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.