For years my kids had begged me and my husband, Scott, to take them camping. While Scott had camped several times in college, my entire childhood camping experience was one night in a pop-up camper. My two-year-old sister wandered away while the rest of the family was napping. She was found safe, but the experience did my parents in, and that was that!
Feeling wildly intimidated, but safe in the knowledge that at least Scott knew how to pitch the tent, I packed up the car with way too many supplies and we headed off to what ended up being a fun, lifetime-memory-making experience for our family. In full disclosure, we came home more tired than we left and in definite need of a shower, but even I – the family’s camping wimp – vowed, “We have to do that again!”
The thought of working with gear you don’t know and sleeping out in the great outdoors holds many a parent back from taking the camping plunge, but it’s worth pushing outside of your comfort zone. Besides making family memories, there are many lessons to be learned and benefits to be gained from camping.
Basic survival skills
Camping presents the perfect opportunity to learn basic survival skills such as campsite cooking, simple first aid, basic navigation, how to spot undrinkable water and how to build a fire from gathered wood and extinguish it safely
Respect for nature
Kids develop a love of and respect for nature by spending time outdoors. They can be taught to “leave no trace behind” and can learn how to identify animals and treat them with a healthy regard. Children who respect and appreciate nature are more likely to grow up to be adults who are more environmentally aware.
Being in nature has been proven to combat stress and anxiety. The feeling of “nothing to do, nowhere to be” allows everyone to relax and enjoy the slower pace.
There are so many ways to get your heart rate up while camping without even realizing that you’re exercising! For example, pitching the tent, stooping and gathering sticks for the campfire, and taking a hike through the woods all contribute to healthier bodies.
Our kids are surrounded by electronics from the time they wake up until the time they go to sleep. Leaving the devices at home means that there is no fighting over screen time limits and rules once you reach your destination. Parental bliss!
If you’ve left those tablets and smartphones behind, perhaps after a short whining period, imagination kicks in and kids begin playing games and entertaining themselves, something they may not do at home.
Sense of adventure
Camping brings out a sense of adventure and allows parents to model being willing to try new things. Kids learn to take reasonable risks while learning basic camping skills, and they get to practice making mistakes safely.
Not every part of camping is fun. Helping with the tent or picking up sticks for the fire can get boring. Maybe you encounter an unexpected rainstorm or an extra hot night that makes for sticky sleeping. Sticking it out when things get frustrating, however, teaches kids resilience and that they can do hard things when they need to.
Freedom and independence
Depending upon the age of your child and the set-up of your particular campground, your child can go off alone or with siblings for a short hike or bike ride. My kids loved taking a walk to a nearby shallow pond to check out the fish and frogs. They thought they were on their own, but their loud voices carried, allowing us to revel in some kid-free time while feeling confident that they were fine. That sense of freedom and independence is hard to come by for today’s kids and it can give a real boost in self-confidence.
Camping is just no fun if you’re the only one doing everything. The whole family has to pitch in to make it possible. Kids learn that if everyone is going to benefit from an activity, then everyone needs to help out.
It’s cliché, but true – time really does fly and children grow up so fast! Once children reach a certain age, friends and activities tend to take over and family time becomes scarcer. Setting aside a night or weekend to camp together offers a real bonding experience for the whole family.
Camping doesn’t have to take place in a tent if that seems too intimidating. There are many alternatives, including campers and cabins. Some families have found great success with “glamping,” or glamour camping, where you camp in a luxury tent that is already pitched and contains special amenities. You could also just daytime camp – set up the tent, take a hike, roast your marshmallows and then head home to sleep in your own bed. The important thing is getting out in nature with your family and making some lifelong camping memories together!
Visit texasstateparks.reserveamerica.com to learn about campsites available through the Texas State Parks system.
Alison Bogle is an Austin-based freelance writer and mom of three.