If you are like many other parents and grew up going camping, then you would probably like to share that experience with your own children. The problem? Children today are heavily into their technology and aren't always too fond of the idea of going out into the wilderness and roughing it for a weekend. Here are some helpful tips and tricks to get your children to agree to go camping and to enjoy it while they are there.
Try to remember that children today aren't like children when you grew up. "Back in your day" things were different. There wasn't so much at your fingertips growing up as there is now. Children don't care about going outside to play or get excited at the prospect of a long camping weekend because they have the entire world on their computer and/or phone.
Minding the gap here can make all the difference. You have to make camping an exciting idea rather than a weekend in the woods isolated from everyone and everything. Seem a bit dramatic to you? Perhaps it is, but the fact still remains that most children will see it that way. So, how do you engage them? How do you make it sound like a great idea instead of the end of their world?
Don't Do What I Did!
First of all, do not take away all their gadgets and electronics so they can "enjoy the experience", because that is one sure fire way to make sure that they don't enjoy it. You do not want to start your trip off angry with one another or no-one is going to have any fun at all.
Allow them to bring their phone, laptop, portable game station, portable TV. The chances are a lot higher that you will both have a great time if you don't spend the whole time fussing back and forth over what both of you consider is fun. You are, technically speaking, both right. For you, camping is the whole experience. You enjoy catching, cleaning and eating your own food, sleeping in a sleeping bag in a tent or straight by the fire; roughing it out makes you feel connected to everything somehow.
Disconnecting From The World...
This is your escape, and getting back to nature is exactly what you need to feel recharged and ready to take on the difficult tasks of everyday life. For children in this age, however, it is more like being cut off from their lives and can actually be quite traumatic on them. They thrive on all the things you want to get away from, so in their minds all you're doing by forcing them to camp your way is punishing them.
Teach your children the basic important factors that you want them to know, but make it fun. If you have a family traditional way of doing something and you want to pass it down to your own children, do it, but make sure that they are able to find the fun in it. So, how exactly do you make setting up a tent or gathering wood to build a campfire fun? Do it together. Even if it's something you can do on your own, involve your kids, make them feel important in the process. Tell them that you can't get the tent set up without some help and then show them what to do.
Children like to be involved and they like to feel like they are doing something worthwhile, so when you finish putting up the tent together have them go with you to collect firewood. Show them the kind that you want and let them have a little bit of space to gather some up. Gather a good amount yourself, (honestly you can go ahead and get as much as you will actually need), and use theirs to start the fire, that way they feel like they really contributed.
Essentials for children by age groups:
Extra everything! Seriously, do not get trapped out in the middle of nowhere without enough baby food, diapers, or bottles.
Creamy baby lotion - this works not only to keep baby's skin soft, but also as a natural bug repellant.
Glow Sticks - children love these, they are cheap and portable, perfect for camping.
Outdoor toys - trucks, balls and other heavy duty toys that children can play in the dirt with.
Sidewalk Chalk - genius contraptions that they are, sidewalk chalk will allow children to draw and doodle all over rocks and hard surfaces all they want, and it won't hurt anything.
Nature Scavenger Hunt - Write out a list of interesting things found in the wild and have children look for them. For example: Have children find three different types of branches lying around, 3 different types of rocks, moss, etc.
Bug Spray or Baby lotion to keep bugs off.
Good hiking type shoes.
Laptop so children can still use the computer.
Cell phone - this might seem like the last thing you want to take on your camping trip, but remember that you are trying.
Their own tent - Most children this age are looking for a little independence, you can give them that and still keep them close with either their own tent, or a family tent with their own room.
Set up educational scavenger hunt:
The point of the scavenger hunt is to have fun, but there is nothing wrong with turning it into a learning experience as well. Before you leave for your trip, get online and look up plants and animals indigenous to the area you will be camping. Find and print off some photos of plants, animals and trees and then have children take the print outs and try to find the matching real thing.
Use this opportunity to show them a few of the things they should really avoid, like poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. There are also different types of plants and berries that are safe o eat and others that are poisonous; show them which ones to steer clear of and which ones might help save them in an emergency.
Some of the best items to print off and have children find are, (but are not limited to):
Mushrooms - types, sizes, color
Trees - types, leaves, estimated height
Squirrels - color, size
Different types of berries - color, shape, smell
Best wood for campfires - right sizes, old or new? Dry or wet?
Animal tracks - shape, size, claws?
There is no limit to the fun that can be had out in the woods, as long as you know how and where to find it.
Show children how to make their own night lights/lanterns...
Take a couple of Mason jars along with you and either some glow sticks or some glow in the dark paint; neither are incredibly expensive.
For the glow sticks:
For a little light use about 5-10 different colored glow sticks, for more light, use 15-20.
Snip off tips of glow sticks and allow children to shake the liquid out into the jar or jars, making sure to get it all over in fun and intricate designs. You can do this with one of several jars and colors. The designs glow and make children feel like they have made something beautiful; which they have.
For the glow in the dark paint:
You have two options here as well, one really fun thing to do is to take a bunch of rice, take a Ziploc bag and fill it a little less than half full, use as many as you want different colors. Pour the glow in the dark paint in them and shake. Lay the rice out on a plastic tray or something you don't mind getting a little paint on and give it a few minutes to dry. Once dry, put it in your jars. You can make several different ones, or mix it all together for a colorful lantern.
The second option is simply using the paint and the jars. Pour a decent amount of paint into a jar and shake it thoroughly. It will start glowing as soon as it gets dark.
Alternatively, if you want more than one color in a single jar, use a small brush to paint the inside sides as you like. Rainbows are always nice.
Spooky stories - What would camping be without some spooky campfire tales? Since you are out in the wilderness, and with children, you might want to make these stories more fun and less scary. Tell the first one to set the tone, then let them tell some.
Go fishing/hunting - If fishing or hunting is something you like to do, teach your children how to do it. If you like to catch and cook, let them help and if they catch anything, eat that specifically; it will make them feel like they really accomplished something.
Show children how to properly maintain and put out a campfire, explain to them the importance of being cautious of forest fires, and how to prevent them.
You all want to have a good time, but everyone's definition of a good time is vastly different. Keep this all in mind when you plan your next camping trip with your kids. Remember that they are likely to want something much different than what you want. Find a middle ground where you are both equal and enjoy it your way and allow them to enjoy it their way. Chances are very good that everyone will come back home feeling refreshed and closer to not only nature but to each other as well.