the night. They are still young so we escort them to the latrine at night. They are usually so tired that they fall asleep very quickly once we put them down.
Things to Bring
Here are some things you might not normally think of to bring with kids along.
Lots of extra clothes and a clothes line/pins. If there is water or dirt your kids will find it. That's great! What's not great is a shivering, filthy kid for days on end.
A play pen for toddlers and below. Hey, sometimes you will have to take your eyes off Junior to get supper ready.
Diaper wipes. They work great on bigger kids too for cleaning faces and such.
Dining fly. We don't have one but they are great over a picnic table if it's raining - gives the kids someplace other than the tent to hang out.
First aid kit. Not just your normal kit, but one with thermometer, kid's Motrin, cold medicine, etc. Have supplies to deal with a gash (you may need more than a Band-Aid).
Towels. See #1. You can have the kids take sponge baths or you can make a TUB. We did this once by using half of a large dog kennel with a tarp inside and overlapping. We poured cold water in it and heated it up with water from the kettle. You could also line a depression or hole with the tarp as well. Mrs. Wodan appreciated the bath after about a week in the woods!!
If you haven't camped as a family you are missing out! If you are not familiar with camping, you should start. It doesn't take much money (don't let the gear catalogues fool ya). It can be as simple as a Saturday-Sunday trip for which you cook hot dogs, make sandwiches and eat cereal. You may be restricted to camping close to your vehicle for awhile but that's ok too. Just get out there. Have fun!
Copyright 2000 Wodan
No reprint or republication without express permission of author.