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Under the Stars: A Guide to Camping with Kids
Under the Stars: A Guide to Camping with Kids
Growing up, I remember the excitement of summer. Days spent outdoors, navigating wildlife and freedom, or better yet, weekends spent camping just a short drive up the mountain from our house. To me it seemed so simple; behind the scenes, though, my parents had put a lot of work into preparing everything—food, rainy-day activities and a plethora of ways to encourage me to embrace the beauty of the wilderness.
Unfortunately, kids are spending less and less time exploring the magic of the great outdoors. In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv termed this trend, and its resulting health effects, “nature-deficit disorder.” He claims this indoor-focused lifestyle—favored these days by children and adults alike—is directly linked to the rise in obesity, depression and even attention disorders.
As a parent, I can see how easy it is for my kids to choose screen time over sunscreen, but when we do make the effort to get outside, the kids love it—and they thrive. A big muddy yard provides all the necessary ingredients for mud-cupcakes, a pile of sticks becomes a fairy house and a dry stream becomes a great imaginary river. The trick is, how do we get out the door and really revel in all that nature has to offer?
Get in the groove
Camping with your kids is one of the best things you can do for their growth, according to Lynn Brunelle, author of Camp Out! The Ultimate Kids’ Guide (Workman Publishing Company, 2007). The key to a positive experience is to practice, prepare and then let loose. Get everyone on board by making the entire experience an adventure. You can designate different members of the family to help with different aspects of preparation (food, shelter, activities, for example). When you arrive at the campsite, put one kid in charge of gathering firewood and send another to collect water.
When you ask your kids for ideas, take their input seriously. Ask them what they’d like to do or see, and try to plan as best you can to accommodate those adventure requests. With younger, more fantastical kids, requests may be harder to deliver, so get creative. My 4-year-old, for instance, wants to see a castle this summer, so we’ll camp someplace with an old tower she can envision as a lively castle bustling with fairies.
Camping with friends is another way to breathe new life into the outdoors: Two children navigating a hike are more likely to trek on and enjoy themselves than one child who might become bored.
If you go camping for the wellness benefits nature can offer, why ruin it with unhealthy meals? Campfire cooking does not need to be limited to hotdogs on sticks. “I’m a big food-in-foil fan myself,” says Brunelle, who offers dozens of recipes in her book, including Coconutty Curried Chicken and Vegetable Packet with Couscous.
For a simple veggie roast, clean and prep a variety of vegetables into bite-size pieces. Mix them together and add a tablespoon of butter, salt and pepper and some minced garlic. Place on a square of aluminum foil, sealing the edges to create a packet. Set it on the embers of your fire and cook for 20 to 60 minutes (veggies like corn, peppers and tomatoes take less time than potatoes, carrots and onions).
For dessert, try banana boats instead of s’mores. Take a whole banana (keeping the skin on), and slice it down the middle. Spread it open so it looks like a canoe, and stuff it with nuts, dried fruit and some chocolate chips. Squeeze it back together and wrap it in foil. Place it in the embers for about 10 minutes or until the chocolate has melted.
Tune out, tune in
Not all kids take to camping like fish to water. For them, you’ll want to have activities planned to stave off complaints of boredom. Brunelle’s book is filled with great ideas I can’t wait to try. One in particular, the “winter count,” is about to become a tradition for my family.
“Winter counts were animal hides that Native American tribes drew and painted on to record the history of the tribe,” Brunelle explains. “Every winter, an image was chosen that symbolically represented the year. That image was painted on the scroll.”
Drawing from this idea, Brunelle suggests creating a memory-keeper for your family’s camping adventures. To mimic animal hide, cut a large rectangle from a paper grocery bag and crumple it up and roll it out a few times until the paper softens and rolls easily. At the end of each day, gather around the campfire and ask everyone what their most memorable events of the day were. You can all then draw representative symbols on the “hide” and record the date and place. Every time you go camping, add to your Winter Count—and your family’s good memories.
Another way to take note of the joy in your days is to journal (bring notebooks and plenty of art supplies). Younger kids will doodle; older kids might write about what they see, what they hear and how it makes them feel.
And that’s another benefit of getting outdoors: It causes us to slow down and appreciate the world around us. “Getting children to be amazed by the outdoors is the first step in getting them to care about it,” Brunelle says. The benefits of that will last long after you get all your gear unpacked.
Melissa is a writer and editor who focuses on health and wellness, as well as spa travel. She has served as the editor at Healing Lifestyles & Spas since 2001and has freelanced for such publications as Shape, Delicious Living and Cooking Light. She is also a yoga instructor and co-owns the Yoga Junction in Louisville, Colorado.
May 31st, 2012