Camping out with the kids
Family camping ideas, tips and tricks and information to help make your camping trips easier to manage and more fun for all the family
Summer is here and soon you will be off camping with the family. We are curious – where do you most like to go camping?
By the beach, in the bush, on a farm, by a lake or in the hills?
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Camping with Children
Camping with children is an outstanding way to share a love for the outdoors without breaking the budget. While family backpacking or camping does take a great deal of planning and loads of patience, it is a rewarding activity for both you and your children.
If you have gone camping before, you will quickly realize that to go camping with children requires added responsibility and alertness on a parent’s part. Common sense and good judgment are the rule. Not surprisingly, the crucial point to a successful camping trip with parents and children is often rooted in their first experiences outdoors together.
A question commonly posed is, “When is my child old enough to begin hiking and camping?” The answer depends on your child. No two personalities are the same; no two children the same. What may work for one family may not work for another.
The following guidelines can help you decide when and where to introduce your child to the great outdoors, but please remember that the only firm guide is each child’s particular personality and physical condition. Whatever the activity, you must let her pace herself.
- Infant: Paediatricians recommend that parents wait until the child is 5 months old before venturing into the wilderness. This is when a child can easily sit up and support his own weight and has fallen into a fairly regular sleep pattern. Use a sturdy child carrier that is safe and secure for the child and comfortable for you.
- Toddler: Between the ages of 2 and 4, children are still getting used to the idea of being on two points of balance and not four. Short hikes up to 3km are ideal as long as the terrain is flat and secure to walk on. Take regular walks in a neighbourhood park to get a feel for your child’s attention span. Expect a focused attention span of around 10 minutes for younger children and up to 30 minutes for older children.
- Ages 5-9: Longer hikes at an easy pace over easy terrain are now possible. Children are beginning to develop more physical and mental durability. This is an ideal age to begin allowing your child to become involved in most aspects of the trip, from planning and packing to helping lead. The older your child is in this age group, the more likely moderate goal setting will be effective. Just make sure that the goals are shared and not an unrealistic attempt on the parent’s part to “motivate” the child up an impossible hill or over a 15km endurance test.
- Ages 10-13: Children are becoming increasingly conditioned physically. Emotionally, they are more likely to be able to handle moderately challenging situations, but they are also more likely to question the worth of anything extremely difficult. Hikes up to 15km are possible as long as the terrain is not too hilly or mountainous. Children in this age group thrive on being the leader — diplomatic and judicious support from parents is key. Menu planning, route finding, cooking, and camp setup are reasonable tasks to assign to kids at this age, but be careful that they do not take on too much and begin to feel like all they are doing is working.
- Ages 14-18: Distances up to 19km become reasonable in this age group. Terrain choices and goal setting can become more challenging, but the axiom remains the same: Any choice must be a group choice, or the parent risks making the children feel dragged along.
Children are encountering growth spurts during this period and are definitely vulnerable to stress and overuse injuries. Use caution and listen to your children — they may need to back off a hike
Be prepared to get down and dirty with your children. Experience the outdoors with them — don’t just watch them. Parents shouldn’t scold their children for getting up close and personal with a mud puddle, dirt, a bug, or more. Become childlike in your pursuit of the outdoors and your children will appreciate even more the time you spend together in the wilds.
Making outdoors a habit can be easy if you know how. Here is a list of simple ideas to try, adapt and add to, and many of them you can do right in your own backyard. These groups and activities are suitable for kids of all ages, so join your children and get outdoors!
- Try a night walk. Bring a torch for fun and safety, but be sure to turn them off for listening to the nature sounds and stargazing.
- Go on a nature walk. Smell flowers or hug a tree. Look for animal footprints. Watch insects. But remember, soaking up the smells, sounds and sights is sufficient, and leave only footprints behind.
- Get outside. First, set up any outdoor space you have access to so that it’s inviting, and spend time outside with your child. A sandbox, wading pool, swing, climbing structure or garden will keep your child entertained for hours. But if permanent structures aren’t possible, think impermanent: A tablecloth teepee or a bucket of water with funnels and cups, or a shovel to dig a hole you can later refill.
- Plant a native tree. Together, take responsibility for your tree or shrub. Care for it, and you and your child will reap the satisfaction in the months and years to come.
- Grow a herb garden. This could be a window box, or be included in a vegetable patch if you have the outdoor space. Choose plants that your child will eat and enjoy, and especially those that develop before your eyes. For example, herbs are generally quick to mature, and bush tomatoes change colour as they grow.
- Take your camera out into the backyard, a nature strip or a nearby park, and photograph areas of nature where you think animals might live. Take pictures of trees, leaves and grasses and see if you can name the plants/animals when you get home. By printing them off and sticking them into a book, your child can create their own story.
- Go on an adventure bike ride. Remember all your cycling safety, and simply enjoy riding in the fresh air.
- Go on a picnic. Pencil in your diary or on the family calendar one day to venture out into nature. Encourage your children to help pack the food, and discuss where it has come from. You could picnic at your local park, beach, river or even just in the back garden.
- Set up a colouring in and painting table. Ask your child to draw or paint a number of environmental images, including trees, rivers, and animals. You can also use leaves that have fallen off trees as stamps, by painting them and pressing onto paper. If you can, doing this outside is perfect. See your child’s interpretation of nature.
- Lend a hand in the garden. If you do have a garden space, ask you child to assist with raking leaves and pulling weeds. Check out if you have a community garden in your local area by searching on Communitygarden.org.au.
- Take an indoor toy outdoors. Introduce your child’s favourite toy, game or book to nature.
- Create an obstacle course. This could be indoors or outdoors, and you could use trees to run around, a pile of leaves to jump over, a stick ladder on the lawn.
- Create a collection of nature objects. Try and collect one item each day. It could be as simple as a leaf or a stone. Use each object to tell a story – perhaps about where it came from and what or who it has come across before reaching your hand. Although make sure you don’t take anything from a National Park, or any animal’s homes.
- Visit a local look out, hill or mountain. See the world from a different view. Talk about how birds and animals see the world differently to us. Discuss what the world might look like for a magpie, and how it might seem for an ant. If it’s safe, roll down the hill – careful not to get too dizzy!
- Watch the sunrise or the sunset. Find a natural environment to watch the sunset. If you aren’t by the sea or a river, you could watch the sun rise or fall behind a tree in the local park.
- Make a grass trumpet. Pull a blade of grass (making sure it’s clean) and put it between your lips. Press your lips and blow out, trying to push the air out of your mouth. It will make a squeaky, trumpet-like sound kids will love and be fascinated by.
- Go camping. Set a date to go camping with your family. There are great options for hiring camping gear if you don’t have the resources (time/money/storage space) to own it.
- Look for shapes in the clouds. Sit down and create a story. As the clouds change, the story will evolve.
- Create a nature mystery bag. Find a box and put in a collection of nature objects, with different textures and shapes. Ask you child to guess what it is, and discuss where it’s come from. Next time they’re outside, ask them to collect some natural items (safely – or with the assistance of another adult), for them to create a mystery box for you.
- Start a nature journal. Ask your child to write down all their favourite things in nature. If there’s something they’ve learnt about, but haven’t seen, add it to the list and try and find a time and place to catch a glimpse or make a visit. Use this to reflect as well. How did they feel when they saw it? Where were they, and who were they with? What was the weather like? Keep adding to the list, and watch it grow and change.
Tree Day Planet Ark
One of our favorite summer activities for families is camping. For those that aren’t sure about camping with kids, here are some tips for making it doable with kids.
Here is the truth, I don’t really like camping all that much, and that’s exactly why I have prepared this guide to camping with kids! Because I learned that by making it simpler and more comfortable, I start to mind less bugs and public bathrooms and appreciate more forest hikes, and canoeing on the lake.
And I just love how kids are running around happily and how our family is reconnecting together over the campfire! Also, I truly believe that camping is great for kids development …
Hacks, Tips & Tricks
Games & Activities
I’ve been collecting ideas that I thought I’d share with you, the games we’ve played for years around the campfire with family and friends.
If I had to pick out a centerpiece of summer, though, it would have to be the campfire. They have a magical way of bringing people together, inviting them to laugh, sing, and tell secrets. The sparkling golden hues of the fire, the crackles of the wood popping, the bright constellations above, and the warmth of people gathered around a central focus… I love campfires.
Campfire games were always the highlight of the carefree, summer nights of childhood. Whether part of summer camp activities or during a family weekend trip, many of us have blissful memories engaging with our friends well past bedtime curfews. There were no smartphones or other gadgets in sight to distract the attention of campfire game participants. The only thing that may have distracted everyone was the occasional crackle of what “sounded like footsteps” in the distant woods or when it was time to eat the melted deflated puff of a marshmallow that was strategically cooked over the sizzling roasting fire.
Activities For Kids (QORF)
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Visioning the Outdoors Film & Photo Competition 2017
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