Winter is almost two thirds over and now is a good time to start thinking about camping and hiking again. Family camping is a great activity for strengthening family bonds and for creating memories that will entertain family members for a lifetime.
Our culture is experiencing an obesity epidemic and children are not spared. Camping and hiking are a great way to combat expanding waistlines. Many children living in urban settings have not had the opportunity to experience the world of nature that is found in the great outdoors. Camping is an educational experience for them as well as for all children.
Here are six tips that will help you in your family camping adventure.
- Choose your campground to fit your family’s interests. Do you have swimmers or fishermen in the family? Then pick a campground that is close to a lake or a stream. If you are camping in an area that has a lot of sand, try to find a campground that has showers. Do you have bikers? Look for areas that have paved trails or roads. Are there nature trails nearby? These are great for learning about plants and trees. Do they have a Ranger Program or a Nature Center? Kids love these activities.
- Do a gear check before you pack. Especially check hiking boots or shoes. Children’s feet grow quickly and they may have outgrown their shoe size over the winter. For that matter, they may have outgrown their clothes too. Choose clothes that can be layered. That way they will be ready for any changes in temperature. Let your children have a part in choosing and packing their own clothes. If you have small children, encourage them to bring a special stuffed animal or blanket that will help them sleep well at night. Your older children can be enlisted in planning the family menu. Perhaps they could be responsible for cooking the meal they choose.
- Safety is something that should always be on your mind. Teach your small children to stay within sight around the campsite and on the trail. Give them a whistle to wear that they can blow if they should get lost. Teach them campfire safety. Show them what poisonous plants look like. Teach them to respect wildlife. Make sure they understand that food left outside or in the tent can and will attract animals. Talk to them about poisonous snakes and other critters that could be harmful to them.
- Plan ahead and have a variety of games and crafts to keep your children occupied while they are at the campsite. Bring plenty of crayons and magic markers. Encourage them to draw what they see around them. If they are older, have them write a journal of their activities. Take plenty of pictures and when you get home, make a scrapbook combining the pictures and journal writings. My family did this over twenty years ago, when we took a six week trip across the United States. We still bring out the scrapbooks when we get together. We have many laughs over the telling of the story that happened many years ago.
- Be prepared to teach your children, each at their own level. Buy some nature guide books that are written for children. They can have fun identifying animals, birds and trees. Lie out under the stars at night and look at the night sky. You will be amazed at the number of stars you can see when you don’t have the ambient light of populated areas spoiling your view. When you hike, go slow and let your children explore as they go along. Children are tactile learners. Let them enjoy the feel of the moss, lichen and tree bark. Plan short hikes to destinations like a stream, or waterfall and then let them play there. Big panoramic vistas don’t appeal to children like they do to adults.
- Gently teach your children Leave No Trace Principles. Teach them how to behave in camp and to minimize their impact on the environment. Teach them to leave things where they found them. “Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.” Teach them by example how to be quiet at the campground. No loud music or yelling or shouting is allowed. Be considerate of others around you. If a particular campsite is loud, point it out to your children so they can understand why it’s important to be quiet in a campground.
A little preparation is all it takes to ensure an enjoyable family camping trip. And don’t worry if something does go wrong. Everyone working together to fix it is just another great memory.
Stephanie Trementozzi lives in Culpeper, Virginia and enjoys hiking in the Shenandoah National Park. She is the publisher of her own website, www.always-outdoors.com, which contains articles on outdoor activities and products.