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For kids of all ages, summer is basically glorified recess; they’re running around outside from sunup to sundown, discovering and exploring their surroundings, and having lots of fun doing it. And if your toddler suddenly decides that finding a new bug is infinitely more interesting than any of their Elmo toys, it might be good idea to start thinking about a family camping trip. More than just a way to encourage kids’ interest in the outdoors, camping is a terrific introduction to the joys of traveling and a surefire way to create memories that will last a lifetime.
Depending on how old your children are, there are several ways to approach an outdoor excursion. For families with infants and small children, car camping is the easiest way of enjoying the great outdoors; you simply pack up your car with all the supplies and gear you’ll need, drive to a campsite, and pitch a tent. Many campgrounds offer family amenities like bathrooms and kitchens, making it the perfect mix of familiar comfort and outdoor exposure. More adventurous families or those with camping experience might try hiking to a site in a more remote location – just make sure the whole family is up for it first.
Like most activities involving children, advance planning is essential. Get everyone involved in the most important piece of preparation: picking a destination. Do some research and find out what national parks, forests, or campsites are in your area. Keep in mind that some of the best places will be booked by the time summer rolls around, so start thinking now. Once you’ve decided on a place, use a checklist for supplies, such as extra clothes, first aid kits, camping stove utensils, and sleeping gear. Planning meals ahead of time will help keep growly stomachs to a minimum – no kid wants to remember their camping trip as “that time I went hungry for four days.”
Once you’re at your destination, establish safety rules right away, such as no going anywhere without telling an adult, no running around cars, and no touching strange plants. During the day, pack a bag with snacks and drinks and take them on a nature walk, pointing out flowers, trees, and animals along the way. If there’s a river nearby, see if it’s possible to rent a kayak or canoe. Bring pails and shovels for younger kids, since they often can’t resist digging in the dirt. And, though it may be hard for little ones to grasp, emphasize the importance of Leave No Trace, the camping philosophy that one should leave only with what one came with, and never leave trash behind to spoil nature for others.
With a little planning and creative thinking, camping with your family can be fun and rewarding – and make the dreaded “What I Did Over the Summer” essay a no-brainer. Happy trails!