Camping for Everyone: Children

April 26, 2010
A tent: home away from home?

A tent: home away from home?
Photo by: Ben C. (Stock Exchange)

Good morning, campers! Today on AllCampgrounds we continue our “Camping for Everyone” series with a look at the group that can be some of camping’s toughest customers: children. If you’re a life-long camper, you may be used to roughing it and want your children to appreciate the beauty of nature; but just how to go about it in a media-saturated world where young teens and adolescents send thousands of text messages a month? It can be done! Our handy guide will have your kids camping quick.

Plan a family outing: Unless your child is the adventurous sort and is already interested in “getting away” to summer camp, you should probably introduce camping with a family outing. The outdoors can be pretty strange if you’re not used to it; add to that the stress of being away from home, fitting in with plenty of new kids, and having to unplug and you’ve got a pressure cooker that could distract from what’s really important.

Set some standards: Part of the challenge of getting a modern kid to camp these days is teaching them to unplug. Even in the morning before school and in those little spaces between classes, kids find ways to stay connected with quick text messages and e-mails. Even though many camp grounds offer internet, you’ll want to set standards and boundaries for using it and other high-tech toys. For example, you could set a certain time limit through the day or permit texting only before bed. In any case, be sure the rules you come up with are ones you’re willing to follow yourself!

Bring something from home: This is the flip side of the advice above. Even though you want to give kids the opportunity to get in touch with nature, going slow and being consistent is usually better than going “cold turkey.” An item from home (it needn’t be a cell phone!) that they can enjoy at the end of the day will keep them grounded. As you continue to camp out with your kids, you can set higher expectations for them to be “present” in nature. A handheld game unit might be a good bet (don’t bring the entire game library) or anything else that your child enjoys.

Pick camp grounds “where a kid can be a kid“: When it comes to children, not all campsites are created equal. There are plenty of camp grounds that offer fun low-tech activities for kids, like hayrides and bonfires. Some of these may not be “cool” enough for a savvy youth, but unlike in a residential summer camp, most of the events are optional and parents can get in on the fun too, if desired. One of the best resources for this is Kampgrounds of America. KoA camp grounds are franchised, all adhere to set quality standards, and generally have lots of fun things for young folks to do. If there’s no chance to get “bored”, camping is much more likely to leave a positive impression.

Start small, end big: There’s no reason that you can’t bring the whole family to enjoy the wonders of a place like Yellowstone National Park, or even backcountry camping in a rugged setting. But as a first trip, it might be asking a little much. Smaller trips give kids the chance to learn about nature and outdoor safety in a protected environment. If you start a family tradition of going camping every year or on certain special occasions, it’ll be easier to move up to more and more unspoiled territory, and it’s just possible that everyone will get more out of it, too.

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