a peek inside the fishbowl

04 Aug, 2014

Camping = outdoor parenting

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Easy ways to make kids happy|parenting

Waterlogged picnic table

Thanks to everyone who commented on my post about taking car camping to the next level. You’ve given us lots of great advice and ideas. I definitely feel inspired, but whether I can convince the rest of the family to come along for the ride is another story. (!)

Speaking of advice, we published some helpful tips from parents who’ve been camping with kids and lived to tell the tale over on capitalparent.ca. I urge you to read it because there is some really great stuff in there, no matter where you fall on the camping spectrum.

Looking back on our camping trip, and the many others before it, I’ve realized that family camping has forced me to evaluate my style of parenting. Situations come up that don’t normally arise at home, and I have to take a deep breath and – in that moment – ask myself (a) what kind of parent I want to be (b) what kind of kids I want to raise and (c) how I want them to remember their camping experiences.

I got to thinking about this as the girls were whittling sticks while sitting around the fire during our time at Presqu’ile. They were taking turns making wooden spears using a hard core folding survival blade I bought for Mark years ago. My first reaction was not to let them use it (“YOU ARE GOING TO SLICE YOUR FINGER OFF WITH THAT THING”), but as soon as that idea popped into my head I chastised myself. Instead of taking the knife away I told them to make sure they’re always whittling away from themselves… and for good measure I threw in that old chestnut: “don’t cut yourself.” (Quite possibly the least helpful bit of parenting ever, because I’m sure kids don’t really want to cut themselves. But it couldn’t be helped. I do however try to remember to tell them to pay attention when it makes sense to remind them.)

We also let the girls feed the fire, pick up snakes and turtles in the middle of the road, and venture off on their own from time to time.

I want my kids to be many things: independent, smart, generous, fun-loving, kind, curious, brave. I want them to be healthy, and to be good citizens. I want them to be happy. And when it’s their turn, I want them to be good parents too.

I’m no expert, but here’s how I see how camping activities can translate to life skills for the kids:

  • packing up/setting up the tent (life lesson: everybody pitches in/teamwork)
  • observing nature without harm or damage (life lesson: sustainability and stewardship)
  • hiking/canoe & kayaking (life lesson: hard work has its own rewards. I think personal achievement is a biggie while camping.)
  • downtime at the beach & campsite (life lesson: finding ways to amuse oneself, patience)
  • going off on a trail or to explore (life lesson: independence, self-reliance, risk assessment)

There’s so much more, really, but this is just off the top of my head.

Letting go of fear is a very hard thing to do, isn’t it? I remember how afraid I was letting my kids walk to school alone, or play at the park by themselves, or run to the store to buy a missing ingredient, or take the school bus for the first time. But looking back, I’m glad I overcame my own fears and let them do those things, because every time I did they grew up a little more and learned to think for themselves. They got a little bit closer to what they need to be, and a little bit more ready to take on the next thing. This is ultimately why we let them whittle sticks and poke the fire, balance on rotting logs that cross open water, and scamper up rocks.

Perhaps is this the crux of my job as a parent, to teach our daughters how to fly before they leave the nest.

2 Responses to "Camping = outdoor parenting"

1 | Lynn

August 4th, 2014 at 9:32 am


I agree completely – that’s our job as parents. It’s easier said than done, though, isn’t it? I constantly have to force myself to let go, to trust them, to let them make their own mistakes (or triumph in their own successes). Doubt I’ll be converted to camping any time soon but I think these life lessons can be applied to the urban jungle, as well – I’ll be keeping them in mind!

2 | Misty Pratt

August 4th, 2014 at 1:48 pm


For some reason I find myself to be a much better parent when we’re camping…I’m WAY more relaxed…there are no alarms going off on my phone, no house cleaning to be done, the girls can get as dirty as they want and I don’t care, and they do seem better able to amuse themselves outdoors (or at least they seem happiest outside). We’ll see if I still think that way after next week…we’re headed to Bon Echo and a walk-in site! :)

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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 daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). 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, 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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