My generation had an extensive range from home base. We’d disappear for a day. No helicopter parents, no cell phones. If we crashed our bikes, we fixed them as best we could and limped home. I took a nice header five miles from home (I still have the scar on my knee), used a t-shirt as a bandage, made it home, and from there to the emergency room. I got 8 stitches and a great story to tell my friends.
As the owner of a company which produces family camping tents, I am often asked, “When is the best time to start taking kids on outdoor excursions?”
My answer is always the same: on the way home from the hospital. We owe it to our kids to get them outside. We owe them scratches and scrapes, summits and snakes, sunburns and sunsets. We owe them an authentic life.
Kids are not little adults. Their needs are very different, and if you want to enjoy your time with kids, pay attention. There are five things I tell people when they ask about taking kids camping:
o They get cold faster.
o They get hot faster.
o They get hungry faster.
o They get bored faster.
o They want to be helpful.
They get cold faster. It’s simple thermodynamics. Little bodies lose heat faster than big ones. They get cold before you do, so don’t assume because you’re not cold that your little ones aren’t either. The solution is easy. Take more clothing than you think necessary. Because their clothes are smaller, it’s no big deal, and after a certain age (around six for our kids) they started carrying a lot of their own clothes and gear.
The first line of defense is good outerwear. Make sure it fits: boots, raingear, hats, gloves, etc. The difference between a good raincoat and a poncho is not worth it, especially when you have a wet and tired and hungry five-year-old.
They get hot faster. Keeping kids comfortable in the heat is just as important as keeping them warm. Again, you may not notice because you’re not hot. A red flushed complexion is a good sign things are toasty. Make use of evaporative cooling. A baseball cap dipped in water can cool them off quickly, and a wet bandana around the neck is helpful too.
It goes without saying that many adults forget to apply (or reapply) sunscreen. If you forget, chances are it’s not even on your kid’s radar. Make it a point to reapply every hour, even if it’s just a touch-up.
They get hungry faster. That’s probably not exactly true, but it is a fact that kids will not tolerate hunger as well as an adult. Count on feeding them snacks throughout the day as well as good sized portions at breakfast and dinner. Keeping high-energy snacks handy is critical and can help avoid meltdowns.
They get bored faster. This is especially true with passive activities when they’re younger, like sitting in a canoe while Mom and Dad do all the work. While in camp, have lots of quick, easy and fun activities to keep kids engaged and to prevent boredom. Finding cool bugs, or looking for different colored rocks are examples of simple, but engaging activities for kids. Coloring books, plain white notebooks and crayons and colored pencils are great. Anything to stimulate their minds.
They want to be helpful. Kids want to be part of the action, and there are lots of fun duties that will make them feel like they are little campers. At four, a kid can collect twigs for tinder; at six, pump a water filter. At eight, they can help start the fire, and at ten they can start the fire themselves. At twelve they help with dinner; by fourteen they’re cooking dinner. Kids want to be useful. Resist the temptation to do everything because it’s faster.
About Safety and Risk
Taking these axioms and applying them without an eye toward safety is foolhardy. Clearly, you want to pay attention to safety, but realize that there is inherent risk in outdoor activities. The key is to minimize risk through education.
If you are going more than a 9-1-1 call from help, you’ll want some training. Wilderness First Aid (WFA) is a weekend course designed to give you a basic understanding of dealing with injuries and other mishaps that happen outside. If you’re hard core, the Wilderness First Responder (WFR) is an eight-day comprehensive course that teaches you how to provide some pretty serious aid while waiting for the professionals. If you’re an EMT, there is specialized training for you to fill in the gaps when it comes to wilderness.
Some folks still question my sanity for taking my kids into wilderness areas. My response is that I minimize risk through planning, education and keeping my wits about me. I also tell them that the risks of not taking my kids to the rivers and woods are far higher than if I take them. Risk cannot be eliminated, but it can be managed. Only a foolish person faces the wilderness with a
pocket knife, a piece of twine, and a can-do attitude. A wise person educates themself, teaches others, and shares their knowledge and love of the outdoors generously and graciously. After all, we all had a mentor who taught us our skills. It is only right that we pass them on to the next generation.