Family camping is one of the great joys in life. You get to enjoy all that Mother Nature has to offer alongside the kids. Not only that, but when you take kids camping, you get to teach your little adventurers the ropes so they can go on to create their own memories in nature even after they’ve left the nest.
But what exactly are the ropes? And when should you teach each skill? In this article, we will discuss camping basics for kids, helping you understand what to show your little camper and when.
Teaching Kids Safety While Camping
First and foremost, you absolutely must teach safety rules and skills when you take the kids camping. This is easily the most important thing to impart upon your kids, so make sure to incorporate it into all of your family camping trips from the very beginning.
Even very young kids can understand the danger that fire poses. Explain this to your little ones and make strict rules about playing near the fire, as well as what can be put into the fire and when.
Always keep a bucket of water near your campfire and let your kids know what it’s for, and give them a chance to practice using the water to put your fire out at the end of the night, impressing upon them the importance of making sure there are no hot coals left over.
Water safety is just as important as fire safety, and learning about water safety starts at a very young age when you set rules about where a child is allowed to swim and who they must be with. Make sure young children and those who cannot swim always wear life vests while swimming, and everyone should wear a life vest when in a boat or paddling.
It’s also a good idea to put your kids into swimming lessons at a young age.
Another thing you can start teaching the kids from the very beginning? Hiking safety. Let your kids help pack your hiking bag and explain what each item (compass, map, hat, sunscreen, etc) is for. Remind your kids to stay on the trail while out hiking, and make sure they remember to wear sunscreen and bug repellent and stay well hydrated.
One of the magical things about camping is that you are sure to come across animals at least occasionally. Use these encounters as a learning opportunity, reminding your little campers that they should never approach, feed, or touch wild animals, and helping them admire the creatures from a distance without drawing attention.
Camping Basics for Toddlers
As soon as your little one is able to walk and talk, they are able to help out around the campsite. No, we aren’t suggesting you put your 2-year-old to work setting up the tent or tending the fire, but they absolutely can do their part to make the family camping trip run smoothly.
Here’s what you can expect from your toddlers when you take the kids camping.
Gathering Tinder and Kindling
Little ones love to pick up sticks! Use this to your advantage by asking your toddler to help you pick up small dry leaves and sticks to use as kindling and tinder. Preschoolers may even be able to sort the items into two piles: a pile of smaller items that can be used as tinder, and a pile of slightly bigger sticks that can be used as kindling.
Wearing a Hiking Pack
Once your little explorer learns to walk, they will almost certainly want to get down and walk for a bit during your hikes. Allow them to do this and give them a small pack to carry as well. This will help teach them to be responsible for their own gear.
Using a Whistle to Call for Help
When you take kids camping, and especially if you go out hiking, be sure to attach a whistle to each backpack. Likewise, all kids’ life vests should have whistles attached. These can be used to call for help, and even a toddler should be able to learn how to use one.
Putting on a Life Jacket
Little campers can also practice water safety by learning how to put on their own life jacket. Obviously they will need help at first, but teaching your child how to put on their life jacket from a young age helps instill a sense of responsibility for self while in and around water. Just be sure your tiny swimmer doesn’t take the life jacket off before they are supposed to!
Applying Sunscreen and Bug Repellent
Sunscreen and bug repellent help keep us safe and healthy while spending time outside. Try to find gentle products that are free from harsh chemicals (such as DEET) and allow your toddlers to help apply the lotions and sprays.
Kids camping trips can be messy. Thankfully, kids of all ages can help clean up the RV, tent, and/or campsite. Even toddlers can help by picking up toys and dirty clothes, holding the dustpan for you while you sweep, hanging up their own towel and swimsuit, and taking dishes to the sink or dish tub after a meal.
Camping Basics for Kids
What about camping basics for kids who are a bit older? Once your little one has passed the toddler and preschool stage and is officially a “big kid” in elementary school, they can do a lot more on the family camping excursions.
Let your elementary- and middle school-aged kids try learning these skills next time you take the kids camping.
Finding a Good Campsite
One of the most important camping basics for kids? Learning how to pick a good campsite.
When you pull into a campground, allow your kids to get out and scout out a site with you. Let them know that you want a site that is relatively level and not at the bottom of a hill where water is likely to collect. If it’s hot out, shade trees are important. Meanwhile, if you’ll be using solar panels, you might want to avoid shade.
Make a list of attributes you’re looking for and see what the little campers come up with!
Helping Put up a Tent
Putting up a tent can be tricky and is often a two-person job. That said, there is no reason your kids can’t help you pitch a tent by following your instructions. As you show them how to put the tent up, be sure to explain why each step is important. Before you know it, your kids may be able to pitch a tent without you.
Toddlers are probably only good for gathering small bits of tinder and kindling, but slightly older children should be able to find larger pieces of wood to be used in camp fires.
Make sure they know they are looking for dry wood and help them understand what they’re looking for and then send them for a walk to see what they can find. If they come back with large pieces, you might even hand a tween a hatchet to split the wood they find. Just make sure they understand how to use the tool safely!
Knots are incredibly handy. They can be used at the campsite or while out backpacking and exploring. Why not use your time out camping with your kids to teach them a few different kinds of knots? If you don’t know how to tie knots, find a YouTube video and learn together.
Fishing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but many people really enjoy it and it is a good survival skill whether you personally like it or not. For this reason, we recommend teaching kids the basics of fishing. If they like it, they can dive in deeper—and if not, at least they understand the basics in case they happen to need them.
Younger kids will likely need your help baiting the hook, but could likely learn to cast a line. Meanwhile, older kids and tweens should be able to learn to fish all on their own.
Packing a Hiking Bag
We talked earlier about showing young children what you put in your hiking pack and explaining what each item is for. Once your kids are a bit older, they should be able to use this information to pack a bag of their own. That said, it might be best to provide a packing list in order to ensure they have everything they need.
Using a Map and Compass
Being able to navigate while out hiking is a crucial skill and might even save your life. For this reason, we think this is one of the most important camping basics for kids to learn. Once your child is old enough to read, show them how to read a map to navigate a trail. Show them how to spot trail markers and how to make use of a compass to figure out which direction to go.
Camping Basics for Teens
Let’s say you’ve made it through the younger years and now have a teenager on your hands. Congratulations! There are all kinds of new camping basics for kids you can now teach when you head out on kids camping vacations.
Learning the skills below will ensure that your teens are able to head out on adventures of their own, even when they are no longer joining in on family camping adventures.
Building a Shelter
By now, you kid should be able to pitch a tent, but can they build a shelter in an emergency? There are many ways to go about building such a shelter, and learning a few different methods is a great way to bond with your child while also learning a skill that could come in very handy later.
Using a Knife
Honestly, you could probably introduce your camping kid to a pocket knife when they are in their tween years, but since some kids aren’t ready until they hit their teens, we decided to add this skill to the teen list. Make sure you invest in a quality knife—because cheap, poorly made knives can actually be dangerous—and then make sure your child understands how to use the knife safely and effectively.
Cleaning a Fish
If you’re going to teach your kids how to fish for survival (or even just for fun), they will also need to know how to clean a fish, and when they reach their teen years and know how to use a knife, they are definitely ready to learn this skill. This is another skill that not all adults have, but we highly recommend learning. Therefore, if you don’t already know how to clean a fish, you should totally learn alongside your teenager.
Starting a Campfire
By now your child knows how to gather tinder, kindling, and firewood. It’s high time they learn how to put that wood to use by starting a campfire of their own. There are a few different methods for starting a fire, and everyone has a favorite. Teach your teen your favorite method, or teach them several and let them choose which one is right for them.
Cooking Over a Fire
Once your teenager gets a fire going, they can use that fire to do some cooking. You might choose to cook a fish you cleaned together in a cast iron skillet, or make one of these delicious campfire meals. No matter what you choose, you’re sure to have a blast cooking it and enjoying it together as you make some memories on your epic family camping trip.
There you have it, a list of the most important camping basics for kids and when to teach them. Give your kids the gift of camping competence by making a point of including them in every aspect of camping. They are sure to thank you later!
Prefer RV camping over tent camping and need a rig for your next family camping adventure? Not to worry, we have tons of amazing rental RVs to choose from, so you can take the kids camping in complete comfort and start teaching them these important life skills.
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