Who knew camping could make your kids smarter?

image by subarcticmike

Last month I challenged you to schedule a family camping trip. My family went on a 3100 mile road trip and camped about half the time. One night we arrived late at our reserved campsite, only to discover in was a concrete RV parking lot! There were generators running all night long and a streetlight glaring through our tent window. Live and learn.

Anyway, one thing I have always enjoyed about being outdoors is that it is such a natural fit for kids. They love exploring the sights, sounds, and smells that surround them. On one trip when the kids were younger, we practiced walking through the forest as quietly as possible. They had been learning about various Indian tribes and were convinced they could move soundlessly through the forest! Another time we took a bird identification book with us that came with recordings of each bird’s call. We were delighted to hear the caw of a crow, play the recorded caw, and then hear the live bird respond!

Camping is a natural way to introduce survival concepts and skills to kids but also important academic information they will only learn via a school textbook, if at all. Here are just a few of the ways you can turn any camping trip into a great educational experience.

Studying nature: Look for and identify animal tracks and edible plants. Sit silently and watch and listen for animals. Identify birds and their calls. Always popular, looking for animal poop, examining it to see what the animals eats, and then identifying which animal pooped.

Survival Skills:  There are so many of these: locating and purifying water, fire-starting, safety in the wilderness, and use of compass. Take a night time hike to help your kids, and yourself!, overcome their fear of being out in the dark and try walking on a safe path without using a flashlight.

Primitive Cooking:  Learn how to set up a safe campfire, cook over a campfire, and use a Dutch oven.

Physical Fitness:   Go mountain climbing and hiking. Enjoy nature walks, kayaking, canoeing, bicycling, geocaching. Or just let the kids run loose like wild banshees. They always manage to burn up plenty of calories just having fun and exploring.

Literature studies: Take along nature reference books, fictional stories about life in the wilderness, and ask kids to keep a journal, write nature poetry, or imagine what it would be like to live in the wilderness.

Geology:  Identify rocks, rock formations, erosion, soil comparison, or look for fossils.

Art:  Sketch plants and animals, water color, create a nature collages. Any kid with a camera on a cell phone can take photographs of their discoveries and create their own nature scrapbook.

Astronomy:  Identify planets, constellations, the Milky Way, and use the North Star to navigate. A great tie-in with literature is to read stories of Greek and Roman mythology and then look for the constellations of the gods, monsters and heroes in the sky.

Meteorology:  Learn to predict the weather, identify cloud formations and direction of the wind.

When you go camping, do not let the kids bring their electronic toys!  Instead, bring along some kid-friendly books about nature. Read aloud a story of survival, such as the ones on this list. Heck, your kids might be ready to skip a grade in school by the time your camping trip is over! For sure, they won’t get bored.


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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 5 years. Come join me on my journey to becoming more prepared to handle everyday emergencies and worst case scenarios.

(15) Readers Comments

  1. Good info! Keep spreading the word!

  2. So True! That is a great article! I have been planning on doing a scavenger hunt with my 3 on our next trip. I am already going around my house collecting items they can look for. I guess it is called geocaching now. :-) Oh and for journals a good way to start the kids is REI gives away a Kid Journal free when you are in the store. It is great for teaching them how to begin to journal about their adventures. I have one in each of my kids day packs and my own. They see me collect things to remember our trips. Be it a flyer from the campsite, a lake or rangers station.

    My oldest surprised me by taking the road map, and looking for where we were. Next she asked how we were going to get back home. Where we going to take this road or that road? She is going to be 9. Who knew? Then she showed her younger brother and sister on the map. All while we headed back home. Kept them happy for a good 45 minutes on the way home. As I teach my kids I find all the time they are teaching me as well.

    Camping is one of the best things we have done as a family. Not all moments are fun, but the stories you have to share afterwards are the treasure. That is for certain!

  3. We didn’t really go camping as a kid. I wish I’d learned some of those skills at that age, when everything seems like play. I wouldn’t have felt as out of place at my Sierra Club Wilderness Basic Class. I am glad to have the knowledge – it is wonderful to know that I won’t make the naive mistakes that would get me killed right away… I’ll save that for intermediate mistakes!

  4. Great post (as always)..! My parents took us camping all the time when we were little – esp when we lived near Mt Rainier. Mom gave me photos of me in my playpen at various campsites so it’s been in my blood almost since birth. :)

    In fact, hubby and I just got back from camping in Catalina Mtns. We’re spoiled .. when it’s triple digits here in valley we drive 25 miles up the road and we’re at 7,000 elevation, hiking in 70 degree temps then hanging by fire under stars listening to the wind whispering thru the pines. And since middle of the week we had campground loop all to ourselves! But we’re spoiled rotten now since have RV so may not qualify as “camping” anymore (giggle)..!

  5. I’ve always been a big beliver of leaving the electronics at home during camp outs, at least for the kids, I’ll take the GPS, range finder, satelite phone, etc.

    I like to take a couple of games like cards and maybe bannangrams, we also practice the lost art of story telling. I think the kids have heard more stories from there father and I in a tent when it’s raining then anywhere else.

  6. This makes me want to go camping!

    Our family read a book called “Lost on a Mountain in Maine.” It is a true story about a boy who makes a few bad decisions when he gets seperated from his hiking party. He faces the weather, starvation, and all manner of things as the search was on for him. One can learn a lot from the book – I highly recommend it!

  7. Thanks for this article. I literally grew up camping so I’m always amazed when people tell me they’ve never been, not even once. One thing to remember is entertainment for evenings and rain. For its portability, a ukulele is ideal for singing around a campfire, and it’s so easy to play and learn.

  8. I searched all over for some kind of camping experience for me, (Dad) and my daughter. The only thing I found is something called COTEF. It is Children of the Earth Foundation. They have week-long, or a long weekend experience called a family survival camp. Without going into detail, it cured my 10yo daughter of a fear of the dark and she made great friends, some of which crawled on all 4s in the woods! There is nothing like this anywhere. Check it out, but the website does not do justice to the experience. I think it is I have no connection to it, other than taking my daughter there twice. Great article!!!!!


  9. The most liberating thing in camping is to get over the need to build fires. When you can camp without a fire, you can camp anywhere. A portable camping stove (I recommend isobutane/propane stoves) can handle all your cooking needs. And, getting away from fires allows you to notice your surroundings, the stars and hear the nature about you. Also, tents are also limiting, why did you go out of doors to sleep inside? Just lay down your ground cloth, and look at the stars.

    I’ve camped a lot, working for 2 Summers at a Boy Scout ranch in the mountains of NM. We’d go out, find a level piece of land, throw the tarp down, our air mattresses and sleeping bags and chat while staring at the stars. We’d often wake, obscured by the grass around us to find deer and other wildlife bedded down within 10 yards of us. A tent and fire destroy all that furtiveness.

    • That sounds great but there are drawbacks. My daughter wanted to “rough it” one year and just sleep out under the stars without a tent. I told her she would regret it but she didn’t listen. She woke the next morning soaking wet and freezing cold. Overnight humidity and condensation (Wisconsin) are not conducive to sleeping “out”.

  10. Geocaching is always good too…

  11. Oh also attend the Ranger programs if you are at a State or National park you might spark an interest you didnt know you had. I’ve presented those type programs for years.

  12. Also, you might have them look for critters that can be eaten. we haven’t gone camping in a couple months. we do Day trips all the time. In fact my youngest is getting ready to go right now.
    her goal today is, Swim, Catch crawdads, try fishing. Mom and I are gonna do some of the same, were also gonna pan for a little gold.

    Were gonna take a little inflatable raft out to an island on the snake river!

  13. Learn orienteering as well as geocacheing. If the grid goes down and your GPS doohickey runs out of juice, the compass and topographical map still work.

  14. i think camping is a great way to build confidence too. there is a real benefit to knowing you can take care of yourself

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