Camping with kids… I can visualize you all running away with your arms in the air, screaming in terror.
It kind of sounds like asking somebody to play golf with their non-preferred hand, or kick a footy with the wrong foot! You can’t help but feel certain that it’s going to go terribly wrong, but don’t be too quick to dismiss it, with some planning, appropriate equipment and a little bit of patience, you may end up having great memories that will never leave you. You just have to give it a go.
I came from a camping family and have fond memories of the anticipation and excitement that revolved around a tenting holiday. Yes there were tantrums and the occasional sibling argument, but by and large we had a great time, and have gone on to become enthusiastic campers ourselves.
When to make the call to safely take kids camping is a fairly big decision. Some parents try the camping thing too early and take the risk of never wanting to repeat the activity because of one bad experience. This is probably the worst outcome as camping is a great way to keep a family together and interacting, and with the right preparation it can be a success.
Here are some tips to help you prepare for your first camping trip.
Regardless of the children’s ages, do a trial run in a structured setting for a limited time. Perhaps a weekend spent in an onsite caravan could be the best way to test the waters, this would soon highlight any ongoing issues that need resolving for more exotic camps. It may be that this type of camping is more suitable in the short term, at least until the children are capable of looking after themselves to a basic extent.
The availability of good clean facilities cannot be overstated when travelling and camping with the very young ones. Toilets, baths, change rooms, laundries and hot water should be close by. Camp kitchens are also handy, with good lighting, a table and seats you can experience a bit of home comfort.
Camping sites are often dusty, dirty or muddy settings, so kids clothing should be selected on the basis of practicality, not fashion. Good footwear is essential to avoid injuries in rough country, especially the toes, while hats and sunscreen should be insisted upon in hot weather.
In time preparing for your trip becomes second nature and the kids can begin to get as much from the adventure as adults. In fact children can be excellent ambassadors for your group through their ability to make friends with camping neighbours. Adults tend to be more reserved, while kids quickly seek out friendship and draw others into their camp life.
This instinct to talk to everyone is both desirable and at the same time something to keep under control. Although the camping fraternity is generally a helpful and friendly group, you do need to keep an eye on your children’s movements and set some boundaries in terms of where they can go alone, and where adult company is required. Sleeping arrangements require a similar protocol; solo tents or swags are fine for older kids, but keep the young ones together with you for greater safety.
Other risks relate to water safety, getting lost, snakes, spiders, crocodiles, dingoes, and the ever present campfire. Just like anywhere, there are a host of possible dangers and only you can decide how best to deal with a situation and how much freedom the kids can be given. Encourage your children to play as a group if possible, and monitor them closely near water and at night.
Camping with friends or relatives who have children of a similar age is a great idea as the group brings with it “safety in numbers”. The older kids are generally quite protective of the younger ones, and offer some reassurance for parents who missed out on having eyes in the back of their heads.
Ball games are universally welcomed by children and should be encouraged. Let them decide on the format and how to play. Rules may have to be invented, and boundaries marked by ad hoc means, but the spirit to play will keep them going for hours, hopefully until dinnertime. Don’t feel compelled to play a particular game just because you have the gear (or indeed, don’t feel locked out by the items you don’t have), there are numerous possibilities to broaden the options. Try tying a rope from tree to tree, and using a soccer ball to get a game of volleyball happening after the interest in soccer has waned.
Try to keep some treats up your sleeve right through until the last day of camp. Sweets, animal encounters, night spotting, swimming opportunities, kite flying and fishing are rarely met with anything other than enthusiasm and are great rewards to minimize tantrums or sibling rivalry.
So take the plunge AND take the kids camping! You’ll never know how rewarding it can be if you don’t give it a try. It may not be for everybody, but there’s no doubt that the next generation of young campers and bush goers are waiting for you to take the lead and expose them to this wonderful family past time.
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