If ever there was an important goal for 2016 that I continue to make as a parent, it is to make sure my kids are able to “unplug”. How do I achieve this? I take them camping. I have taken my fair share of kids camping over the years. My now 16 year old daughter has had every friend she knows along with us at some point. My almost 9 year old will start this year having more friends come camping with us.
The un-camped kid.
There is something magical about a child who has never been camping. Their eyes are wide with excitement when they arrive at the campsite ready for their adventure. I have had the over-prepared child – packed for 3 months instead of 3 days. I have had the under-prepared child with 1 pair of dollar store flip-flops on a week long trip that broke on day 2. My favorite though was the child who came complete with a brand new fishing rod, brand new sleeping bag and a brand new life jacket. He had only ever been camping once. He was up at 5am every morning excited and ready for what the day would bring.
Whatever the case, I will rarely say no to one of my kid’s friends that want to come camping with us. Not every family camps… but we sure do. I believe every child should experience camping at least once a year. The memories they create will forever be some of the fondest memories of their childhood.
Our kids just know… no laptops, iPads, DS, etc. My daughter plays card games from the time she wakes up until the time she goes to bed. My son is hardly seen – playing tag, digging in the dirt, identifying bugs and trees. Camping is a time for children to use their imaginations and stretch their brains. This is something we who grew up in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s did every day – riding bikes, playing in dirt, making forts outside. It is up to me, as a parent to keep that tradition alive by teaching my children how to do it. Camping provides that opportunity for children to use their imagination.
We pull up in anticipation to our campsite, all set for our 5 night stay. I have even done my parental duties of bringing along 2 extra children for the trip. I spend hours… weeks… months preparing for this trip and the day is finally here. We pull in, set up and I am JUST about to sit down to relax and enjoy my surroundings when I hear those two words that make me cringe. “I’m bored”. WHAT?! My mind is going a mile a minute. Can’t you see the beauty? Look at that lake. Listen to that silence. Check out those kids over there. What about all the toys you packed? Then I realize. THIS is my job. Training my children to use their imagination is my job. So here’s how I do it.
Card Games. Every time we camp with new people, we learn new card games. We play often and play with our kids so that we always remember how to play the games.
Rock painting. We have a small bucket of craft paints, brushes, glitter and stencils. Our kids hunt out their favourite rocks and then spend hours decorating them. Once dry we plant them back in nature. Next year when we return, we look to see if they are still around.
Scavenger Hunts. I have collected many different scavenger hunts on Pinterest. I took them all, combined and edited to come up my own. When it’s game time, every child gets their scavenger hunt list and a brown paper lunch bag. Then off they go! When they have all checked every item off their list, they get a special prize. I pack a good supply of prizes including glow sticks, bubbles, dollar store craft kits etc in my travel trailer.
Lego. I use large ice cream buckets – the kind you find in ice cream shops. I wash them out, dry and fill them with lego. 1 bucket is designated to camping. It’s lego that I don’t mind if it gets dirty or bits get lost because it stays in the trailer. When my 8 year old is being shy and won’t approach other children to play, something very interesting and almost magical happens. I set up the small collapsible table and the lego bucket in plain site of the path in front of our site and my son sits down to start his creation. Before I know it, all sorts of children from the campground have magnetized to our site to play with the communal lego. It’s a fantastic ice breaker. Nobody can resist lego. I know this because the lego table has been known to also attract adults from time to time.
Bikes. Bikes! How old were YOU when you learned to ride a 2 wheel bike? I was about 6. My daughter was 6. She learned in a campground. My son was 6. He learned in a campground. I have taken children camping who are older than 6 who do not own a bike nor do they know how to ride one. I blame this on too much screen time and not enough outdoor time. Camping helps promote exercise and bike riding is a part of that. It is never too late to learn how to ride a bike. It is a prerequisite that every child who comes camping with me, must bring a bike. My kids spend lots of time exploring on bikes. So we encourage bike riding! Bikes are key. Training wheels are fine too.
Fishing. Fishing is a sport of patience. It takes practice. Practice and patience pays off when there is a nice rainbow trout on the end of my child’s fishing rod. We try to spend at least an hour fishing on every camp trip with my children. It also teaches children sustainable living. Something that is becoming more and more important. TIP: Father’s Day is one day a year in BC that you can fish without a license if your child wants to try it out.
There are many other great ways to promote imagination while remaining unplugged. I could go on about the activities my children take part in while camping. However, it’s also important that each family make their own traditions.
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