Taking a kid camping is one of the greatest things that you can do. Here are 10 ways to make the experience more fun.
Camping trips aren't only about campfires, sleeping bags, and s'mores. A trip to the nearest state park, national park, or even out in the backyard can be the greatest experience for a kid, or it can end with them never wanting to try it again. It all starts with a plan.
Getting your kiddos ready to enjoy a getaway for some outdoor activities is easy. Tell them all the stories about the fun you had as a child outside in the great outdoors, and let them know you want to share it with them.
They can (and should) be a part of the planning to make their first camping trip something exciting and anticipatory. If they get involved in the preparation, it goes a long way. There's better odds of a positive attitude about a trip in which they may have to step outside of their comfort zone.
Imagine using a campground facility for the first time. The communal showers and bathrooms that all campers have to share can really bring a kid out of their social comfort level. That's just one example, but a good reminder of the sorts of things to talk about beforehand.
Just don't let any of these "warnings" deter you from taking kids camping. In fact, the best case scenario might be to simply start out in the backyard for a night to get them used to the idea.
Beyond that, here are some great ways to make a kid's camping experience a great one, whether they have slept in a tent before or not. Just remember the most important thing: don't force it, and don't build unrealistic expectations. Camping can be really fun, but it's not for everyone.
If things go south, consider where they went wrong, and try to make things better the next time.
1. Let Them Take a Friend
Adult guardians on a camping trip go without saying, but for kids, having a best buddy along can be a major boost in morale and attitude. Friends can make all the difference when it comes to trying something new, like pitching a tent or starting a campfire.
A camping excursion with a friend creates a comfort level for a child that cannot be discounted. Don't look at it as a replacement, or excuse to avoid hanging out with you. The trip can be more fun and memorable if it's spent with someone their own age outside their immediate family.
2. Night Activities
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They probably won't have an issue entertaining themselves during the day, but the sun goes down eventually and kids have a way of continuing their energy level long after dark. Here's where several headlamps can be of good use, with mom and dad leading the way.
Even after having explored the world around them in the daylight, nothing can be as exciting as the mystery of what happens after dark, especially in the light of a headlamp. Another good idea is to bring along some glow sticks. Consider hiding them around the campsite and seeing who can find the most.
Don't forget all the good constellation apps that can turn them into a starry night pro before they know it.
3. Let Them Feed You
Whether it be a breakfast, a lunch, or a dinner, let them share the duty of cooking at least once. A kid's plan to feed you involves them being a vital part of the group. Helping them feel more like a grownup is a way to encourage responsibility and maturity.
Depending on their age, you will need to oversee their safety, but that will likely only involve getting the camp stove started or doing a little knife work. If you get their help building a campfire and wait for the coals to reach the right stage, they can say they've cooked over an open fire. Sure, it's a safety issue, but you're right by their side.
You cannot put a price on the experience that a child gets from doing something daunting like this. It's a game changer that will garner long-standing memories.
4. Bring Some Wild Game
As said, let them be a part of the plan, even as far back as the planning stages at home. They will need to understand that you will be living out of a cooler and not a refrigerator, making some choices a little less than ideal. Mac and cheese may not be on the menu, but let them know that a camping trip is all about adventure, and that includes the food.
Kid friendly foods such as hot dogs and hamburgers go without saying and are a camper's delight. For reasons we haven't quite tapped into, nothing looks as good as it does sizzling in a frying pan over an open fire.
Now is a good time to have some wild game ready like venison, pheasant, or elk. Maybe the easiest would be some ground venison to make tacos.
This is also a great time to share again the experience of how the game was taken and why that is important. Since many of us hunt wild turkeys in the spring, it shouldn't be an issue to save some for the upcoming camping trip, and for those of us that have had fried turkey nuggets will attest to: there isn't a kid anywhere that would turn their nose up at that.
5. Create Outdoor Challenges
There are well maintained, quality campgrounds across the U.S. and Canada that offer everything a camping kid could want, including fishing, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, bicycling, and even archery. One great idea is to challenge your child to complete a task or two before they can move on to something else.
Case in point: if you brought their bicycle, they have to circle the loop twice before they can go fishing. Or how about hit a bullseye at the archery range before they can go swimming? The point is to make it tough while making it fun, with the reward coming after the task.
Use your imagination. For some folks that can camp on their own land, you might even make use of their favorite firearm. See if they can hit three targets with the .22 before getting breakfast. When there is a prize involved, it makes it all the more fun!
6. Make an Outdoorsman Scavenger Hunt
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Ranger programs are a part of any good campground, and they'll often put together a good scavenger hunt based mainly on flora and fauna found in the area.
You could have your child find the best treestand location, even though they can't hunt in the park. Give them the task of finding an edible mushroom or fiddlehead instead of a pine cone. Have them only try to find the tracks of animals that you can hunt, or the best location to fish the pond or lake.
There are many ways to help your child find what the great outdoors has to offer, and not many people can see the value of it like hunters and fishermen do.
7. Rainy Day Plan
Sure, we have cards or board games at the ready for when it rains, but what can a kid do when they are camping and it's pouring outside? Well, get a little wet, for starters!
Good quality rain gear is essential to us as sportsmen and women and it should be no different for your child. You're not there to hide in a bubble of a tent.
Camping may already be outside of their comfort zone, but we shouldn't let it completely stop the fun. Quality rain gear, rubber boots, and even waterproof gloves can keep them nearly rain-free, and an umbrella can finish the job. Venture outside (as long as there's no lightning!) and see what you and the kids can get into.
You can still go on a hike, watch for wildlife, or explore your surroundings if it's raining. Plus, jumping in mud puddles or catching raindrops on your tongue are the type of activities kids will remember. For the older and more intrepid ones, they could try to catch some nightcrawlers, create a makeshift dam for a small drainage, or race a stick boat in a swelling creek.
You're camping. It's a dirty business, and your kids and gear will dry out eventually. Try to enjoy it!
8. Make it Comfortable
As we've discussed, kids are adventurous, lively, and like to get dirty, but when the day is over they are going to (finally) need some rest. Getting ahead of this will be the parent's responsibility. Bring along some simple items that will make the trip a successful one. This begins with a good quality air mattress or sleeping pad.
Be sure to bring their favorite sleeping bag, blankets, and pillows. And if there's a youngster with a certain stuffed animal they're attached to, forgetting it could set things up for failure.
Just because you're tent camping doesn't mean you can't have some familiar comforts. Do what you can to give them the one thing they need the most on an outdoor camping trip: rest.
Remember that many campgrounds have cabins, shelters, and lean-tos available to all. If these last two things, rain and comfort, have you seriously concerned, you could consider an alternative to a tent, at least for your child's first few trips.
9. Leave Certain Things Out of It
If you've raised children in the last 20 years, you've seen the tech gadgets take over. Our parents surely never had to consider bringing portable DVD players, iPads, ear buds, or cell phones on a camping trip.
For parents who are trying hard to raise outdoor aware kids this can be a battle, but a battle that is well worth the trouble. A kid who can learn to survive taking a shower in a common shower area or sleeping in a tent will learn to appreciate their home all the more.
They will also begin to realize what it means to share space with other people, and that the technological distractions of home are easily replaced with the calming influence of the outdoors. That'll help them learn to appreciate it even more.
Keep in mind, a cell phone can still be fun for kids to have around, maybe to snap photos, use as a flashlight, or learn about the bird call they just heard. Just limit usage, and consider a few tech free hours each day. Self-sufficiency starts with a willing attitude.
10. Let Them Take the Lead
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One of the best parts of an outdoor trip should be simple. Let the child decide what the day will bring or where it will begin.
Maybe there is a lakeshore or even the ocean nearby with amazing wonders just waiting to be discovered. Perhaps they've been waiting the entire time just to get in the canoe or the kayak. Whatever the case, it will be their call and this is the kind of decision that makes a child feel great.
You can pack all the sunscreen, bug spray, glow sticks, poison ivy cream, a magnifying glass, headlamp, first aid kit, water bottle, sleeping pad, fire starters, and marshmallows you want. But it's the intangible things that will come in most handy.
Have a good attitude, practice lots of patience, and go with the flow more than you usually do.
Kids need to be respected for being resilient and trying new things, and all they need is a role model to get them over the hump.
A simple camping trip can be a great start towards a solid outdoor future in the life of a young person.