These can include getting away from the pressures of everyday life like work, the telephone calls from salespeople or survey takers, the constant negative news that is being reported on television and in newspapers, and the ever-growing “honey–do” list.
They also often include the time shopping for food and the many hours preparing meals that are consumed in a matter of minutes and the almost full-time job of being a chauffeur for carpools, transporting your children to sporting and social events and the required practices for those events.
A family camping trip is an important opportunity to reconnect as a family. A time to work together, to play together and to listen to one another.
It would be so relaxing and refreshing to find a nice quiet location at one of the many places in Missouri that offers camping, to set up a tent or park the RV, build a small campfire, and sit in a comfortable camp chair with the aroma of a great smelling cup of coffee filling the air.
The only sounds that you hear are the wind wrestling through the leaves of trees, the drumming of a pileated woodpecker somewhere off in the distance, the cry of a Blue Jay when something invades its territory and, if you are lucky enough to be camping next to a brook or river, the relaxing sound of running water.
This may be great for you but it could be a boring disaster for your children. To help them through the culture shock of not having Internet connections, Facebook, texting friends, television, a gang of friends to hang out with, and the privacy of their own room will require some planning on the part of the parents.
Camping is for the enjoyment of the whole family, which includes the children.
To keep your children interested in something you need to get them involved, and for them to be successful. The degree of involvement will depend on the age of the children and the skill level required, which is something that you will need to judge.
Unless you have your own private camping location, have your children research locations in which they think would be interesting and fun for them.
The Missouri Department of Conservation website (www.mdc.mo.gov), Missouri State Parks website (www.mostateparks.com), and Missouri Vacation Travel Guide (www.missouri-vacations.com) are good websites to start with.
The River Hills Traveler also promotes several privately-owned camp locations with their location, amenities and website address.
Have the children present their findings and listen to their suggestions. A discussion with the whole family on finding and selecting a camping location that everyone agrees on is always a good start.
Another pre-camping activity that the children can start with is helping to make the first meal. A “hobo dinner” can be prepared at home and placed in a cooler to be ready to cook at the camp site.
This meal will always taste great cooked over a bed of charcoals or on an open grill.
Ingredients for a simple hobo meal may include:
• 1⁄2 lb meat (ground beef is the most common)
• 1 cup potato, sliced
• 1 cup carrots, sliced
• 1⁄2 cup onion, sliced
• 4 teaspoons butter
• Garlic powder
• Cooking spray
• Aluminum foil
1. Spray 18-inch square of aluminum foil with cooking spray.
2. Place 1/4 of the meat in center of foil.
3. Place 1/4 of the vegetables on top of meat.
4. Season with butter, salt, garlic powder and pepper to taste.
5. Fold top and sides of foil several times to seal food.
6. Always place seam side up when cooking. You may want to double wrap if cooking on a campfire or grill.
7. CAMPFIRE: Place on hot coals near the edge of your campfire and allow to cook 25-30 minutes, or until meat is done.
8. GRILL: Place on medium/hot grill for 40 minutes; rotate 1/2 way through cooking time.
There are several things that your children can assist you in making this hobo dinner such as cutting the aluminum foil to size, making the ground beef patty, or chopping and placing the vegetables on the patty.
This recipe is supposed to yield four dinners but I think that it might be a little light.
Here are some more ideas to keep the kids entertained and having fun:
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If you are camping where there is fishable water, such as a lake or river, ask your children to help you catch dinner for the family.
Most everyone enjoys fishing and this could be a good teaching experience for both you and your children from finding baits, locating a good fishing spot, the fun part of catching fish and the hard part of cleaning them for dinner, and the rewarding part of eating food that they helped in catching and preparing for the family meal.
Think how good fresh bluegill, crappie or catfish would taste cooked over a campfire along with fried potatoes followed up by S’mores for dessert.
It is important that your children develop a sense of accomplishment and belonging to the group. Accomplishment is a byproduct of responsibility.
Depending on the child’s age some responsibilities could include policing the prospective campsite looking for things that could be of danger or cause harm such as rocks that could be stepped on by bare feet, exposed tree roots or buried rocks that someone could trip over, or trash left by a careless camper.
Another idea for campsite responsibility is to keep an adequate kindling supply. Most camping locations have firewood for you to use or buy. It is not good conservation practice to bring in firewood from outside the area that you are camping in because it might contain harmful pests.
You will still need some type of kindling to start a campfire, so make it your children’s responsibility to search for twigs or small sticks to use for this purpose and to keep the kindling pile full.
If camping isn’t fun, then what good is it? If you’re taking kids camping, there is only so much dirt, rocks and bugs that will entertain kids before they can become bored.
Some equipment and toys to bring along that would be fun to have, and also useful, would include binoculars, a magnifying glass, card games, and maybe a couple of squirt guns.
Bring an extra tent to use as a designated play area. This way, your kids can have their own space to use for their toys and games.
It’s nice to have spaces separate from the sleeping tent or the RV so they don’t always have to worry about cleaning feet before they climb into the “play tent” like you would the sleeping tent.
Plus, it’s shaded if you need to get the kids out of the sun for a while.
Another good thing to bring with you are glow sticks. Glow sticks are easy to find and work great for kids to string together and wear as a necklace, anklet or bracelet so you can keep track of them when it gets dark.
Throw glow sticks into water bottles for more illumination, or if you have a handful of water bottles, this could be a fun game of night bowling before bedtime.
Kids love to throw rocks. It is hard to find an appropriate place for rock-throwing in suburbia. However, as long as your kid isn’t throwing rocks at anyone, why not let them have at it?
Throw rocks in the river or the lake. Find rocks of varying sizes and shapes and see what a difference it makes in how they “splat.”
Skipping rocks across the water for distance is also good fun. Always be mindful of each other and any animals that are sharing your space.
One of the most fun and challenging activities for the whole family is a scavenger hunt.
Kids love scavenger hunts, and the great outdoors is the perfect place to hold one. If you use the Internet and “Google” outdoor scavenger hunt you will find a long list of ideas that you can print off and use.
Have players collect items like pine cones, maple leaves, oak leaves, snail shells, pine needles and rocks of certain colors. Each player should stick with an assigned buddy or small group.
Compasses and watches are useful, plus cloth bags rather than plastic to store the findings. Have the unsuccessful team roast and serve the marshmallows at the fire that night.
There is a quote that states, “When you’re in nature, be curious about nature.” Share time with your children to learn the names and properties of the plants and animals around you.
You could even keep a log book and compare the different natural finds in different places you visit.
I believe that some of the best scavenger lists to use in Missouri are the free field guides published by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Some of the guide books are about birds, mammals, trees, land invertebrates and reptiles and amphibians.
These guide books contain pictures, descriptions and habitat information of the various plant and animal life in Missouri.
Locate a particular plant or animal that is listed in the field guide, mark found and the date that it was discovered next to the picture. The person with the most discoveries during an outing wins.
This might be a good place to use a disposable camera or the camera on a cell phone, and take a picture of the plant or animal and compare it to the one in the field guide.
You can work with your children to make your own Missouri Wildlife Field Guide by making a scrapbook journal with the photo and description on what the photo shows, when and where it was taken.
The most important thing that a parent can do for their children is to spend time with them and listen to them and enjoy them.
Remember, the outdoors can be a bonding moment with lessons learned together, not just a teaching moment.
(Bill Wakefield runs the Traveler’s St. Louis office and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)