Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Camping with Children

In two weeks, my family is going to go off on a brave adventure: camping across the western US. This year marks the fifth year of our marriage. On our honeymoon, we camped across the entire country, from California to Vermont and back. Granted, we caved and stayed in the odd motel or so and surfed on friends' couches here and there, but a good deal of it was spent camping.

But things are different five years later. We have two kids and two dogs to take along with us. There's complications with eating, excessive "dark," using the potty, and a general resistance to flexibility to deal with. But saving $90 a night will help to offset the price of gas and cooking our own food will be cheaper than roadside fair as well (that's right--we really want to stretch that stimulus check we'll be getting shortly).

To explore the intricacies of camping with children--which we hadn't done for a year--we went on a short over-night camping trip to a nearby national forest a week ago. Here are some things we've encountered:

Being Outside: The kids love and treasure outside-time. We know this from playing outside and cooking outside, but it is especially evident while camping. When else do you get to spend hour upon hour solidly outside? It just doesn't happen much where we live or at least how we live. But the outside world is endlessly interesting and enriching offering us plenty of activities that don't involve much organization if any.

The benefits of being dirty: It's nice to be able to tell the kids to go ahead and be as dirty as they need to be. Especially in our 3 year old, there seems to be a resistance to--not getting dirty--but staying dirty. While camping, it's unavoidable that you will be dirty, so telling them so is somewhat of a liberation. Our eldest kept reminding us throughout the two days, "Look, I'm dirty, but it's okay." It never before has crossed my mind how much we must subtle encourage cleanliness in our day-to-day.

Hidden Dangers: Where we live, in southeastern Texas, there is a lot to be wary of. Poison ivy and oak are all around, as well as roughly 65 billion types of poisonous snake. There are insects like asps and scorpions that are better left alone. The lakes in the area house plenty of gators that would find our 2 year old a delightful snack. So there does end up being a bit much of the "stay close" and "get out of the bushes" from time to time. It didn't seem to bother them much.

Sleeping in a tent: This is fun for the kids, though a bit scary, too. We had the idea that they would sleep on one side and the parents could cuddle up in a separate area. No chance. We were a woven tapestry of humanity the night long. This is fine once expectations are abandoned. There is also plenty of need to reassure kids during sounds outside. Once in a while, I also need reassurance.

Play equipment: You don't need a lot of equipment for kids to play with. Lots of camping rituals provide structured fun; roasting marshmallows seems to be much more fun than eating them. we did bring sand pales and shovels and they chose to do a lot of digging. But exploration of leaves, bugs, and toads was more than enough for them most of the time.

Be prepared: This story is really told best by my wife. Okay, I'm the dumb one here. In the year we've had our trusty mini-van, I've never had to change its tire. Sure enough, waking up to a brisk morning, I saw that we had a flat over night. Getting that spare tire out from under was impossible--until I found out the right way to do it two hours later. There was no cell phone reception and no Google to help me out of the situation. Then, once that problem was solved, we discovered that a late-night diaper change led to a light being left on and eventually to a dead battery. When we finally tracked someone down to give us a jump (and we forgot our own cables), our German Shepard, Blitzen, threatened by the man's proximity to our daughter, decided to pounce the guy. Yeah, it was a great morning.

It's not like grown-up camping. The night doesn't get late enough before it's bed time, the little legs can limit long hikes, and you never have to remind your wife to move away from the fire nearly as much as you do your toddlers. But camping with kids can be fun and enriching. There is no limit to the opportunities for curious kids. They can't wait to go on our adventure, and neither can we. I'll be honest and update if we end up in a Super 8 due to rain or cold, but we're going to try and go all the way.

1 comment:

PlanningQueen said...

I have to say that I am not a massive fan of camping, but I do try to make sure we go a couple of times a year, because the kids love it and the benefits for them are numerous.

Also I have a free e-book to download on my my site that you might be interested in called Planning With Kids Top 100 Tips.