5 Lessons to Teach Kids about Camping Responsibly

Watching your kids grow up and learn about responsibility is one of the great joys of family camping.

Watching your kids grow up and learn about responsibility is one of the great joys of family camping.

One of the most important things we can do as camping parents is to pass along our love of the outdoors to our kids. Now, kids naturally love camping so this isn’t a difficult task, but we need to remember that our kids are constantly learning by watching what we do, so teaching our kids starts with us doing the right thing, too.

Keep a clean camp.

In the military we called it “police call,” walking through an area and picking up everything that doesn’t belong there. Fortunately my kids aren’t in the military, but that’s no reason to not “enlist” them in helping clean up the campsite. It’s a Scribner Family ritual that we perform twice; once to pick up any trash and debris that the previous campers left behind, and again after we break camp, to ensure that we don’t leave anything behind for others to deal with.

Don’t disturb animals.

My kids love animals. They want to feed them all and, given the chance, they would love to take them all home. It’s sometimes difficult for kids to fully understand the ramifications of feeding wild animals. It’s not only dangerous, but it can disturb the animal’s natural instinct to find its own food. It can also cause problems for the next campers who occupy the site, when those animals come calling expecting their snacks.

Don’t go off trails and paths.

Teaching our kids to stay on the designated trails and paths is something that we have to reinforce each time we go camping. In addition to the obvious lesson of protecting fragile plants and soil, we also use the opportunity to teach the about poison oak. I’m not sure, but Northern California might just be the poison oak capital of the world, so it’s an important lesson.

Respect other campers.

Along the lines of staying on the trails and paths, another difficult lesson for kids to learn and remember is to respect other camper’s space and privacy. Our kids are pretty good about not cutting through other campsites and not being too loud, but it’s easy to forget once they start running around with other kids in the campground.

Respect the campfire.

One of our kid’s favorite things about camping is the campfire, so teaching them to build a fire and, just as important, to properly extinguish a fire by stirring the ashes and soaking with water, is an important lesson. Of course the kids love doing this, and we usually have to clean them up before we hit the road.

It’s also important any time kids are around, to teach them to respect the fire. Our son burned both of his arms on one camping trip when he leaned forward in his chair and fell against the fire ring. Most lessons have been painless, though, and that’s one of the great joys of family camping; watching your kids grow up and learn about responsibility.

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16 thoughts on “5 Lessons to Teach Kids about Camping Responsibly

  1. Great article. I completely agree with the points above. The sit on your butt mentality has run rampant among us ( both adults and children alike) and camping is a great way to just go out and have fun rather cheaply as family. However, we all need to learn that the world is not their garbage barrel while they do it.

    Eric’s last blog post..Life is Good

  2. not all military children are polite but the BIGGEST majority are taught politeness and courtesy Sis. Ever notice how polite military servicemen and women are when they meet a civilian? I’ve always liked that and taught my kids to be humble and respectful. And chances are when you do camp next to or around former service people, notice their camping AO. Even us old former guys who hated digging foxholes do Ma Nature right.

  3. Believe me, Sis – if my kids are bugging you, they’re bugging me 🙂 and that violates the first commandment of camping; “thou shalt relax!” Actually, when the kids get a bit rambunctious, which is usually right after breakfast, I take them out for a hike.

  4. I wish that everyone who camps would teach their kids to be responsible.

    It would make everything so much more pleasant.

    I have notice that military (former/active) parents usually have well behaved children.

    You guys can camp beside me anytime. 🙂

  5. Alex, that seems to be the MAIN problem in today’s society… the XBox mentality. No longer do kids go out, buy a bag of marbles, clean off a spot of dirt and get down on their knees and play a REAL game of hand and eye coordination. I do admit we need to educate our kids on the technological aspects of the future but so many young children just plain miss out on the things around them that are a true marvel to behold. I pity a child who doesn’t even know how to ‘walk the dog’ with a Duncan Yo-Yo. LOL. I am truly amazed at what we have around us, just like this morning watching the American Gold Finchs’ at my feeders, and the doves picking the seeds off the ground when suddenly this red tailed hawk just swooped down and grabbed a dove and was gone. Nature in its’ purest form and even tho the death of a dove was caused, it still made me aware of the small things we take for granted all the time.

  6. Their Mother and I feel that an appreciation for the outdoors and all the fun and responsibility that come with it is as important as reading and brushing teeth. I am amazed by the number of kids in my neighborhood who do nothing outside, it is all video games and babblebox.

  7. Alex, that’s not a bad idea – we haven’t been picking up any trash on our hikes. We got our kids out at 3, too. Maybe a little younger with my son, but not much. Had my oldest daughter doing some rock climbing this summer, she had a blast with that.

  8. I began outdoor adventuring with my children as soon as I could strap them on my back. As soon as they could hump it themselves (about 3 years of age) my biggest rule was to always return from a day hike with one peice of trash that they found discarded by another group. My son is 9 now, and my daughter is 6 and I find them picking up trash with no prodding from me anyplace we go, in the great outdoors, or down the street to the corner store.

  9. yep, take those grandkids out Roy before development eats up what pristine lands we do have left. Most ranchers I have found will be very cordial to you if you just obey what they ask of you.

  10. Sky – I can’t wait to take my grandkids camping someday, sounds like you raised your kids right!

    Walter – thanks, LNT is definitely an inspiration for a lot of my tips on camping. I should probably do something with those reference cards – hadn’t seen those before.

    Michael – one of my next “where to take the kids camping…” articles is going to be about somewhere in Michigan. You guys got a lot of great places up there. Of course, we’re not big Detroit fans here in San Jose (Sharks country) – heh.

  11. next year after OUR gathering, I’m taking my 12 year old grandson back out west for a 2 week camping trip. heading to the dinosaur bone beds of hell Creek Montana and also the Grand Canyon. Still have 4 more grandkids to introduce them to the REAL America. Kids are great when you grab their inquisitive minds early and teach them respect for our lands. And all of them believe wholeheartedly in recycling. There’s nothing better than to sit on some plateau out west away from the humdrum and noise, listen to the winds and gaze at such a beautiful country we have, especially when that young person is attentive to “Grumps’ as they call me. There are plenty of places to go to even close to the cities if people would only get off their duff and get out with the family! God Bless America! We are so fortunate to be able to travel this land without passports.

  12. These are essentially the same as the Leave No Trace principles.


    Their plastic ethics reference cards are nice for taking along on a trip, and come in kids and “front country” versions.


    Here are the front country principles, from the Cub Scout site:


    Walter Underwood’s last blog post..Query Box as Confessional Box

  13. Roy, I was a sungle parent raising 3 children after my wife died. Their ages were 5, 4 and 2. I traveled with wanderlust ALL across the US looking for that rainbow searching for good jobs and good colleges. Every 100 miles we would stop, camp and I’d teach them about the geology of the area and they’d collect rocks and soil samples just to see the geological development of America. We camped way out away from everyone, had a good time together and bonded like a father and his children should. Now I have one who teaches at a magnet school in Knoxville TN, another who followed dad’s steps to become a paratrooper and a physical therapist manager at a clinic, and another who also follwwed dad’s steps to be a Military Intel/linguist/analyst in the Army. The school of hard knocks and travel educated them FAR above what an ordinary child stuck in one school could ever hope to get. They all have become environmentalists in one form or another and treat our land with respect. There are times when I which had been that dad who had ‘roots’, but they appreciate the education they got and are proud of it. Camping and travel is the best way to introduce children AND adults to what we have so available for all here in America. We all need to preserve protect and defend a valuable resource available to anyone willing to get past the city limits! Just be respectful of what Mother nature has for us to ponder on and be amazed at.