Camping is like no other vacation for kids, and with a little encouragement from you, they will soon unplug and even enjoy being tech-free for a few days. The trick is to engage them by having activities ready to suggest, activities that aren’t things they can do everyday at home. Here are some of our kids’ favorites.
At first, all the green things around your campsite may seem the same, but encourage kids to look closer by creating games: How many different leaf shapes can they find? Take paper and crayons or colored pencils along so they can make leaf rubbings to take home. If they like to draw, they can start nature notebooks with pictures of flowers. They can also have fun matching them up with pictures in a pocket wildflower guide.
Many campgrounds have brochures showing the local plants, and kids can see how many they can check off. National parks — and many state parks — have small nature centers that share information on local plants, or rangers who can help identify them. Be sure to remind them not to pick wildflowers or take parts off live plants, though.
Create nature scavenger hunts for things like pine cones (are there different kinds there?), acorns, different colored rocks. These don’t need to be things they can collect — they can draw them, or take photos with their phones. Some parks have free treasure hunt or Junior Ranger booklets and kids can get prizes or badges for completing them. Beyond the fun they will have playing these games, kids will become more aware of the natural world around them — not a bad thing at all!
Ask park rangers or campground staff what animals are native to the area. Challenge your kids to spot as many as possible, adding birds and insects to give them a head start (at last, a use for those pesky ants!). This might be time to talk about how wild animals are different from pets or farm animals, how they react to humans and the dangers of feeding wild animals or leaving food where they can smell it.
Just preparing meals on a camping trip can be fun, and the whole family can join in. It’s not quite like the backyard barbecue where the kitchen is just a few steps away. Even though you have a propane camp stove with you, try to plan meals that have at least some dishes cooked on or in the campfire. Yes, your pans will get black on the outside, but it washes right off. Just be sure they don’t have wood or plastic handles. Or grill meat or shish kebab as you would on the gas grill at home, and use some modern techniques the Native Americans and pioneers didn’t have by wrapping potatoes and ears of corn in aluminum foil and roasting them in the coals.
Building a campfire together is a great way for kids to learn a new skill while you sneak in some safety lessons. Start by showing them how to collect dry twigs and sticks, and remind them they should never collect live twigs or bark from standing trees, even if it looks like it’s peeling off. Let kids lay the fire with crumpled newspaper (or some bark from a fallen Birch tree if you’re lucky enough to find it), twigs and sticks, with smaller then larger firewood on top. This is a good time for the basic physics lesson about how fire needs air to get started. After dinner and marshmallows, show everyone how to properly extinguish the fire.
Introducing your kids to the fun of camping, being outdoors and surrounded by nature not only creates precious family memories, but also encourages them to look around them for activities in an environment where they can be tech-free and never miss it.
Continuing our story from yesterday (if you missed it, click here), here’s part two on how to make the most of your weekend pioneering, with a closer look at our itinerary for Saturday:
Tucked into the central coast of California is a trail of history waiting to be found by your kids. The Highway 1 Discovery Route through San Luis Obispo County snakes along the winnowy Pacific Coast Highway, CA-1, between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The more than 100 miles of mostly protected coastline begins after a four-hour drive from San Francisco at Ragged Point, or about three hours from Los Angeles at Nipomo. The trail features 10 cities, connected by cliffs, carved by a moody ocean, and a slower pace of life. There are plenty of reasons to stop and walk into the past, preserved by those whose hearts still live there. Nature lovers will linger on the many trails to hike and picnic areas. We drove from Los Angeles with two 9-year-old boys to explore this part of the state.
If walking through a winter wonderland is still on your family’s list of things to do this season, Maine can definitely help check that box. By this time of year, Maine is almost certainly covered with snow and awaiting the arrival of winter lovers and outdoor adventurers alike.
By Hainan Airlines