Andy and I start taking our kids camping when they are about four months old. Carter’s first time was on an outdoor ed trip I led with students, and I ended up sleeping with him in the back of an Expedition. Aila’s first camping experience was last year’s two-week road trip up to Olympic National Park.
This year, our first camping trip was in Sequoia National Park with my brothers and their partners (and Smurf!). Camping with kids is not exactly a relaxing experience (looking at you firepit of death), but to us, it is worth the extra planning and stress. Here are a few reasons why:
1. THEY GET DIRTY. In the case of my children, they get really, obscenely dirty. They dig their fingers (and sometimes their faces) in the dirt and play in ways they don’t usually get to at home. They experiment and explore and pick up some healthy bacteria along the way.
2. THEY TRY NEW THINGS. Whether its a tasting new foods, turning a bear box into a play area, or climbing a big log, camping encourages young kids to get creative and be brave.
3. THEY DO HARD THINGS. We camp to be close to the adventuring we want to do during the day. Camping – and adventuring – inevitably offers something kids will find challenging. One child might be afraid of the dark, but love climbing up high. Another child might not want to hike a mile, but enjoys helping with the tent. Camping teaches kids they can do more than they think they can. It builds confidence.
4. THEY LEARN VALUABLE SKILLS. In order of increasing importance: making fires, pitching tents, pooping in the woods and roasting s’mores.
5. THEY LEARN TO CARE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT. Our kids know to “leave no trace,” stay on trails, and to store scented items in bear boxes. We hope that starting them young will strengthen conservation habits as they get older.
6. IT IS AN INVESTMENT IN THE FUTURE. We hope they love camping and adventuring with us so much that they will want to keep doing it with us when they are teenagers. Confession: this is the main reason we are willing to suffer now.
7. WE MAKE THE BEST MEMORIES. No service, no laptops, no work calls, no school. Just us and the kids. Making memories. It’s not easy and it’s a lot of work, but the laughs and wonder and learning and love are so worth it.