a peek inside the fishbowl

While I was tapping out yesterday’s Q&A post about camping I got to thinking about camping with kids. It’s been a great experience for our family, especially since we’ve been doing it since our daughters were small. Camping is one of our family traditions. Every year is an adventure and every year we cherish the time we have together.

This year’s trip to Bon Echo was especially meaningful for us. Our eldest is leaving for university in the fall and is starting a new chapter in her life. Will it include a summer trip with us next year? I’m not sure, but I sure hope so!

I wanted to write a bit about how camping can be an important part of child development. It’s not something that immediately comes to mind when planning a camping trip, but it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about.

Some parents underestimate how much their kids are capable of, and they are capable of A LOT. Young people need to be given opportunities to be responsible. A feeling of achievement, whether it’s a three-year-old building a sandcastle or a 13-year-old starting a campfire, builds self-confidence, and confidence builds resilience, and we need resilient kids.

Of course, it goes without saying that as kids get older they become more helpful, more capable, but youth is not an excuse to avoid helping out, especially while camping, where having all hands on deck can be (a) critical to success and (b) a sanity-saver for harried parents. Something to consider as well: kids like to be assigned age-appropriate camp tasks. Even though many are considered akin to chores, the novelty factor can elevate them a bit.

For example, here are a few things kids can do around a campsite:

  • clear away rocks and sticks before setting up the tent
  • sweep out the tent
  • help set up the tent (my kids loved to clip pieces together, assemble the poles etc. This year they assembled one of the two tents on our site by themselves.)
  • unroll the sleeping bags and make the beds
  • inflate water toys
  • help with dishes
  • set the table
  • unfold/put away camp chairs
  • fetch and carry water
  • fill waterbottles
  • build the fire

Kids are so proud when they complete a task. (Aren’t we all?) A sense of accomplishment and the pride that comes with a job well done is huge, even if the task at hand is seemingly insignificant such as sweeping out a tent with a brush and dustpan. I imagine these small instances of accomplishment something like building blocks. You (and your kids, of course) are building the foundation of a platform, one which will get bigger every day and some day, your kids will stand on it, on their own, and use it to jump into the world.

I’m no parenting expert, I’m just a parent, but I think it’d be helpful if we occasionally asked ourselves: is what I’m doing right now fostering an “I CAN DO THIS” attitude in my kids?

Of course, camping isn’t just about camp chores. Completing a canoe trip, building a moat in the sand, catching a frog, or baiting a hook and catching a fish comes with a feeling of accomplishment too:

teach a child to fish...

Yay! I caught a stick!

Here’s something else: kids can carry their own stuff. This idea extends past the camping season as well. (I’m thinking about school backpacks here!) Everyone always carries his or her own backpack for hiking (or school) with snacks, water bottles, and whatever supplies necessary. (One of my favourite parenting-type exclamations is: MOM IS NOT YOUR SHERPA.) Of course, a backpack for a four-year old looks a little different than one for a teenager, and it might just contain a small water bottle, an apple, and sunscreen, but we did it anyway. Kids are capable!

Of course, sometimes accidents happen. When the kids were younger I asked someone to hold the paddles while Mark and I dragged the canoe out of the water to hoist it on the rack (a series of actions which always tested the bonds of our marriage) when the paddle holder suddenly swung around and clobbered the other kid with the widest part of the paddle. Then there was they time someone accidentally touched the roasting fork while it was still hot. There were tears in both cases, but everyone survived. It’s not failure. It’s part of the learning process.

What is the most important thing about camping with kids? It’s remembering the bring the marshmallows, but it’s also about giving them the opportunity to do things on their own so we can build resilient, confident, happy citizens of the world.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

Related: my favorite Ottawa family photographer, Sara McConnell, was at Bon Echo this summer as well and wrote a great post about it on her blog. She’s new to camping and I really enjoyed her perspective (and her photos)!

25 Jul, 2017

Camping questions and answers

By andrea tomkins in travel talk

I write about our camping adventures every year, and every year I have the same problem: how much detail should I provide? On one hand, the details are good to recount for me and my family (i.e. blog as scrapbook) but can be a bit long for casual readers. I will try to find a middle ground, but before I dive in to our Bon Echo trip I thought it might be useful to answer some questions about camping I’ve been asked over the years.

Read the rest of this entry »

25 Jul, 2017

Camping at Bon Echo Provincial Park, part 1

By andrea tomkins in travel talk

Site 235 at Bon Echo Provincial Park

We arrived later than we had intended on Sunday, but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It meant that we only waited 30 minutes for the rain to stop instead of 60+.

I love camping, but bad weather – especially given the amount of rain we’ve had these few couple of months – was weighing heavily on my mind and I was secretly dreading we were going to be a soggy mess the entire time. Also, related to that: bugs. Bon Echo had been buggy to the extreme the last time we were here so I drew a natural conclusion and assumed it would be just as bad, if not worse this year. So, that extra time in the car waiting for the rain to let up was enough for me to take a deep breath or two and get zen with the situation before forging ahead.

I should also mention that we had no real sense of what the forecast was. Bon Echo is in a black zone in terms of the 3G network and there’s no wifi, so we were definitely going to be offline for the foreseeable future. (We discovered later that you could get a weak signal in some areas at the edge of the water. The best reception was at the end of Cliff Top Trail, atop Mazinaw Rock, but you’ll have to paddle across the water, or take the ferry, and hike for a bit to get there.)

Finally it cleared enough for us to emerge from the dry comfort of our rental vehicle and get on with it. On first view, our site (which was #235 in Midway campground, and had an Ontario Parks rating of “good”) looked small, too small for our large family tent, screened in dining tent, and our minivan. Once we disembarked we saw it was a fairly decent spot. It went back further than we had thought, had a well-placed fire pit, and good privacy, as promised on the Ontario Parks website.

We got busy unloading our supplies and setting up the tent in case it rained again. The girls are a big help and set up is quick now. They put together our new screened tent and placed it over the picnic table. We bought it at Cabela’s just before we left. It did what it promised and also protected us from rain and proved to be a good shield from the bits that fall from the trees (including bird poop).

For dinner that evening we enjoyed chicken that I had marinated before we left (roasted over the fire), along with one of those bagged salads that come with dressing and crunchy bits because convenience trumps all when you’re living out of a cooler for five nights. For dessert, we had Nanaimo bars, made by my MIL, which were heavenly. After dinner, we walked down to the beach, twice (once to see it and a second time to star gaze), before we settled into our sleeping bags with our assortment of books and magazines. This is my idea of camping!

It rained overnight. Amazingly, neither daughter woke up during the deluge. It was a full onslaught of wet weather: thunder, lightning, and rain, which began as a gentle patter and grew to a pounding downpour. Frankly, I was amazed, and slightly alarmed, that the girls slept through it. After all, we were sleeping outdoors, in a tent (!) which means the only thing separating us from the weather was a millimetre of FABRIC. Fabric! I could only hope they’d wake up during any other serious emergency, e.g. a deranged bear wanders into our tent, a tree falls on their parents, our van explodes, or an angry elephant barrels through the woods. Sigh.

It was then that I realized that my rain coat and umbrella were in the car. I thanked the heavens above that I didn’t need to pee overnight and the rain cleared by morning. It was a dramatic rainy episode, that’s for sure, AND it marked the end of the rain for us during our trip. AMAZING.

Our tent leaked a bit, and Mark knocked a small bathtub’s worth of water that pooled on part of the roof (twice), and someone’s shoes got soaked, but otherwise, we survived unscathed. One night down, four more to go.


Have a great summer at Saunders Farm!

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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