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We can survive and thrive in our natural environment with a minimum of gear and a working knowledge of natural lore and practical skills. We return from camping in the outdoors with a renewed perspective on the wonders of nature and our place as its stewards. Children need to return from camping with that same sense of empowerment.

Getting the Most From Their Camping Experience

Here are some tips to help your children get the most from their camping experience:

Go With Them

Scouting groups and school field trips may present your children with camping opportunities, but the value of camping will be greatly enhanced if they see you participate.

Involve Them with the Preparations

Work together on a checklist, choices of food and task schedule. Teach them the basics of packing a pack, but let them do the actual packing. For day trips, help them put together a ‘ready-kit‘ for their daypacks and give them a LifeStraw water filter so they can drink safely from lakes, rivers or streams.

Leave Modern Conveniences Behind

This means toys, cell phones, CD players, gaming magazines, and other distractions. Instead, give them field guides, knife, compass, magnifying glass, fishing gear, and inexpensive outdoor gear.

Give Each Child a Journal

Set aside a time each day, perhaps before bed, for them to enter their personal reflections, sketches, anecdotes and ideas for the next day. A personal journal helps the child focus on the camping experience; it also becomes a treasured keepsake for years to come.

Give Them the Serious Jobs

Kids can learn quickly how to set up the tent, prepare the fire, secure the food. With some forethought, you can anticipate their problems and offer discreet guidance. Set them up for success.

Let Them Make Mistakes

If the tent collapses, defuse their embarrassment with a laugh and tell them it happens to everyone. Don’t be a know-it-all. Let nature teach. Children will learn best using all five senses, not just by listening to you.

Child with yellow raincoat, blue backpack, and boots ready for camping.

Don’t Set Overly Ambitious Goals

Lower your sights for awhile. For example, as a fisherman you may keep pushing for better spots and bigger fish, but to catch any fish is a noteworthy accomplishment for a youngster. And if you see that fish through the child’s eye, no matter what size, it will be a ‘keeper’. Take a photo of the catch.

Cook Their Catch

No matter how small the fish, treat it with respect. Clean and cook the fish with care, use all the seasonings and garnishes. Accept their offer to share the “meal”.

Let Them Lead the Hike

Read a topo map together, and study the compass. You should plan the course, but let the children take turns at lead. Remember the journey is more important than the destination; let them stop and explore anytime their curiosity chooses, turn back if the destination seems too far, celebrate what you experience rather than how far you got.

Let the Children Create the Entertainment

Campfire entertainment is one of the most memorable parts of the camping experience. Encourage them to participate with songs, skits, or storytelling. Notice and applaud their efforts.

Child with frame backpack ready for camping.

Let Them Make Their Own Shelter

Kids will naturally want to create a place of their own. If they’re bold enough to want to spend the night in their A-frame or lean-to, give them a bug net and flashlight, and check on them periodically without them being aware.

Acknowledge Their Fears

The camping experience, especially at night, usually includes strange noises just outside the tent. When your child wakes up to report a strange and scary sound, avoid the temptation to say “It’s nothing, go back to sleep”. Get the flashlight and explore the source of the sounds; there’s often something interesting to discover, and you’ll diffuse their fear of overnight camping.

Children’s’ sense of empowerment will come from being grounded in nature. Security in their natural home enables them to reach out into the “modern world” with more confidence and a stronger sense of self.

The future of the earth is in our children’s hands. Appeal to their primitive souls.

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