My first camping experience was during the summer of ’96. I was working as a counselor at a New Hampshire summer camp and was invited to join the camp’s cook staff and their families on a camping trip to Maine. Our campsite was offshore of the Atlantic Ocean.
Many of you probably are not aware (why would you be?) that the ‘96 Atlantic hurricane season had, at that time, the most major hurricanes recorded since ‘64. And for some reason, we decided to camp through the torrential rains caused by Hurricane Bertha.
We arrived in torrential rain, set-up our campsite in torrential rain, and slept in a flooded campsite. Don’t ask me why. All I know is that no one wanted to be a quitter! Especially the newbie (me).
I vividly remember three things about that trip – 1) waking up wrapped in my sleeping bag, completely submerged in water; 2) the stunning rocky New England shoreline and the deep blue skies the morning after the storm; and unbelievably, 3) wanting to go camping again.
Since then, I have camped in Maine (again), New Hampshire, Michigan, Wisconsin, Taiwan, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, and most recently Minnesota! Through camping, I have learned so much about the outdoor world and myself.
I have learned that being dry, warm, hydrated, fed, and safe are the five most basic physical needs. I know what it is to be “bone cold.” I have learned how to build a fire using tinder, kindling, and fuelwood (and a lighter). (FYI – I like using a combination of the teepee and log cabin methods to build my fire.)
You can cook a variety of good meals with a pot of hot water. A good s’more can be made traditionally with marshmallows, grahams, and chocolate bars. Or with chocolate frosting substituted for chocolate bars. Or (my new favorite) with fudge-striped cookies substituted for both chocolate bars and grahams.
I know NEVER to leave food out.
The night sky is clearer and cleaner in the wild. I appreciate therm-a-rests and camp chairs after years without them. Camp shoes and extra clothes are a must. Don’t ever forget a flashlight AND extra batteries. I have learned that mosquitos and raccoons are the worst. I have learned that a baseball bat can kill a raccoon, but not a mosquito.
I have learned that my screaming baby is louder outdoors than in any other environment. (Especially for two hours in the middle of the night at a crowded campground.) I have learned that too many juice boxes can give you (and those around you) diarrhea and diaper rash in that order.
I could go on and on with the things I’ve learned, but I want to end with 10 reasons you should go camping with your kids. Because that’s what I’ve most recently learned.
Last weekend, I had the chance to camp locally with my four kids, my sister-in-law, and my two nieces and nephew. It was wonderful. Not easy, but healthy and good for so many reasons.
Here are 10 of those reasons:
Camping is cheap. And for big families with limited income like mine, cheap is paramount. The average campsite costs around $20 to $25 a night. Camping gear is essential, but easy to collect or borrow.
2. Gross is good.
Not only is it acceptable to be gross and unkempt on a camping trip, but it’s also expected. Wear your junk clothes. Brushing teeth is optional and peeing in the woods is a perk.
- Fresh air
I feel like 24 hours outdoors in the fresh air is equivalent to taking a multivitamin and a month of therapy.
Building and sitting around a fire is pretty amazing. Who isn’t fascinated with fire?
- Valuable lessons on cold
My kids never believe me when I tell them they should put on a coat, or gloves, or long pants. Living outside in almost freezing temperatures teaches us all the value of warmth and shelter. It also teaches us to respect the outdoor elements.
- Duck hunters and other sounds of nature
We awoke to the gunfire of waterfowl hunters. Besides gunshots, campouts awaken your mind to the sounds of the great outdoors. What it sounds like when an acorn hits the top of your tent. When a squirrel or bird scampers through crisp leaves. When a crow caws in flight through the trees. Or what it sounds like when the earth is almost silent.
- Coffee tastes better in the wild
After a long, cold night, coffee tastes so much better outdoors. Not just for the flavor, but for the necessary warmth it gives your insides.
- Good stories for later
I pay for good stories. Camping trips give us great stories to share, like the time I borrowed cinnamon from another camper, the time I camped with 25 other friends with just sleeping bags under the night sky, or the time my friends and I were surrounded by a dozen fearless raccoons and all we had was a wooden baseball bat.
This most recent trip has afforded my sis-in-law, kids, and I tons of little stories about scarecrows in the shape of gnomes, forts in the woods, grilling edamame and sweet peppers over the fire, whittling forks, stepping on a field mouse, and kids switching tents, clothes, hats, and bags in the middle of the night. Not to mention a special delivery of hot cocoa and coffee from a surprise visitor that morning.
- Find out what your kids are made of
I learned that my kids have great imaginations. They can do a lot with sticks. They battled, they collected, they built life-size forts, and they whittled for hours. Also, I didn’t realize how much my oldest (a boy scout), already knew about camping. More than me, and I was proud of him.
- Find out what you are made of
Not only does camping with kids teach you more about your kiddos, but it teaches you more about yourself. This last weekend, when I was able to give my kids undivided attention, I was reminded how much everyday “amenities” take away from our family. The internet, our phones, our schedules, our things. They all sadly compete (and usually win) against family. I learned that I need to fight harder against that. I also learned how blessed I am with my family.
I realize that many of you are unconvinced to go camping with your kids. In fact, I may have just convinced you NEVER to go camping. And I understand, camping is not for everyone.
But what I do hope you try is taking a break. A long, intentional break. And preferably outdoors. I encourage you to spend some time away from the things that distract. And use that time to focus completely on the people that matter to you the most, and to collect stories to share with others who matter to you as well. And if you choose to make those memories while camping, make sure to check the weather first and bring a wooden bat.