Before parenting consumed our lives, taking off for the weekend or a week long camping trip was… a lot easier. But today’s children spend too much time in front of the television and not enough time gazing at wildflowers. Plus camping is guaranteed to wear out even the most active youngsters in a good way.
Generally our experience is kids 2 years and up are the easiest campers. They can skip naps and sleep in a different place without too much trouble. They can hike and appreciate roasting marshmallows and observing wildlife.
Some helpful guidelines:
- Start out with a weekend trip, one overnight. That way you’re close to home and the car trip is more fun.
- For your first overnight, pick a state or national park with Rangers. Plan a hike and visit to the Visitor’s Center to get info on Ranger programs and other kid friendly activities. We took advantage of campfire songs and s’mores provided by our Ranger.
- Involve your children in planning the trip. Older children can plan a route on the map or computer. Younger children can help pack their clothes.
- Buy a fun kids sleeping bag to get them excited about the trip. If you camp in the spring or fall, look at the temperatures ahead of time to make sure it won’t be uncomfortably cold for your little ones. Invest in the temperature rated bags when they get older and more adventurous.
- Tuck away a small flashlight for bathroom trips and glow-in-the-dark bracelets for fun nightlights. Bring their blanket and stuffed animal and be prepared to lay down with them to get them to sleep. Then sneak out and enjoy a crackling fire with your mate.
- Bring along some outside toys for digging in the dirt, collecting rocks and pinecones and blowing bubbles. You’ll be surprised how occupied they’ll be in a new place.
- Since there are no fences in the campground, designate an adult or responsible child to make sure the younger ones don’t wander off.
- Don’t worry about a booster seat. Kids can stand and eat or eat in camp chairs or on your lap. Hobo pies are a classic treat; fill slices of bread with the sweet or savory fillings of your choice (such as apple butter), then grill over the fire.
- Take advantage of hiking trails or water activities such as fishing and swimming, but make sure to allow plenty of time for relaxing.
- Bring a tree and bird identification book with you to satisfy inquisitive minds.
- Put kids in charge of documenting the trip. They can take pictures, collect leaves and nuts and make a scrapbook.
As residents of Georgia, we looked into the Junior Ranger Gopher Badge program at Georgia State Parks. Children ages 7 to 14 can participate and there are 16 different badge requirements. Activities include watching a sunrise or sunset, hiking a trail near your home and making a healthy snack for hiking.
“Kids have fun learning in the outdoors and they get a badge. They’ll experience nature firsthand and … enjoy outdoor recreation while they do it,” said Lisa Liu, of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources
National Park Service
The Ranger ZONE
Chris Reinolds and her husband have two young boys who are constantly planning their next adventure!