By: Wodan

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.

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.

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.

Nature Observation/Hike
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.

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!

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Copyright 2000 Wodan
No reprint or republication without express permission of author.