3 Reasons to take your kids camping
Camping with kids can seem like a daunting idea. All that packing to do before you leave, the long drive, the set up once you arrive, the dangers that exist out in the bush…so many reasons to not give it a go, but you will then be missing out on a fabulous family adventure…
Reason One - Eating and Sleeping well
My experience of camping with children has shown me that all that fresh air, sand, sun, dirt and outdoor exposure guaranteed (most of the time) big feeds and long sleeps.
I know that this is an area of great confusion and frustration when dealing with small children, and “guarantee” may be deemed a highly optimistic (perhaps foolish) term to use! Food and sleep are the big ones in the early years. Some families manage, as if by magic, to have good eaters, other good sleepers, others neither and, the fortunate few, both. Other families just have somewhere in between. I fell into this category. At times the kids were amazing, at times frustratingly unpredictable. We could always be assured of a rest when we went camping though.
Whilst camping, the kids are outdoors for a large percentage of the time. There are wonders everywhere! Even in the most isolated bush settings there are rocks, sticks, sand and dirt to explore, touch and wonder at. There are leaves, animals and sounds to explore and consider. There are often more opportunities for physical adventures too. The kid’s brains and bodies have expended so much energy that they end up tired by bedtime.
Camping is a great opportunity to keep food simple, and to try new things. Cooking on the fire is beloved by many, but fires need attention, and come with risks for little ones. As long as there is someone available at all times to monitor the fire, it can be an amazing way to spend a few hours and slowly cook a meal.
Perhaps just meat and vegetables is what’ll suit you all? Maybe you’re more organised and can prepare some meals at home, which just require heating once you’re at your campsite? However you manage the food, it’s lovely to have no option but what you have prepared. You often can’t just drop off to the supermarket, so what you have is what you eat.
Picnic food can be fun too. Lots of bits and pieces can made up a decent meal. Carrot sticks, hummus, baby tomatoes, cucumber, small pieces of steak or chicken, lamb chops, chick peas (can be a great hit for little fingers that like to pick up tiny morsels one at a time), cheese, broccoli, corn on the cob from the BBQ…whatever takes your fancy.
Reason Two - Play/Wonder/Discover/Learn
After all the effort of the planning, the drive and the set-up, it comes time to relax! Again, this can be hard to do with kids around. I know that a holiday with children is really more of the same, in a different setting. The difference in a camping spot is that you can remove many of the distractions that get in the way each day, and you don’t have to spend money. If the kids drop food at the dinner table, it lands on the dirt and the floor doesn’t need to be swept or mopped. Dishes are often kept to a minimum as you only have one bowl each and everything is served in this. If their clothes get dirty, there’s often no point in changing them as the next lot will get just as dirty! If the dirty clothes really bother you then a mud/puddle suit is the best invention for camping. Your kids can hang out in them all day, minimising washing.
You can leave the toys at home. A pile of leaves can become a play centre for a whole morning of wonder. A stick can become a pen for drawing pictures in the dirt, or a fishing rod to catch pretend fish. A baby who is not mobile yet, can sit and pat the mud, can feel the leaves in their hands or watch the wind blow through the trees. Birds often abound in natural environments and their calls become the soundtrack to your day, leaving traffic and “city noises” at home. Sometimes kids can enjoy the peace and quiet to escape into their own head. They might climb a tree or sit in a chair and ponder the world.
Bush walking whilst camping can be fun, but don’t expect a physical slog if your kids are walking too!! Over the years we have stopped on bush walks to sweep the path with a broom made of leaves, we’ve made bark shoes out of strips of Eucalytpus bark, “written” our names using sticks to create the letters, made a slide out of a huge piece of bark, “picnicked” on all sorts of leaves, gumnuts, flowers and plants. The kids have made nests and shelters, have pretended to be all sorts of different people and animals. Some of these were a little embarrassing for us at the time, but are now embarrassing stories for the kids!! At times we’ve been frustrated at how long the walks took and there’s been plenty of whinging about tired legs and sore feet!! For those days that we needed to get moving, we carried the kids in hiking backpacks, gave short piggy backs or shoulder rides (this is where Uncles, Aunties and friends really come in handy). As long as there were plenty of snacks and water, we somehow always managed to get through the hikes.
At home it’s easy to get caught up with all the jobs that need doing. The bathroom’s dirty, the linen cupboard needs sorting, the fridge needs a clean. Out camping, there’s not much housework to do! You get to share time with your baby, your child or your children instead. Talk to them about what you’re seeing, let them touch things. Take it slowly and just enjoy the wonder of seeing the world through young eyes. The wonder of bugs, sticks, dirt, sand. Feel the different textures of dirt, make some mud, build a shelter or collect sticks for a fire. Make the most of being away from your to-do list, and the sounds a city makes, listen to the birds and the wind, watch kangaroos, echidnas or even koalas. The health benefits of relaxing in the bush are well-known, so get out there and feel it for yourself.
Reason Three - Appreciation of home!
Have you ever read the book “A Squash and a Squeeze”? It’s about a lady who is feeling cramped and uncomfortable in her own home. A wise old man tells her to bring her animals inside one by one. Once they are all inside she can barely move and is horribly uncomfortable. Once she takes all her animals out, she feels like she lives in a palace! Her home hasn’t changed, but her perspective on it has. So it is with camping. Deprive yourself of modern conveniences for a few days and the basics that we rely on daily will seem like incredible luxuries! Never again will you take for granted hot water from a tap, a solid roof to protect you from rain, wind and sun, or a kettle that boils water in moments with the flick of a button!
Getting away from regular life can help you see what is important and what is not. It’s easy to get caught up in what we “need” to keep us happy and to keep the kids entertained. We can become dissatisfied with our children, ourselves, our bodies, our partners and our homes. All of this can be stripped back when we live with just the basics for a while. When you take a step back, it’s easier to appreciate what is truly important for our lives with small children.
If you have never camped before and have no equipment, then why not borrow or hire some? If you have camped before you had your children but have never been game since the babies came along, then jump in and have a go! Do some research to find a National Park close to your home. There are so many options. Ask around for some ideas. Go with friends or family. Everything is better when shared with good friends or family. As with every new experience, there will always be sharp learning curves. It is likely that something will be forgotten or will get wet or dirty. This is all part of the fun and the more you do it, the easier and more enjoyable it’ll become.
Finally…a note on danger…
Every camping site is different in terms of dangers for your kids, and every child is different in the attention they need to keep them safe. Every parent’s version of what “safety” means can also differ. Camping near water, near the beach, in the bush and in commercial caravan parks all come with different dangers and require different levels of attention. As parents it is important to look at the risks and benefits of the places you go. The risks and discomforts by themselves can seem daunting and make you fearful and anxious, but these risks are often so slim as to be only worthy of brief consideration. Some risks are very real though, such as water, which can take a child’s life very quickly and silently. These risks can be mitigated by understanding your environment, and with assistance from other adults. My family will always take a walk after we’ve set up camp, to understand what’s happening around us.
Remember that whilst there is a risk in taking kids out into the bush, there is also a risk for not doing so! A small child who never takes a risk may well become an older child who cannot perform simple physical tasks and is more at risk of injury from day-to-day play. This is such a big topic that it’s worth chatting with friends about if you feel like you avoid experiences because you’re so worried that your child will be hurt.