It’s safe to say that the concept of kids being over-invested in technology is a cliche at this point. Of course, as with most cliches, it has become this way for a reason. Cheaper, faster, and more convenient technology has allowed parents to easily entertain their kids, but at the cost of less outdoor time and social interaction. Now, I’m not advocating against technology; I think it’s an excellent teaching tool and even a vector to help kids find their interests. But, as with anything else, it’s best done in moderation.
As my daughter, Logan, starts to grow up (she turned one recently!), I’m keen on normalizing the outdoors as part of her life. We’ve already taken her on various trips to the lakes and mountains of Vermont, and it’s very affirming to see her get excited about the various oddities and delights in nature.
This is a passion that must be fostered, grown gradually throughout a childhood. And there are many lessons to teach about the outdoors. Children should learn to both enjoy and respect nature; part of being a smart camper is leaving no trace and knowing proper outdoor etiquette.
Fortunately, neither of these tasks are particularly difficult, they just take time. Lower effort trips such as ventures to a local campsite are a great place to start, and larger annual trips can give you and your children something to look forward to and get excited about.
The first lesson to impart on children should be the value of the outdoors. Logan is fascinated with nature, and that’s a fascination that should be no means stop with infancy. There’s always something new to discover and explore; even now, as a new resident of Vermont, it’s exciting to find places I’d never realized existed until recently. Oftentimes, people will extol the dangers of nature; it’s all too easy in an age where information flows freely. And it’s true, to an extent—exploring nature without preparing properly can be miserable at best and disastrous at worst.
However, it comes down to parents to prevent the spread of misinformation. Nature is not as wild or dangerous as some make it out to be, and many warnings about its hazards are anecdotal or just plain wrong. Encouraging kids to get out and get immersed in nature leads to scrapes and bruises, but also to self-reliance and a deeper respect for the outdoors. In short, common sense is key to ensuring they have a good experience.
It should be understood that, even if they are eager to get outside, kids may become uncomfortable faster. They can be easily bored, and yet, you’ll likely find that they are eager to involve themselves in the process and participate in planning and preparation. I would encourage any parent to take advantage of this behavior. Good organization is helpful here; teach them where food is stored if they become hungry, and get them involved in tasks such as gathering firewood.
It’s often better to overpack than underpack. This is because there’s a good likelihood that, regardless of the season that you camp in, your kids may have issues being too hot or too cold. Even when camping in the summer, it is wise to pack fleece jackets and long pants for chillier nights.
But what to do once you’ve arrived at your destination? You can’t simply have your kids performing campsite chores for the whole trip. For this, it helps to plan a variety of campground activities. The simplest thing you can do is pack non-electronic games for rainy days. Even something like a board game can be improved when done in nature. Athletic toys such as frisbees and footballs are also a great way to burn some excess energy.
Beyond that, activities can vary depending on where you are staying. A nature hike is an obvious option, but many parks offer sessions with rangers, many catering specifically to children. Similarly, work to engage your kids when camping. Do your research ahead of time and learn some of the animals, insects, and plants that you might see on your trip. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing a child accurately pick out a certain type of flora or fauna due to your guidance.
There is no one way to go about instilling a respect and love of nature in your children. Perhaps there is something beautiful about that, because it means that each child’s experience will be completely unique. In any case, the common element that each approach shares is exposure to the outdoors and demonstrating the benefits inherent in spending time outside.