Kas Winters
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Enjoy and Outdoor Adventure

 Enjoy and Outdoor Adventure
A Dozen Ideas for Camping with Children

By Kas Winters, Mother of Family Ideas™

kasportrait09revsml According to my mother, I started camping when I was a baby, and I haven’t stopped. Over the years we’ve camped with family members, Scouts, and friends in a variety of situations. It has been a delightful opportunity to teach skills, build confidence, enjoy camaraderie, try new things, and learn to appreciate nature. Here are some activities you can adjust to the ages and interests of the children in your life.

1.  Learn Camp Safety. (This is first, because taking care of this will make camping a pleasant experience.) Teach children to stay where they can see you; and make sure you can see them. (As they get older and build outdoor skills, their territory can be expanded.) Make sure there is adequate water for putting out a campfire as well as a shovel to turn coals over. (Out means cold to the touch.) Remember, you are the visitors in the woods, desert, or field where you set up camp. Before your trip, use books or on-line sites with pictures to identify wild creatures in the area. Make sure children know they are not pets or tame. Keep all food locked inside a vehicle at night to keep hungry animals from thinking you are a local restaurant. Watch for rocks, ledges, and other things that can cause tripping and falling. If you are camping near a lake, creek, or river, use caution as you would around any body of water. If poison ivy or similar plants are nearby, make sure children know what they look like and avoid touching them. We always gave each child a whistle and they knew that three blows on that whistle was a call for help. Camping tools with sharp edges, fishing hooks, etc. are for use by adults or by youngsters with supervision. Dress for the weather in your camping area and be prepared for rain. Carry a cell phone. Bring a first aid kit and know what facilities are close in case there is a situation where you need assistance.

2. Explore Nature. Depending on your camping environment you can make a scavenger hunt list of things to find. It might include birds (perhaps specific varieties or colors), small animals such as squirrels or chipmunks, bugs of all kinds, spider webs, moss growing on the north sides of trees and rocks, rocks of certain colors, flowers, ferns, specific types of trees, or even fossils if they are in the area. If there are dandelions, blow the seeds and watch them dance in the air. It there are fireflies, watch them. Look at the stars at night and try to identify some constellations. Throw small rocks in a lake or pond and see how many times you can make them skip before they go under the water. If it rains, watch for a rainbow. Touch things. Feel the texture of rocks, of bark, of plants, of water in a stream or dew in the morning. Smell things like flowers and trees. You might be surprised to find, for example, that the bark of a Ponderosa Pine tree smells like vanilla, not pine.

3.  Relax and listen. Take a hammock or stretch out on a sleeping bag and take a deep breath. Listen to the wind. Listen to the birds. Enjoy the quiet and peace of the outdoors. Let go of the stress of everyday life. Sit and talk with one another. Tell stories. Recall special memories. Look for pictures in the clouds. Let nature revive and renew you.

4. Learn camping skills. There are countless skills children can learn. If they start when they are young, they can become confident campers and outdoor adventurers as they grow. Teach knot-tying, build things by lashing sticks together with rope or twine. Make your own roasting sticks and learn safety with a pen knife in the process. Climb a tree or rock formation. Discover how to build various types of campfires using tinder, kindling, and fuel for different purposes. Collect wood for a campfire without harming trees. Set up a camp kitchen that includes dishwashing, food prep, and cooking areas. Learn to read maps. Look at star charts.

5.  Take a hike. Depending on the environment, ages and abilities of those involved, and the weather, this can be a short walk within view of your campsite, a hike following a trail, or a compass hike for those experienced. Take a bag and collect interesting rocks, twigs, leaves, or even wildflowers for a centerpiece for your table in the woods. Experienced campers and hikers can backpack into remote areas for views few ever see. For those who prefer climbing find an area where boulders offer that opportunity.

6.  Use tools. Learn to put bait on a fish hook and cast out. Use a pen knife or hatchet. Use a compass to find directions. Shoot a bow and arrow at a target. Use a flint and steel fire starter. Knowing how to do these things makes children feel special and competent.

7.  Build something. Lash a table with sticks and twine. Create an outdoor hand-washing area with a water jug, towel line, and soap on a rope. Make a solar still and collect water. Use a tin can to make a stove. Use sticks and twine to build a tripod and find ways to use it in your camp kitchen or other areas.

8.  Craft something from nature. Press flowers. Carve something from a stick. Make a fairy house with sticks, moss, pebbles, and wild flowers. Weave grasses together. Braid flower stems to make a floral crown. Build an Ewok village or ancient fort using sticks, rocks, and other materials found at your campsite.

9. Identify what you see. Gradually, learn more about the plants, animals, birds, bugs, rocks and other things found in your camping area. Take guides or books with photos to help you. Focus on different areas. Bring a star chart. Find pictures of cloud formations and learn what they look like and what weather they might bring. Learn what poisonous plants and animals live in the wild and be able to identify and avoid them.

10. Cook something outdoors. Whether it’s a marshmallow on a stick, an egg on a tin can stove, an apple cobbler in a Dutch Oven, or instant oatmeal with water boiled on a campfire, cooking in the wild can be fun and also empowering for kids. Start simply.

11. Sing and make up skits for fun around a campfire. Sitting around a campfire at night is a magical time. Sing silly songs. If someone can play a harmonica, recorder, or even beat two sticks together to make music, add it to your evening entertainment. We’ve also become very good at skits that make us giggle. There are books and online sites that include ideas for these. If you have a good storyteller in the family or group, there is no better time for tall tales than when you are camping. Make it fun! If kids are old enough to handle scary stories, those can be memorable times. Use judgment to avoid frightening young children.

12. Leave the area in better condition than you found it. If you pack it in, pack it out. “Leave no trace camping” is one of the most important things you can do. At the end of each camping trip, we give each person a bag and everyone walks all around the campsite filling bags with trash, including that left by others who were there before us. When we leave, the site is always clean.

Enjoy an outdoor adventure!

To order The Little Book of Knots by Roger and Kas Winters, go to:  http://www.everythingfamily.net/knotbook.htm. For July family activity suggestions go to: http://www.winmarkcom.com/julyholidays.htm For thousands of family activity ideas, check out my book, Motherlode: The Ultimate Collection of Ideas for Keeping Kids Busy, at: http://www.winmarkcom.com/motherlode.htm.