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Camping with Kids? There's a Method to this Madness

Posted by Mason "Amtchat" Edwards, Conservation Education, U.S. Forest Service in Forestry
Feb 21, 2017
Mason “Amtchat” Edwards and his son walk along the trail spotting interesting notes of nature. (Photo by: Brian McNeal)
Mason “Amtchat” Edwards and his son walk along the trail spotting interesting notes of nature. (Photo by: Brian McNeal)

As an environmental educator, I’ve taken tons of kids outside for fun and educational experiences in the woods. Now, I am looking forward taking my own son out for his first discoveries and to create memories we’ll share for years to come. I figured I would share my personal camping tips with you. Plus, May 18 is National Kids to Parks Day; a perfect opportunity to help children explore nature.

Get the kids involved during the planning stages. Gauge what they are most excited about seeing or doing. Is it waterfalls or caves, searching deep in the forest for bugs or looking for larger animals like eagles or moose? The possibilities are endless. The things they are excited about can be used to reinforce behaviors like following instructions or being open to trying new things.

Plan a trip that is the right size for everyone. Sure, I can easily cover 10 miles in a day, but the little guy probably wouldn’t enjoy or wouldn’t be able to handle that pace. There is no “one-size-fits-all” plan, so tailor your trip to fit your family.

Be aware of your own expectations. Who cares how long it takes us to get to the waterfall? After all, it’s our vacation time to spend together.

Make use of Discover the Forest, a Forest Service partnership with the Ad Council. We use the ‘Where to go section’ to find nature places near our home and have been taking hikes and journaling what we find. We’re excited to compare those journals to the things we see on our actual camping trip.

Pack simple foods; practice sessions taught us that simple is best. We’ve figured out that sandwiches are easy to make and pack, so they have been in several of our practice bags. Don’t fret about dinner; Sloppy Joes are easy. Packing burrito wrappers has been a big hit. They transform into hand-held packages of yumminess -- for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Clara Chambers, 6 years old, watches 9-year-old Owen Chambers, her brother, rest after a long day of adventure during a recent camping trip. (U.S. Forest Service photo)
Clara Chambers, 6 years old, watches 9-year-old Owen Chambers, her brother, rest after a long day of adventure during a recent camping trip. (U.S. Forest Service photo)

We decided that each person will carry their own clothes, with layers appropriate for the weather. The tent, grooming items and a first aid kit live in my pack, while the flashlights, snacks and toys live in his smaller backpack – the same pack he takes to school.

We decided to leave things like guitars, board games and most electronics at home, but we will bring a deck of cards and use my cell phone for its camera and options of geocaching, night sky maps and the bird identification apps available. That little forethought transformed my smart phone into a mobile classroom.

After all this exercise and fun, it should be easy to get him to sleep. Still, take this piece of advice: if serving s’mores, do it early because 6 pm gives them enough time to burn off the sugar rush before the sun goes down… which begs the question, “where did I put those sleeping bags?”

Happy Camping!

Clara Chambers, 6 years old, hops along the rocks during a recent camping trip with her family. (U.S. Forest Service photo)
Clara Chambers, 6 years old, hops along the rocks during a recent camping trip with her family. (U.S. Forest Service photo)
Category/Topic: Forestry