Imagine your children exploring the forest, fascinated – wending their way between the shafts of sunlight that pour down through the endless canopy of leaves above. The indescribable look when a butterfly lands on their shoulder, or when they whistle and a bird calls back. Roasted marshmallows, campfires under the stars, falling asleep snuggled close with a chorus of frogs in the distance…
The things parents hope for when they take their kids camping. Fascination, joy, discovery, togetherness.
But we’re parents. We know it’s not all highlights. Not by a long shot. What about tantrums in the forest? Throw up in a canoe? Whining about being bored?
Parents worry. It’s what we do. But people raised kids for many thousands of years in the Great Outdoors. Yours can survive a few days. Believe it.
And to help you along, here are Good For Whatever’s top ideas for taking kids under ten backwoods camping. Much of this applies to older kids and babies, too. Don’t worry.
1) Your Kids Will Still Be Your Kids. If your kid tantrums, they’ll still tantrum. If your kid is a picky eater, they’ll still be picky. If your kid needs a nap in the afternoon, they’ll still need a nap in the afternoon. Sure, some things will change, but manage your expectations: Don’t hope that you can throw out the rule book because you’re outside.
2) Try Not To Take Devices. Tablets, handheld video game consoles, phones: Try to leave it all behind (it doesn’t hurt to let your kids binge in the car, and tell them that’s the trade-off for not having them while camping – it’ll keep them quiet and you sane). For safety, it’s a good idea to bring a phone, but don’t tell the kids you’ve got it. Don’t offer it when they’re bored. This can be as good for you as it is for them. Gadgets can be great. It’s not like we all use them because they’re terrible. But they also break our connection to each other. We make eye contact with the screen, not with each other. We laugh at the stories we watch and read on the screen – not at each other’s stories. You have every other day of the year to play with your gadgets. Take a deep breath and leave them in the car.
3) Welcome Boredom. Seriously. Relish it. You’re a parent. How often do you get to be bored? And your kids will get past boredom. In fact, they need to practice that. It’s good for them – entertaining ourselves is a vital life skill. And it’s not your responsibility to entertain them 24/7.
And remember, the initial boredom that can happen when camping is really just you adjusting to a slower pace of life. Once you get used to it, it’s a wonderful thing.
4) Bring a Hammock (and some rope to attach to a couple of trees). Do it. It’s amazing.
5) Explore. Wander, on foot or in a canoe. Wander all over. Stop when you or your kids want to examine something closer.
6) Bring Goggles and Snorkels for Your Kids. Heck, do it for you too. Ontario is full of lakes – literally hundreds of thousands of them. Goggles and a snorkel open them up for discovery, too.
7) Remember Toilet Paper and Sunscreen. Add anti-nausea pills, bug repellant, soap (preferrably a biodegradable, non-petroleum-derived kind), wipes, and one more change of clothes than you think your kid needs. There are some things you don’t want to be left without. Perparing a checklist ahead of time helps immensely. It takes five minutes and it can save a lot of headache.
8) Let Your Kids Play with Sticks and Sand and Rocks. Leave as many of your kids’ toys at home as you can. Nature is full of toys.
9) Sleep In the Same Tent. Your kids will remember it forever.
Keep breathing and you’ll all adjust to the slower pace. And without all of the distractions and competing priorities of modern life, you can really spend time with each other. Low-stress time, without having to drop one kid off there and pick one up here. Time when your kids can wake up in the dark and have you right there beside them. Time when your kids can introduce you to new things, to a cricket they found, or a clamshell. Time when you can take an afternoon nap, too, when you have no cleaning, no laundry, no food to prepare before the kids get up.
They’ll still be your kids. But they’ll be different, too. And so will you.
Let Your Kids Roast You A Marshmallow. Once they get the hang of it they’ll feel like Superman.
Go Skinnydipping. This can be a difficult one for the grown-ups. We’re all bombarded with horrible messages about our bodies. Take a deep breath and give your kids (and you) a body-shame-free zone.
Let Your Kids Take Some Pictures. Yes, yes – no gadgets. Cameras are different. They help us cement and celebrate memories. Letting your kids take some pictures of things makes for a lot of blurry messes…and a few shots that you’ll smile and laugh over for years.
Show Them What the Stars Are Supposed to Look Like.