a peek inside the fishbowl

27 Jul, 2017

The most important thing about camping with kids

Posted by andrea tomkins in: parenting|travel talk

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)!

1 Response to "The most important thing about camping with kids"

1 | Claudette

July 28th, 2017 at 10:28 am


I have a love/hate relationship with camping. While growing up in Switzerland we did a lot of day hikes in the mountains, but never really tent camping. Of course, there are few, if any, bugs in the Swiss mountains which made it much more pleasant. That’s one thing about the Canadian summers here…the bugs don’t necessarily make it pleasant for everyone.

One thing I do recommend when camping (and we still do, occasionally, either camp at someone’s trailer, or visit a cottage), is to bring Benadryl or some other form of antihistamine, no matter what the allergy situation is in your household, especially if the kids are young. You never know, and having it handy and not using it is definitely preferable than not having it handy and swelling up, knowing you’re at least an hour away from help.

Great posts, Andrea! I enjoy reading your family experiences!

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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 dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (24) and Sarah (22). During the day I work as a writer at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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