If ever there was an important goal for 2016 that parents should make, it would be to “unplug”. How do parents achieve this? Take them camping.
I have taken my fair share of kids camping over the years. My now 16 year old daughter has had every friend she knows along with us at some point. My 8 year old will start this year having friends come camping with us.
The un-camped kid.
There is something magical about a child who has never been camping. Their eyes are wide with excitement when they arrive at the campsite ready for their adventure. I have had the over-prepared child – packed for 3 months instead of 3 days. I have had the under-prepared child with 1 pair of dollar store flip-flops on a week long trip that broke on day 2. My favorite though was the child who came complete with a brand new fishing rod, brand new sleeping bag, snacks and a brand new life jacket. He had only ever been camping once. He was up at 5am every morning excited and ready for what the day would bring.
Whatever the case, I will rarely say no to one of my kid’s friends that want to come camping with us. Not every family camps… but we sure do. I believe every child should experience camping at least once a year. The memories they create will forever be some of the fondest memories of their childhood.
Our kids just know… no laptops, ipads, DS, etc. My daughter plays card games from the time she wakes up until the time she goes to bed. My son is hardly seen – playing tag, digging in the dirt, identifying bugs and trees. Camping is a time for children to use their imaginations and stretch their brains. This is something we who grew up in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s did every day – riding bikes, playing in dirt, making forts outside. It is up to us parents to keep that tradition alive by teaching our children how to do it. Camping provides that opportunity for children to use their imagination.
So your intentions are great. You pull up for your 5 night stay and you have done your parental duties of bringing along 2 extra children for the trip. You spend hours… weeks… months preparing for this trip and the day is finally here. You pull in, set up and you are JUST about to sit down to relax and enjoy your surroundings when you hear those two words that make you cringe. “I’m bored”. WHAT?! Your mind is going a mile a minute. Can’t you see the beauty? Look at that lake. Listen to that silence. Check out those kids over there. What about all the toys you packed? Then you realize. THIS is your job. Training children to use their imagination is our job. So here’s how you can help.
Card Games. Every time you bring new people, they will know new card games. Play often and play with your kids so that you always remember how to play the games.
Rock painting. We have a small bucket of craft paints, brushes, glitter and stencils. Kids hunt out their favorite rocks and then spend hours decorating them. Once dry we plant them back in nature. Next year when we return, we look to see if they are still around.
Scavenger Hunts. I have collected many different scavenger hunts on pinterest. I took them all, combined and edited to come up my own. When it’s game time, every child gets their scavenger hunt list and a brown paper lunch bag. Then off they go! When they have all checked every item off their list, they get a special prize. I pack a good supply of prizes including glow sticks, bubbles, dollar store craft kits etc in my trailer. Here is my PDF version – for children and teens. scavengerhunt
Lego. I use large ice cream buckets – the kind you find in ice cream shops. I wash them out, dry and fill them with lego. 1 bucket is designated to camping. It’s lego that I don’t mind if it gets dirty or bits get lost because it stays in the trailer. When my 8 year old is being shy and won’t approach other children to play, something very interesting and almost magical happens. I set up the small collapsible table and the lego bucket in plain site of the path in front of our site and my son sits down to start his creation. Before I know it, all sorts of children from the campground have magnetized to our site to play with the communal lego. It’s a fantastic ice breaker. Nobody can resist lego. I know this because the lego table has been known to also attract adults from time to time.
Bikes. Bikes! How old were YOU when you learned to ride a 2 wheel bike? I was about 6. My daughter was 6. She learned in a campground. My son was 6. He learned in a campground. I have taken children camping who are older than 6 who do not own a bike nor do they know how to ride one. We can blame this on too much screen time and not enough outdoor time. Camping helps promote exercise and bike riding is a part of that. It is never too late to learn how to ride a bike. It is a prerequisite that every child who comes camping with me, must bring a bike. My kids spend lots of time exploring on bikes. So we encourage bike riding! Bikes are key. Training wheels are fine too.
Fishing. Fishing is a sport of patience. It takes practice. Practice and patience will pay off when there is a nice rainbow trout on the end of your child’s fishing rod. Be sure to spend at least an hour fishing on every camp trip with your children. It also teaches children sustainable living. Something that is becoming more and more important. Father’s Day is one day a year that you can fish without a license if your child wants to try it out first.
There are many other great ways to promote imagination while remaining unplugged. I could go on for pages on activities my children take part in while camping. However, it’s also important to make your own traditions.