A must-read for parents who haven’t yet taken their kids camping…
By Carmen Baguio
“I’ll be at the ball field all weekend with Jane’s soccer tournament. Then somehow I have to get Jake to karate and Jill to her softball game.”
Does this sound familiar? It’s become almost a badge of honor among moms to see whose kids can be involved in the most extra-curricular activities. Then you have the whole “competitive” leagues that required the family’s life to revolve around financing and scheduling vacations around competitions. Don’t get me wrong. My youngest was involved in competitive dance for nine years, but that wasn’t our life. She also had to choose dance or another activity. We couldn’t afford more than that, and I certainly wasn’t going to have every weekend consumed with travel to one convention center after another.
Parenting is all about balance.
These days (wow that makes me sound old) it seems like more and more family activities involve everyone doing their own thing. Even when the family is at home, often everyone is on their electronic devices, totally unaware of what the rest of the family is doing. As a teacher, I’ve never had a student come in Monday morning excitedly telling me about their fantastic weekend on a ball field or in their room playing video games. However, if there is a Boy Scout Jamboree or if their dad takes them on a fishing trip, even if it rained the entire time, I hear all about the food, hiking in the mud or the big fish that got away!
Girl Scout Camping Bonfire
In our quest to have a balanced family life and well-rounded happy children, you can’t go wrong with taking your kids camping. Here are 6 reasons why:
1. Your children can see the country inexpensively.
My childhood pop-up camper (pictured: me in the back, my mom, our exchange student from Brazil, and my brother)
Compared to hotels or condos, campgrounds are cheap. You can buy a nice tent for around $100 or less. Tents today are a snap to set up compared to the tents of my childhood. We didn’t have much money growing up and started out in a tent, then went “big time” with a small, used pop-up. Camp food is way cheaper than going out to eat every meal. Even if you are just cooking breakfast and doing sandwiches or hotdogs for lunch, and eat supper out, when you take your kids camping, you will still save a ton compared to staying in a hotel.
Our first family tent (pictured: daughter Lauren, now 22 and her cousin Nathaniel)
2. Camping is great exercise. Hiking, Chopping, and Canoeing
Getting a campsite set up is great exercise for children, and they won’t ever realize it. We would always bring logs for the campfire, but it was the job of my girls to gather the kindling. Back and forth from the woods they would trudge carrying as many twigs as their little arms would carry. Growing up with other kids camping, I remember being the “raker”. It was my job to rake the leaves from away from the fire pit, then I would spend hours raking out my house, arranging camp chairs and logs for benches so everyone would want to come visit my house. Then I would change my mind and repeat the process all over again. I remember one trip where my brother and I spent an entire day trying to roll an old, super-heavy stump over to our fire pit. Unfortunately, we were never able to get the thing to burn!
Then, of course, there’s riding bikes everywhere, climbing on the log and jumping off (repeated frequently for precision), canoeing, and hiking.
3. Kids learn to relax and shut out the world.
Lauren loved to relax and draw in her sketchbook early in the morning.
Rachel relaxing while coloring
In this day and age, kids are under tight school and extra-curricular schedules. Some of the stress is self-social media induced. Fortunately, a lot of the places we camp have no cell signal. There is nothing to do but relax and play. My oldest daughter (She is now twenty-three) recently told me some of her best memories involve the two of us getting up at the morning light when the whole campground was still quiet. We would start a little fire and she would sit in my lap with a blanket talking about anything and everything. Little did I realize how special those mornings by the campfire made her feel.
My youngest, Rachel, has always said that she hated the outdoors. I think her early exposure to camping and trips to the lake is starting to come back to her. She has had a super hard freshman year in college. For a girl who doesn’t like nature, I’m seeing a whole lot of pictures of her laying in her hammock, hiking, and picnicking at the lake.
Rachel, now a college freshman, hiking with friends
4. Camping teaches the appreciation of nature.
I grew in a rural area with woods galore. When you have that kind of daily exposure, you become comfortable with nature, and it becomes part of your world. Back then, there wasn’t the fear of child abduction so we were allowed to play all day long in the woods, climbing trees, and building forts.
My girls grew up in suburbia with only a few small trees in our yard unlike the unlimited access to nature that I had growing up. Times may have changed, but going to a state campground hasn’t. Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts pretty much teach the same outdoor skills that were taught when I was a Girl Scout. I was a Girl Scout leader for nine years. The girls that started as Brownies in second grade turned into seasoned outdoor lovers by high school.
5. Camping teaches kids new skills.
Learning to make a campfire & fishing. Yes, that’s me with a catfish!
I built my first campfire with some coaching from my dad. I was able to use what I learned to teach my daughters and my Girl Scout troop. It never ceases to amaze me when people assume Joe (my husband) has made the campfire. Girls can be fire masters, too!
Growing up poor, we couldn’t afford to go to the community pool, so I learned to swim at the state campground. My girls also learned swimming while camping at a state park. My youngest still has distinct memories of being in charge of lunch when she was tall enough to put the hot dogs on the grill. To say she was proud of “cooking” is an understatement.
I asked my daughter Lauren what she learned most from camping. She said it helped her appreciate the silence of the mornings. She learned to use her creativity to create “kingdoms” in the tent and make toys out of sticks and rocks. Considering she is in graduate school working on an art history masters (all paid for with scholarships), I would say any camping mishaps were well worth the imaginative skills she learned!
6. Your family forms close bonds when camping.
Pictured: I’m playing cards; my grandma cooking & my mom, brother & I.
My fondest memories of my brother involved playing marathon rounds of card games. Long after our parents would go to sleep, we would still play cards. After my brother and his roommate (our cousin Joey) went off to college, they would meet us at the campground next to the university. So then our marathon card games increased to involve three. When we all married, we still went camping with the six of us playing cards long into the night. A few years later, the camping tradition continued with our children all becoming kids camping buddies.
My cousins’ boys, my nephew Nathaniel, and daughter Lauren
Pictured: Cousins at the campfire, Rachel & Lauren playing in the camper, Lauren & Nathaniel
My biggest regret is selling our little pop-up camper. I had divorced my first husband and thought there was no way I could manage my two young girls and set up a camper by myself. I should have had more confidence in all that camping had taught me. I’m now back camping again. Even though my kids are now longer living at home, they still enjoying meeting hubby Joe and me at the campground and sitting around the fire. I’m looking forward to the day their future children can get the same benefits from camping that their mothers and grandmother have enjoyed.
This post is dedicated to my mom who gave me my first camp cooking lessons. At the young age of 48, she passed away way too soon, but the memories of her cooking up camp breakfast and snuggling with me around the campfire will never leave me.
~ Carmen Baguio
I miss my camping mama!
Carmen and Joe Baguio are a middle-aged couple who started their travel blog http://www.packyourbaguios.com a year ago. Their goal is to encourage other empty-nesters to learn to become adventurous travelers, campers, and cyclists.