Tips for taking kids on a fun and educational first camping trip

retrotentWith spring coming soon, now is the perfect time to make plans on getting your kids outside and active after the winter. A great way to do this can be to take your kids on their first camping trip.

With a few educational and fun activities, the camping trip may make them want to spend their summer being active, learning and exploring in nature.

A Quick Note Before You Go:

 The right gear can make or break your camping trip. Make sure that you have warm enough sleeping bags, an appropriate amount of food and water, bags to pack out trash with, rain jackets, a first aid kit, sunscreen, and a tent. Before you leave it is important that you ensure your tent has all of its parts and you know how to set it up. Most kids love the hands aspect of pitching a tent, so in the days leading up to your trip, set up your tent with your child as a fun preparation activity. With a little practice, even if it starts raining, you will be able to stay dry and pitch your tent in no time.

An important thing to consider is where you are going to take your camping trip. A great starting point can be looking for state and national parks near you. With a little online research you can find a fun and unique aspect to almost any park. For example, at Acadia National Park in Maine, your family can be the first in the country to see the sun rise. At Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas, there is a field where visitors find diamonds almost every day. The Calvert Cliffs State Park in Maryland has activities ranging from swimming and hiking to prehistoric fossil hunting.

To make the trip more educational, look up the natural processes that lead to your areas distinguishing features. For example, how fossils or diamonds are formed, or why there are so many of a certain type of plant in your area. This way, while camping or on the car ride over, you can give your kid a nature lesson explaining the geological or biological processes that led to the unique outcome. Once you have arrived, you can easily make a game out of whatever the special features are of the location you are in. For example, if you are fossil hunting, have a competition to find the most or largest fossils, or create stories about how the fossil may have arrived at their present location and the things that may have happened to it in the thousands of years before. If you are camping in a heavily forested area, help your kids build a wooden fortress out of the sticks on the ground, or see who can find the oldest tree stump by counting the rings. By finding activities that engage your children in their surroundings, you will be well on your way to making a memorable trip.

After you have decided where you want to go, the next question is when. With longer days, warmer weather, blooming plants, and animals scurrying around, spring and early summer are two great options. All of this wildlife makes for great opportunities to teach your kids about the plants and animals where you are camping.

Before leaving, you may want to stop by your library and check out a couple of field guides on your local plants and animals. You can review these with your kids, and then print out a list of animals or plants you may find and their unique features so you can identify them. Through the course of your camping trip, your family can have an all natural scavenger hunt and try to find the different animals, trees and flowers on the list. If you bring some binoculars, you even can figure out which kind of birds you see. The winner of the scavenger hunt can get a fun small reward, like the first s’more. Games like these can be a great way to spur kids’ interest in nature and biology. After the trip, you can keep the information fresh in their mind by doing more of these scavenger hunts in your neighborhood park or even your back yard.

After a long day of exploring the wild, it is time to wrap up the day with dinner and an evening activity. Make sure that you research whether camp fires are allowed at your campsite before hand — depending on the weather, location and season, they may be prohibited. If they are allowed, they are definitely one of the most fun ways for kids to cook. If you bring a metal grill, you can throw that over your fire for some delicious fire-grilled burgers. Another easy option that many kids enjoy is cooking hotdogs over the fire on a stick. This is great because afterwards you can use the stick to seamlessly transfer to cooking s’mores. Once dinner is over and the fire has burnt down, you may be a lot colder, so it can be a good idea to bring some thermal underwear or kids footed pajamas to help stay warm at night. Then, you can stay out with your kid and go stargazing, tell a few spooky stories, or just curl up in your sleeping bag for bed.

With winter drawing to a close and nicer weather on the horizon, there is no time like now to start making outdoors plans. By following a few simple tips and activity ideas, you can help ensure that you and your children all have a great time camping out.

[Image: neelaka]

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