Kids Camping Guide – Get Down To Your Kids Level!
There’s nothing 6 year olds or older kids love more than being in the outdoors. Kids camping is an outdoor recreational activity involving spending one or more nights in a tent, a primitive structure, a travel trailer or recreational vehicle at a campsite with the purpose of getting away from civilization and enjoying nature. National parks and other publicly owned natural areas are popular venues for kids camping. Camping is often restricted by law to designated sites in order to prevent campers from damaging the environment.
You can use kids camping to teach the kids independence and self-sufficiency. Survivalist campers set off with little more than their boots on the roughest of trails-the idea being to really gut it out. However, you might prefer to set up a tent within a few hundred feet of a campsite. This can serve as base camp from where you can set out on nature hikes, which include fishing and swimming.
Camping usually is a breeze with kids this age. They can help set up the tent and unload the car and can be trusted to remain nearby without continual supervision. One thing though-every child must have their own flashlight! Everyone loves making cool shadows on the tent walls and all hell breaks loose if sharing is required. Kids enjoy looking at the different kinds of insects that they can find. They might even catch frogs and minnows near the lakes and streams. You could let them examine these creatures and return them unharmed to the wild. Also, carry bug jars, nets, and buckets.
The Essentials You Need For Kids Camping
Hiking with six to eight year olds is generally a comedy of errors. Buy some of those disposable cameras or provide your kids with cheap cameras at the start of a hike. The novelty of being able to carry their own cameras will get you through your travels that day. Get the photos developed at a one-hour place if possible while you are still traveling – and then make a huge deal about their incredible pictures. Alternatively, you could provide them with some of the latest digital cameras that give an instant printout-however, you better be a “richdad” if you decide to make this choice. The next time you hike, the kids will be eager as long as you provide them with enough batteries and enough film or digital storage media!
Pick a theme for the trips. It helps you organize activities around a central concept. Much easier! Some favorites are “Western” including a chuck wagon meal, corn bread muffins and tea. You could come up with 20 ways to use a bandanna around camp and practice tying knots with one-foot sections of rope. At night, you could have a small campfire with twigs and sing old western cowboy songs, try some cowboy poetry and learn a little about the stars.
The “Survivor” theme is another hit, focusing on back-to-the-basics kids camping essentials. Children this age can grate cheese, stir a cooking pot, fetch water, hand wash and hang laundry, clean up around camp and even pitch the tents with a little help. They love to hike (1 to 2 miles) with frequent breaks. Be sure to take along a trail mix snack the kids can make themselves. You could even make it a bit of a competition. Kids love competitions.
“Explorer” themes like Lewis and Clark are great for this age group, too. They naturally love to explore. Take along magnifying glasses, containers, nets and plastic cups to catch and examine insects. Set a firm, no touching policy for reptiles, insects and plants until they’ve been identified-this saves a lot of worry. Use handbooks to make identification.
Always involve the kids in the basics of the camp. If the adults do all the preparing, cooking, and cleaning, the kids don’t learn. The look on children’s faces is priceless when they’ve made their first wood campfire or pitched their first tent. The best advices is plan with the kids, but always leave plenty of room for the following:
- Swimming – most campsites are favored with a refreshing lake or a brook. Some man-made commercial campsites also come with pools for adults and for kids. Simply make sure that the place is safe for your kids and that should any untoward event happen, you are within hearing distance.
- Biking – Campsites usually have great biking trails which come with excellent view of nature. Biking is also one of the activities that both parents and kids can enjoy together. As long as you have your map of the vicinity in hand as well as your first aid kit, you should be guaranteed of a great workout as well as bonding time with your children.
- Bird and Animal-Watching – Nothing brings you closer to nature and the great outdoor as camping does. The rare wildlife and the natural environment will surely be a break from your kids rural recreation of malling and video games. Other than offering a chance for an entirely different experience, bird and animal watching is a very colorful activity and can also be very educational and could develop in your child the love for the great outdoors.
- Scavenger Hunts – Kids love imitating the adventures they seen on television. Why not organize a scavenger hunt where they can use their skills at reading and deciphering clues and develop critical thinking skills? Just make sure that you limit your hunt within a safe vicinity and that they know which prickly plants to avoid such as poison ivy, sumac and oak.
Kids also love to comb beaches, draw in the dirt and gather rocks. Always have paper and crayons handy, cards are good, too – but don’t worry about entertaining the kids 24×7. Kids camping is all about learning to entertain you without TV and games. Throw in a book or favorite magazine for yourself, and use your imagination to fill in the rest.
If the kids behave well, reinforce their behavior with a prize. The prizes can be simple little things usually picked up at the local five and dime store…i.e. bubbles, a comic book, a toy car, a box of crackerjacks…etc. You could also shop for your prizes online. Wrap the prizes to make it even more exciting. Gift wrapping material is available in an assortment of colors. With the short attention spans kids have, the new prize will tide them over ’til the next stop.
Take the illuminated “glow” sticks (the kind in the foil cover that you break and shake) to use at bedtime for night lights. Tie one to the ceiling of the tent when the children retire and untie and lower it when you retire. Bring one for each night of kids camping. The soft glow becomes softer as the night wears on and is gentle on adult eyes! You may prefer the green ones versus the red one-the red are brighter it seems.
The camp journal. Take plain white paper – about 5 sheets per kid. Get you kids to fold the pile in half and hold it together with a paper clip. Get them to color the front cover and title it My Camp Journal. Kids are very proud of their journal. If there are some kids who can’t read or write yet, tell them to do pictures instead of writing in them. They will have a nice memory of their first trip.
Bring cards. You can play many games with a simple deck of cards. They can even be a deck that is missing cards. Young kids don’t know/care. Go fish, and war, and let the kids explore their wild side under controlled conditions.
Pack lots of socks for each child-at least two pairs or more per day. If there is a drop of water, or mud puddle of any kind to be found, they will find it! Don’t expect the socks to come clean even with the best of detergents.
If you have an FRS (family radio service walkie talkies), one of the neat things you and your kids could do, is a game of high tech hide-and-seek of sorts… they can hide out, and you have to find them (providing they can see you when they hide, for safety’s sake)… and vice versa… lots of fun, and you can use the walkie talkies all the time, in stores when you go shopping and she is with her stepmother, or other times. A walkie talkie is a wonderful little gadget for kids!
Camping Lantern, kids just love carrying lanterns. For walking to the bathroom, finding the perfect marshmallow stick or just to get around camp after dark. Go with battery-operated lanterns because gas lanterns are hot, have a risk of fire, and not safe to use inside a tent.
Flashlight or, even better, Headlamps; kids’ flashlights come in bright and cheerful colors. Many have cords to avoid losing or dropping the flashlight. My advice: get one for each kid. They’re not expensive, usually less than $10, and you spare yourself a lot of quarrelling. If your budget allows, consider a headlamp. It brings vision of brave cave explorers and Indiana Jones.
Bug Jar or Kit; Open a child’s eyes and curiosity to the critters around him. Coleman even has a tall, cylindrical bug kit designed to safely hold fireflies. At night the fireflies turn it into a twinkling lantern. How magical is that?
Compass; compass for kids should be rugged, with clear markings. Show a kid how to use a compass with a map and he will learn a skill that’s handy not just for camping, but when he goes backpacking in Europe, or when he hikes up the Himalayans. You can get a basic camping compass for $10 to $15.
Star Finder; stargazing is cooler than any video game. Due to the orbital motion of the earth, the sky appears to rotate, so to be successful recognizing the constellations, you need to know which stars are above the horizon at that time.
A rotating star finder helps kids recognize the constellations for any given time of the year. Just turn the dial to match the day of the year. Make sure you get the star finder for your specific region in the world. For example, the star finder you use in the New York won’t help you in Spain. If you are new to stargazing, check out a couple sites on the web by googling ‘star gazing”
Water Bottles; i get the simple unbreakable Nalgene bottles for my kids. However, these days, you can get kid-sized hydration packs which can hold 4-6 cups of water. It allows hand-free drinking, which is useful when you hands are occupied bicycling or carrying hiking poles.
Binoculars; binoculars are handy for camping, hiking, bird watching and general nature study. For kids, make sure the eye-cups are flexible and comfortable and that it has a cord the kid can put over his neck so he won’t lose it. You can pick one up in the camping section of Target or Walmart.
Whistle (a LOUD one); this is a safety gear a kid should have at all times in the wilderness. Find whistles that are light but extremely loud. Make sure its around your kids neck when he goes exploring, not stuffed at the bottom of his pack.
Sunglasses; children may not be as interested as adults are in the fashion aspect of sunglasses. However, they actually need it even more because
1) they spend more time outdoors in direct sunlight and
2) they are more vulnerable to solar radiation since their eyes’ protective pigments are not fully developed.
For kids sunglasses, look for polycarbonate lenses. They are strong, durable and impact-resistant. Look for 98 percent or 100 percent protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
There are glasses designed just for toddlers. They have reversible frames – upside-down, downside-up doesn’t matter; built-in adjustable straps; and short, flexible sides for comfort.
Backpack; finally, a backpack to tote all these fun gear. You don’t want them to keep bugging you, ‘Dad, where is my … Mom, where is my…” Get a light fabric or nylon backpack with a simple zipper and a pocket or two. Stay away from those heavy-duty canvas backpacks with 12 pockets and all kinds of straps and contraptions. They are too cumbersome for junior adventurous campers.
Overall, just use your imagination and remember what it was like to be a kid… ideas of things, little things you can do to make anything more fun will fill your mind almost instantly! One last thing, when talking with a kid about anything serious, get down to their level! Squat down or get them up on something high so they can see eye to eye with you and not feel intimidated… hug your kid, and be thankful everyday for the blessing they truly are… they can be a challenge, but they are there for you too… remember that.
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