The economy may have taken a chunk out of your family vacation plans, but consider camping. Canada is loaded with family adventure spots that will give your kids the vacation that they will remember all of their lives. It takes some realistic planning, however, to camp with kids. Think about safety, comfort, preparation, meals and fun. Then, think about keeping it simple. So here’s some help in getting your gear ready.
This is one trip to the grocery store your kids will want to make. Focus on healthy snacks, but don’t forget to pick up marshmallows and ingredients for s’mores. Let your kids choose a few
items for the trip. Before you leave, kids can help make Rice Krispie squares, homemade granola or trail mix.
Pitch the tent in the backyard to sleep out overnight to test your gear. Or go on a short day hike in a park near you and bring a picnic lunch. Do something outdoors at night, such as lying on your back looking at the stars or playing flashlight tag.
Provincial and national parks across the country are taking reservations now. Check their Websites to learn more.
Have your kids draw a big red cross on the top and sides. For a basic trip not far from civilization, include prescription meds for everyone, antiseptic wipes, adhesive bandages, antibiotic gel, your choice of pain relievers, sunscreen, bug lotion and tissues. Bring facecloths and a bottle of water for washing cuts and scrapes.
Younger kids must stay where you can see them. Explain that no one can go anywhere alone and they must always tell an adult where they’re going.
•Check the water first if they’ve wandered off and you can’t see them. Usually, that’s where they are, poking a stick to make frogs jump.
• Insist on adult supervision when anyone is near water. Everyone should know how to swim and be very closely supervised around the water.
• Make sure kids stay a safe distance from the campfire. Never leave the fire unattended and don’t build a fire bigger than you need. Always have your extinguishing materials (a bucket of water or sand) beside the fire before you light it.
• Be aware of wild animals. That fluffy bunny rabbit is cute, and so are the chipmunk and the raccoon and the black furry guy with the white stripe down his back, but all wild animals are… well… wild. Don’t try to feed them, catch them or chase them. And unless you’d like to be intimate with the nocturnal wildlife, don’t keep food in your tent or out on the picnic table. Best bet is to keep food in a car trunk or hung from trees.
The kids will get dirty. And wet. (Likely, both dirty and wet at the same time.) Camping is not a fashion moment; dress them in their worst. Have shoes that are fully enclosed with a tread and support. Only pack flip-flops if you’re camping near a wonderful beach. Boots are even better than shoes. Bring twice as many pairs of socks as you think you’ll need, as well as some for sleeping in.
No matter the weather report, bring clothing and gear for inclement weather – waterproof (not water resistant). This includes rain jackets and warm clothes.
Bring zippy bags: They save space, are easy to reseal and can always be reused for something.
Plan your meals with your kids: Stew, spaghetti sauce and chili can all be made ahead of time and frozen in self-closing bags. Anything that can be pre-measured, measure it – pancake mix, rice, oatmeal, dry pasta, chopped up veggies – only as much as you know you’ll need – and put it in plastic zip bags. As an added bonus, those frozen meals serve to help keep your cooler cool.
Hang your food: Put it in a plastic container with a tight lid, sling a rope from a tree branch well away from the trunk, and have the kids hoist away. Secure it about 10 feet from the ground.
Pita bread or naan travels better than Wonder. Keep your marshmallows cool so they don’t melt together. If you slime a little dish soap on your pot before you put it on the fire it’ll still get black on the outside but be much, much easier to wash at the end. Flavour is the name of the game when camping. Pack dried fruit, jam and condiments that have zing; they are going to make everything taste better.
Hiking is a great activity for everyone. Kids don’t hike the same way you might, though; they want to touch everything they see, wander over to the creek, see if they can climb that big rock and watch that stick bug or dragonfly or frog for much longer than you ever would. Hike with good shoes or boots, thick, comfortable socks, and dress in layers. Bring your first aid kit, lots of water, snacks and your camera in your backpack. This is the perfect time for a scavenger hunt and to teach kids about respecting nature: don’t wander from the path (disturbs the plants trying to grow and scares away the animals), no running or shouting (how will you hear the birds and the scuttling of little critters?), no picking flowers or leaves off trees (leave them there for others to enjoy), no scratching your initials into trees or writing on rocks and no littering. The golden rule: you bring it in, you bring it out.
When you’re back home and all your gear’s put away, take a family evening to make a small scrapbook or memory box of your camping adventure. Put it away and open it a few years later. Watch the kids light up with excitement as they remember what fun you had.
FUN GEAR: Get a little bag and put one of each of these in it for every kid: a flashlight, a glow stick (one per night), a whistle on a lanyard to be used only in emergencies, a disposable camera, a small notepad and pen, an activity book and a bandana.
• Scavenger Hunt: Go to a hardware store and get paint chips in natural colours – green palettes for grasses, leaves and mosses, yellows or reds for wildflowers, browns for earth and sticks, greys for rocks. Have the kids find objects in nature that match. This is an opportunity to talk about why things in nature are the colours they are.
• Flashlight Tag: Play in the dark on flat terr