By Wesley Harris
Some of my best childhood memories come from family camping trips. They were mostly unorganized affairs with odds and ends of equipment hastily stuffed in the car. Our large family camping tent of heavy olive drab canvas kept us hot in the summer and tended to leak in rainy weather. We weren’t experts with bunches of high-tech gear, but we had fun.
Camping is a good way for a family to spend time together. It gets you away from distractions so you can spend time alone with your kids and reveal to them the phenomena of nature. There are so many things to discover—flowers, birds, insects, and wildlife. Kids love the outdoors if given the chance to understand its wonders. Camping can be a wonderful family adventure.
Camping does not require tons of expensive equipment, nor do you have to go a long way to camp. Lincoln Parish Park, for instance, offers campgrounds and RV spots. Visit your local discount store and you can pick up a sleeping bag for each family member and a tent for the cost of a nice hotel room. If you decide to stick with camping, you can upgrade and grow your equipment list over time.
Let the kids pack their own items. Encourage them to choose only the essentials that will fit in a single bag. That alone can be a learning opportunity. Packing all the camping supplies as a family teaches kids decision-making as they determine what is indispensable and what can be left behind.
If you have never camped, or have children who have never experienced it, I suggest starting out simple and avoid extreme “roughing it.” Select a state park or campground with electricity and water hookups and restroom facilities. Primitive camping deep in a national forest can be amazing, but it’s something to work up to.
When planning your family camping trip, consider the activities your kids like—swimming, hiking, canoeing, geocaching, scavenger hunts, bicycling. Meal planning is an important part of your camping trip. Plan the meals together. Kids love to choose what to eat. Planning as a family keeps the kids interested and part of the process.
Make campsite chores a family activity, teaching children responsibility and the importance of teamwork. Everyone should have a role in setting up the campsite. Duties can be rotated. Stress the need to leave the campsite cleaner than when you arrived.
Even with a plan, anything and everything can go wrong. That’s part of the fun!
My most memorable camping trip remains vivid in my mind fifty years later. It rained almost constantly during our weekend trip to the lake. My family and my aunt and uncle and their family pitched our tents in an “unimproved” area (no restrooms, etc.) beside a local lake. Then torrential rains fell. My father and uncle attempted to cook French fries and the fish we had caught. I remember fat drops of rain falling into the frying pot on the propane camp stove, kicking up little explosions of hot oil. We ate standing under the awning of our tents in a downpour.
My cousin Gary and I played in the rain. We got muddy. We acted stupid, yelling and catching raindrops with open mouths.
Gary and I talked about “wet fish and soggy potatoes” for years afterward.
It was a fantastic trip.
All vacations can create memories, but the memories formed with your family during camping trips are countless and will be cherished forever. Experiencing exciting and enjoyable camping trips with your children while they are young will set them on a path to a lifetime of outdoor activities.
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