For toddlers to teens, camping can be a great family experience
By Heather Cameron
Whether you have a big budget or small, camping can be a great way to make some fun holiday memories with your family. For as little as $25 per night for a site rental, camping is a lot less expensive than renting a hotel room or two for your family.
Camping trips can be super flexible — your days can be all about the beach or the woods or the hiking trails — or just about sitting and relaxing. You might choose to stay at a campsite but take day trips to local towns or larger tourist attractions between beach visits. There are plenty of ways to spend your time and there are plenty of places to camp in Canada.
Camping with young kids and camping with teens can sometimes be two very different experiences. The key is to keep it all in perspective and help your kids experience the fresh air and fun.
You can reserve sites in Ontario provincial parks through the Internet. Go to www.ontarioprovincialparks.com and click on the reservations button for a full listing of places. Each park on the website features a site map, so you can see which sites are and are not available. In the case of Ontario provincial parks, you can reserve your space up to five months (to the day) ahead of time. That means that if you want to camp from July 2 to 7, the earliest you can book your space is February 2. Many private campgrounds have websites, so take a look at their amenities and policies and figure out what works best for your family.
If you are staying in a tent with young children, you may want to consider options that offer bathrooms or comfort stations nearby for easy diaper changing and clean ups. While older kids might be able to get by with a more basic in-the-bushes approach to the call of nature, dealing with the toileting needs of little ones is usually a little more complicated.
If your family is new to camping and your children are still young, you may want to start off small. A tent set up in your backyard or your trailer parked in your driveway is a good trial run for kids and parents alike. You don’t want to be miles from civilization when you learn that your four-year-old is too frightened by the sound of little creatures burrowing around at night to fall asleep.
Without a doubt, camping provides a great learning opportunity for your young ones. With lots of fresh air comes the opportunity to learn about nature. Chipmunks, raccoons, birds — there is plenty of wildlife ready to amuse your kids and in learning more about these creatures you will be helping your children to respect the natural world that surrounds them.
The idea of camping can sometimes illicit mixed results from kids as they grow older. Sharing a tent, being away from friends and sometimes losing their connectivity to the outside world can be less than appealing for a teenager. You might want to consider ways that everyone in the family can adapt to camping. Some members of the family might just enjoy a day at the beach while others would rather go into town to explore the shops or hit a coffee shop with Wi-Fi for some of your vacation days. You can also see if your teen would like to sleep in their own tent or in a hammock under the stars. Everyone might feel a little more relaxed with a bit of distance between them. Just make sure you all get together around the campfire to share your day!
If your kids are going through a difficult withdrawal from a tech addiction, you might let them take some nice long walks to seek out reception or allow them to spend the afternoon enjoying the free computers and Internet at a local library in the nearest town. (Even parents might feel they are already getting enough “together time” in the evenings to warrant the young folks doing a bit of exploring on their own during the day!) Yes, it would be nice if your children voluntarily eschewed all social media while on holiday, but it may not be totally realistic. Figure out what combination of connectivity and camping works for your family.
Because smartphone and satellite reception can be little or none at campsites, be sure to leave the name, number and address of the park or campground where you are vacationing and, if possible, your site number, with a family member or friend in case of emergencies.
Keeping in mind that camping is not necessarily a high-tech experience, bring along some games for the family to play. Games without too many small pieces are preferable as there is less to keep track of when you are playing outside or in a small tent.
Whether they are toddlers or teens, camping can still be a great experience for your kids. The trick is to figure out what works for your family and be prepared to make some great vacation memories!
One of the ways to capture your camping experience is through a video diary. Allow the kids to record their thoughts and experiences while amping. Record their responses when you ask them about their favourite animal or activity, let them capture some footage of the animals that visit your site and make sure you book some fun excursions to add to their digital diary. For example, if you are exploring the east coast, go on a whale watching trip or drive to an especially beautiful beach to explore some sand dunes. When you get home, let the kids put together the clips to create a family film of your vacation.
Kids love collecting things, so let them. Maybe it’s rocks or shells or beach glass. As long as the campsite permits it, your kids can start a collection that they will add to for years to come. And there is nothing so comforting like looking at a piece of summer sitting on your bookshelf in the middle of January!
Get them involved
Let kids — young or old — be involved in the camping experience by teaching them how to make a fire, to toast marshmallows, to pitch a tent, to find a great walking stick. As long as you are around to oversee the safety aspect of any activity, this is a great opportunity for them to learn a new skill and they will always remember who taught them. Why not let older kids create a scavenger hunt for the younger ones? Then both age groups can explore what nature has to offer.