Family camping is a terrific family activity. As a family experiences the fun of preparing for the trip and the actual camping itself, the parents and children create wonderful memories that will last a lifetime. Camping with children requires some special planning, however, but if you take the time to prepare, you can be assured that your trip will be a success.
Preparation is the key and it falls into three separate areas.
•Planning the trip
•Activities at the campground
These three areas of preparation are essential, whether you are camping in an RV, pop-up trailer, or a tent.
Planning the trip
If your children are old enough, it is a good idea to let them help in choosing a campground. You should look for campgrounds that offer activities that your children are interested in.
Encourage them to do their own packing. This will help them to become more self-reliant. They should have extra socks and shoes because they will get dirty and possibly muddy. Of course, you need to double-check what they have chosen.
Involve them in meal planning. If possible, they could be responsible for cooking the meal that they choose. Simplicity is the key to meals, either prepared in the RV or over the campfire. Just remember that cooking over a campfire is an integral part of the camping experience.
If they are young children, let them bring along their favorite stuffed animal, a favorite toy or special blanket. If your children are older, let them choose some games or special music that they like. It’s always a good idea to have books to read, whether in the RV or at the campground during quiet times or (God forbid) rainy days.
Whether you are going to be driving for days or just a few hours, it’s good to be prepared with travel activities or games. There are games where you look for something outside of the car. You can search for all the letters of the alphabet on signs or stores, etc. Whoever sees the whole alphabet first wins. Or you can look for license plates from all the states. You can even watch for certain types of cars. And then there’s “Cow Poker”. Each child takes either the right or left side of the road and counts cows. However, if the child on the opposite side sees a graveyard on your side and yells “graveyard” you lose all your cows. It sounds kind of hokey, but my children loved to play all of these games.
It’s also good to pack a bin with paper, coloring books, word games, puzzles, and such. Try using colored pencils rather than crayons because they melt in hot weather.
Let the children track their progress on a map. They can learn map skills at a young age. Perhaps they can find roadside attractions that would be fun to see. Allow plenty of time to get to your destination so you will have time to visit these unusual sights. You just might want to see “the world’s biggest burger”. Roadside America even has state maps that highlight local attractions.
Activities At The Campground
Once you arrive at the campground, you should familiarize yourself and your children with its setup. Make sure they can locate your campsite. It’s a good idea to walk around the campground so they get to know how the roads are laid out.
Now is the time to stress camping safety. Teach them to stay within sight of your campsite. Make sure they understand not to approach wild animals and not to sample the wild berries. They could be poisonous. Teach them what poison ivy looks like. “Leaves of three, let them be.”
A camping trip is a great time to teach your children about nature, whether you’re in the woods or the seashore. Be sure to have some nature identification books. A good pair of binoculars for birding will help your children to identify a variety of birds. Encourage your children to collect souvenirs of their trip, such as rocks, pine cones, leaves, and seashells. Teach them the “Leave No Trace” ethic of outdoor living. Provide them with disposable digital cameras and encourage them to take pictures of things that are important to them. When you get home, you can help them make scrapbooks of their pictures and collections.
If you have older children, they can keep diaries of their experiences. Urge them to write how they “feel” about their adventures. These diaries become family treasures, read and reread many years later when your family gets together.
Even though you may be camping in an RV, you will still want to have a campfire. There is nothing like sitting around the campfire at night, talking or singing songs, or telling ghost stories.
Your children can gather firewood. You can even make a contest out of who gathers the most firewood. Have some simple prizes to give out.
Let them help with the meal preparation. They can dump the pasta in a pot and stir it. They can thread a hot dog on a stick and they can put a hamburger patty and a slice of cheese on a foil packet, and wrap it up, and put it on the coals. If they have chosen a particular meal, let them do as much of the preparation as they can.
Camping is about building self-esteem, self-reliance, and learning how to work together to accomplish necessary tasks. Involve your children as much as you can in the chores of camp life. Just remember, the ultimate goal is to have FUN!!
Stephanie Trementozzi is the publisher of Always Outdoors, a website that offers tips and information on camping activities.