Camping With A Child by Gary Benton
Those of us who enjoy sharing nature with children often mean well, but at times we fail to accomplish our goals of motivating, educating, and eliminating fears. I feel it is our responsibility as adults to teach our children properly. I have discovered that unlike adults, most children are unafraid of the real dangers from nature. This may be due to the fact that most children are trusting of most things or simply unaware of what a danger is in the woods. And, the fears they have, in most cases are unrealistic. Now, this still does not mean that a child will not be scared on an over night camping trip, but if approached properly by an adult, this fear can be great reduced.
Prior to your camping trip spend some time with the child and discuss what will take place. Be honest and speak about insects, animals, bathrooms (or the lack), foods, and so on. Find out what the child’s real concerns are. Discuss in detail the concerns he/she has and be up front here. It is important the child learns to trust your suggestions and explanations.
I also suggest you start your children camping at an early age. All three of my kids started very young, at least by the age of one-year-old. Granted, we only took them to designated campgrounds and in fair weather, but they “grew up” camping and now all three are very experienced campers. Additionally, they are very comfortable sleeping in the bush with just a campfire and the minimum amount of supplies, it is a learning process. Along with this learning process comes not only experience, but a total acceptance of nature as it really is.
Another very important aspect of camping with children is setting a good example for them. We want our children to grow up protecting our natural resources and keeping nature clean. I have a few simple child educating rules that I enforce when I camp with a child.
Keep the campsite clean at all times. Trash and waste go into the proper containers immediately.
Use only dead wood for fires. Stack the wood up neatly and explain to the child why it is not placed too close to the fire.
Require all campers use the designated toilet area. Boys, I have found, tend to want to sneak behind a tent.
Teach the child about the animals they will see. I believe you will find them fascinated by the small creatures, rabbits, squirrels, ducks, birds and so on.
Make certain your child knows that wild animals are wild. Stress to them that the animals you see are not pets and under no circumstances should the child attempt to feed or pet any animal.
I always stress to any child just before we leave a campsite that we need to make sure the area is cleaner than when we found it.
Another aspect of sharing nature with a child that should be addressed is safety. Make sure to always stress camping safety with each child. Explain why it is dangerous for the child to leave the campsite alone (may get lost; encounter a snake, or dangerous animal). Give each child a plastic whistle and make sure they understand to blow it only if they are lost.
Inform each child that the only water to drink is from your water source. Many kids want to taste stream or river water, and that’s not safe to drink.
Warn, but do not scare, each child about snakes. Pit vipers, the most common type of poisonous snake in North America, are found throughout the United States and Canada. I explain the role that snakes play in nature and that most (about 90%) of the snakes in the world are not poisonous.
Camp safety is another good subject to discuss. Explain that only adults can make a fire, chop wood, add wood to a fire, or cook on a fire (unless supervised by an adult). Keep a container of water, or a fire extinguisher, near the fire and show the child how to use it.
You should also make sure all of the kids know to report any injury, regardless of how small, to an adult. All cuts, scrapes, or punctures should be cleaned and covered to avoid infection.
Another area to discuss with children, and not a very popular one, is hygiene. Explain to the child that regular bathing, the brushing of teeth, and good overall cleanliness is required. Nothing can ruin a camping trip faster than an illness resulting from poor hygiene.
Keep the children involved in basic camp chores appropriate for their ages. They can assist by doing dishes, washing their clothing, airing sleeping bags or blankets, picking up liter, or any other needed tasks. Also, older children and teens can actually do some camp cooking with supervision. I usually start them out with hot dogs on a stick, marsh mellows, or helping me prepare and cook pancakes for breakfast. As the child ages, so does the type of cooking.
Another good idea is to have a few hobbies, books, or games along to give the child something to do when they want to stay close to the campsite or during bad weather. If you have games or books along, they can pass the time until the weather clears. Just be sure and allow the children to pick the games, hobbies, or books before the trip. It should be things they are interested it, not you.
While camping with a child is not difficult, it does require a little planning on your part. Just remember to have some basic safety rules, chores, and activities planned for your trip. Take care, stay safe, and I hope to see you and your family at the campgrounds soon!