Camping is a timeless activity that parents and kids have enjoyed for generations. But there are also proven benefits to spending time out in nature in a time when only ten percent of children are getting outside to play every day. From increasing kids’ confidence to promoting their creativity, camping helps expose kids to new experiences while prioritizing family time.
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Why is Camping Good for Kids?
In a poll from The Nature Conservancy, 62 percent of children responded that they did not have transportation to natural areas near them. But camping can open kids’ eyes to the beauty of nature, even if there’s a shortage of green spaces in your neighborhood.
Promoting Family Time
Spending time together as a family is great for kids’ development and family relationships. But if you need scientific proof, The Washington Post offers up studies that link quality time with the family to positive outcomes for kids. The best news is, it’s more about what you do together rather than how much time you spend. That makes camping the ideal setting for family bonding.
Actively Engaging is Best
One sociologist found that parents who spend most of their time watching TV with kids under six may be making things worse. While kids do need unstructured time to explore on their own, parents should also spend active time together on quality activities.
Camping presents an ideal opportunity to cut out technology and focus on togetherness. Especially for teens, the more time kids spend with their parents, the less likely they are to develop bad habits and take unhealthy chances.
Also, teenagers who maintain close family relationships have higher self-esteem and more positive social skills among peers, one study from Penn State found. Plus, experts note, it appears that the idea of teenagers drifting away from parents is untrue. Adolescents can and do continue to have positive parental relationships well through their teens.
When you plan ahead when introducing kids to camping, they’ll no doubt have positive memories from the experience. Although things don’t have to proceed flawlessly for kids to enjoy themselves, a little prep work can help avoid camping disasters and give the entire family fun times to talk about for years to come.
Benefits of Nature
The average American child spends between four and seven minutes per day playing outside, the Child Mind Institute notes. Conversely, they tend to spend seven hours or more in front of screens. But why is that a bad thing? Technology has its place in preparing kids for their futures but trading it for outdoor play isn’t the way to go, experts say.
Overall, kids who play outside are “smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious” than kids who are indoors most of the time, the Child Mind Institute explains. Being outdoors helps kids build confidence through unstructured play. Large motor activities like swimming and hiking get kids in tune with their bodies as they develop new skills and strength.
Also, think about the last time your children were outdoors. Most likely, one picked up a rock or stick and began playing with it. Maybe they asked inquisitive questions about the bugs they saw, or how a certain plant grows. That’s creativity and imagination at work- something about nature inspires kids to think more freely.
Through spending time outdoors, kids learn to be stewards of nature. Treating animals and the environment appropriately instills a feeling of ownership over our resources, and kids in tune with nature are more likely to be responsible for it.
There’s no solid argument against kids getting involved in physical activity. Whether in a gym or outdoors, moving your body is always beneficial. But being outdoors can help kids focus and provide them with fresh, non-recirculated air.
Not only does exercising outdoors get kids energized, but it also gets kids to stay moving. According to the Child Mind Institute, urban environments are more exhausting than natural settings. That said, you can still expect kids to be tired after a long day playing outside.
How to Prepare for Camping with Kids
According to that Nature Conservancy study, nearly 80 percent of kids said it was uncomfortable to be outside due to factors like heat and bugs. Clearly, it’s important to address the common “discomforts” of the great outdoors when embarking on a camping trip with kids. Here’s how to prepare.
Talking to Kids About Camping
Making sure that your kids have realistic expectations about camping will go a long way in avoiding negative experiences. Here are a few topics to cover ahead of time to avoid disappointment once you arrive.
Odds are, if you’re aiming to detach from civilization while camping, you won’t opt to stay somewhere with electricity. However, kids may not realize that the only electrical outlets available may be miles away. Let them know ahead of time what electronics they can bring, if any, and whether or not power is available during your trip.
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If kids are unfamiliar with camping, they may not realize the sheer variety of critters in nature. While it’s a given that bugs and insects are present, kids need to recognize the importance of bug spray and avoiding potentially dangerous animals like certain varieties of spiders. Find out what species of critters exist in your area and prepare accordingly.
Along with the smallest inhabitants of the outdoors, you can also expect some larger animals. For example, whether you stay in a campground or a remote wooded area, there will likely be raccoons and other small animals looking for handouts.
Squirrels, in particular, are often brave, but kids need to know that it’s not a good idea to feed wild animals. Go over any precautions for storing food and belongings at your campsite, and caution kids against getting too close to any of the cute animals they may encounter.
Availability of Facilities
Young kids might find using the facilities in the woods thrilling, but teenagers often require four walls to feel at home. Whatever the accommodations at your campsite, make sure kids understand what you expect from them and suggest ways they can adjust.
What to Bring Camping with Kids
Especially if your children are young, you may need a lot of supplies to make your camping trip a success. Here’s a rundown of the supplies you’ll need to bring, from gear to food to extras that make the trip more comfortable.
Gear includes everything you need to sit, sleep, cook, and more.
While some families want to connect with nature while sleeping on the ground under the stars, it’s not always feasible. From curious critters to weather conditions, there’s something to be said for sleeping inside a waterproof tent.
If you’re shopping for a new tent for your family, look beyond the capacity on the label. If you have a lot of gear to bring along, you’ll want to look for a tent that’s larger than what you need for everyone to sleep comfortably.
Older kids may also want their own tent rather than sleeping next to mom and dad. Consider everyone’s needs when shopping for your tent, but make sure to choose a model that fits the weather patterns of the location you plan to visit. Waterproof is always best, but you may need a tent that can withstand high wind conditions or even snow depending on when and where you camp.
For the easiest tent setup and maintenance, pack the following:
- Tarps to lay underneath each tent
- Stakes to hold each tent in place
- A hammer to pound stakes into the ground
- A repair kit or heavy-duty tape in case of damage
Many kids are fine with sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor of a tent. However, many parents prefer a higher level of comfort. Consider bringing sleeping mats, extra blankets for padding, pillows from home, or even an inflatable mattress. Remember, however, that you’ll need a power source for most inflatable mattress pumps.
For the most comfortable camping experience, pack the following:
- Sleeping bags for each person
- Extra blankets for padding and extra warmth
- Pillows per person
- Inflatable mattresses and pumps (and possibly batteries)
- Waterproof pads for potty training kids
Since kids often enjoy using their own flashlights, consider purchasing or packing a fun one for each child to carry. But also include a heavy-duty flashlight or two for parents to use, plus extra batteries. It’s no fun doing everything in the dark while camping, especially if it’s due to dead batteries. You also need to consider protection from insects and potentially the sun.
Consider packing the following:
- Kids’ flashlights
- Heavy-duty flashlights for parents
- Extra batteries
- Lanterns for hanging in the tent(s)
- Glow sticks or other temporary lighting to keep track of kids during campfire or evening activities
- Bug spray, cream, bracelets, etcetera
- Sunscreen and/or sun protection hats, long sleeves, and pants or rash guards
Comforts of Home
Since many kids will feel homesick, even if it’s just due to missing their belongings, bringing a few comforts of home can help. Whether it’s a favorite book, a companion stuffed animal, or a special blanket, help your children choose something extra to bring along.
Much of the food you pack for campsite prep will depend on the facilities available. Many campsites have fire pits where you can use either local or purchased wood, while others require that you bring your own cooking supplies.
Check ahead to find out what your campground or area offers in the way of food preparation amenities. Depending on the conditions, you’ll need to bring either pre-purchased fuel, a gas or charcoal barbecue, and cooking utensils.
You’ll also need a source of potable water if none is available at your campsite. In most cases, campers, especially those with young children, may prefer to bring their own bottled water. You can purchase a case of water or bring larger jugs to refill every family member’s bottles.
Keeping potable water at your site also reduces the need for trips to a communal restroom for brushing teeth. You can also wash hands at your site with this water or bring tap water from home for that purpose.
Overall, your camping pantry should include:
- Potable water
- A grill or fuel for a fire pit or barbecue
- Foil for cooking food
- Pots and pans as necessary for cooking meals
- Skewers, either metal or wood, for hot dogs, marshmallows, and more
- Paper towels or napkins for cleanup
- Food and proper refrigeration supplies for all family members for the duration of the trip
- Utensils and tableware, whether reusable or disposable
- Dishwashing supplies
- Shelf-stable snacks for the whole family
Fun Activities for Camping Families
From food to outdoor fun, there’s plenty to do while you’re camping as a family.
Food to Make Together
In addition to the iconic s’mores snack, include other foods you can make together as a family. Some ideas to consider are:
- “Bag” omelets: Kids can squish around raw eggs, cheese, cooked sausage pieces, bell peppers, and more inside a zipper (or double zipper) bag. Then parents can pour the mixture into a pan for a quick and hands-on omelet breakfast.
- Vegetable or fruit skewers: Slide your child’s favorite veggie or fruit onto a skewer for a novel way to eat everyday favorites. Pack dips like hummus or ranch for vegetables and cream or chocolate sauce for fruit.
- Pie iron pizzas: Prep refrigerated dough ahead of time and bring the pie iron for kids to add their own toppings to personal-sized pizzas
- Walking tacos: bring individual-sized bags of chips and taco toppings. This is ideal for kids who are choosy about their taco salad toppings, and of course, for those kids who refuse to sit down while eating.
Games to Play Outside
If the kids aren’t already worn out from hiking, swimming, and exploring, here are a few ideas for outdoor fun the whole family can enjoy:
- Make shadow puppets (with the children’s flashlights!)
- Create a scavenger hunt and guide kids to find clues. Pre-pack some special “treasure” for them to earn or find.
- Play flashlight tag
- Set up a ring toss with glow sticks
- Make boats from natural materials, then try to float them in a nearby lake, pond, or stream
Ready to Go Camping?
No matter how old they are, introducing kids to camping is something that can change their lives for the better. The long-term effects of being outside and enjoying nature are indisputable, but spending time together as a family is the biggest benefit of any camping trip.