If you’re the parents of young kids, and you’ve been kicking around the idea of taking them on their first family camping adventure, you’re just who I want to reach. You are doing the right thing by taking your kids camping.
I believe camping is among the best ways to disconnect and unwind from the winding given you by the busy routine of daily life, build bonds with your kids and nature, and create memories that will last forever.
If you’ve camped a time or two you probably already knew that, and that’s great. This isn’t a beginner’s guide with checklists of necessities, anti-itch creme recommendations or tips on how to start a campfire. If you’re a young family embarking on your first camping trip, you can find such checklists pretty easily, and you should.
My intention here, though, is to offer you, novice or not, a view of camping with your kids through the emotional lens of my experiences camping with my own kids.
My wife and I grew up in families that camped, so when we had kids of our own, we couldn’t wait to slip off the shoes and socks, pitch the tent and start showing our kids what we had grown to know as the importance of a relationship with their natural world.
In those early days we always let the kids determine our activities on a camping trip, at least once we were able to divert their attention from the fascinating zipper on the tent-flap.
We’d spend hours following our tiny little, attention span-challenged Magellans from one adventure to the next, as they soaked up their surroundings, all the while covering themselves in every shade of those surroundings. It didn’t take long for my wife and me to realize that we were often learning right along with our little explorers.
That’s family time well spent if you ask me.
As the kids moved into their middle school years it became perfectly obvious that their electronic devices were no less a part of their body while they were camping than while they were spread out on the couch at home. An intervention was needed.
What happened was more like an executive order: Once we arrived at the campground all electronic baby-sitters were turned off and locked in the car.
Now we had them captive.
Before long, we also had them throwing a Frisbee or playing ladder ball while sharing with us what was going on in their lives. They also began to form bonds with their cousins and to use their imaginations and creativity to find ways to keep themselves occupied that they never knew were possible.
Once my son and his cousin, armed with tree branches, twine and pocket knives (that I didn’t know they had), made bows and arrows that actually worked. I didn’t know whether to be proud or mad.
Sometimes the kids have learned about the natural world around them the hard way…read, poison sumac.
But other times they’ve learned by simply listening to their aunts’ and uncles’ campfire stories about things like how they found out which mushrooms are okay to eat.
They’ve even learned how to cook over an open fire, put up a tent and split fire wood.
As the kids have grown into high school, they haven’t always wanted to go camping, mostly because they figured it meant an entire weekend of cell phone detox. But those years are often among life’s last opportunities to bond with your kids in such a way, so take them camping with you whenever you can.
A few years ago, when my son was in high school, the two of us sat around our fire late one night after everyone else had called it a night. We looked at the stars and swapped facts we’d read about things like black holes, the sizes of stars and measuring distance in light years.
Light years: It almost feels like the past seventeen years could have been measured that way. The day my oldest was born someone told us it would go by fast.
I’m here to tell you they weren’t kidding. My kids are 17 and 19 years old now, and though we’ve long since graduated to a more comfortable pop-up tent on wheels, my wife and I often go camping alone, the kids too busy with activities and work to join us.
Some of the cousins have moved on too, so often it’s just us adults sitting around the fire talking; and often we’r talking
about how we’re looking forward to sitting there someday while our kids are doing the same thing with their families.