As we get ready for our third family camping trip of the season in the Pocono Mountains, I keep thinking of what exactly it is that I love about getting away from the comforts of our home. Some reasons go far and beyond the obvious. S'mores and relaxing around the campfire (if you can relax with a 2 and 4-year-old) are great motivators. But, trust me, there is more to voluntarily sleeping on uneven ground than what meets the eye.
When we spend most of the year running around begging our children to get dressed so we can hopefully make it to school on time, summer is the perfect time to call it quits on all schedules and time-constrained commitments. And that's precisely what happens when we go camping. But there are other reasons why kids should experience the beauty of getting away from it all.
1. Face-to-face contact. With no tight schedules, no rushing, and & no devices, we are left with good old face-to-face connections and the pleasure of moving along the day leisurely far away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Time, a near-extinct resource among modern parents, magically becomes abundant in the middle of the woods. And while chances are that our phones will work perfectly fine no matter how far we go, we voluntarily leave it behind in the car until it is time to head home.
2. Patience. There are no quick meals. We must gather sticks and bark and wood (although most places sell firewood these days) to help us start our campfire and get cookin'. Firestarters are great, but only if I am ravenous! I try to avoid instant gratification as much as I can when it comes to camping. We must divide and conquer every task as a team.
3. Creativity. Experienced campers know things can always go awry, but it's how you deal with such a challenge that really matters. If we forget to pack something, we need to make it work with what we have or find an alternative. The first time this summer, we forgot the cooking rack for top of the fire ring. We managed by making foil-packet meals that turned out remarkably tasty. This is where "makin' a list and checkin' it twice" all starts to make sense.
4. Out of our comfort zone. "But how do you manage when they are so little?" is a question I often face. Well, that's the beauty of it — even my feisty two-year-old needs to learn to adapt and embrace a little discomfort. It might be somewhat challenging at first, but give it some time, and you will notice how kids too begin to welcome this slower-paced and not so convenient living.
But perhaps the biggest reward of going camping is not learning to be patient or the ability to unplug from our devices. City living has alienated us from the wonders of the natural world so much that our children only get to learn about forest animals and biological processes from a textbook. "What is the extinction of a condor to a child who has never seen a wren?" once said naturalist Robert
Michael Pyle. Why is is that older generations can easily identify the trees, shrubs, and birds in their surroundings, but my generation has lost this ability and probably the interest to do so? Our children are merely following our footsteps.
Our growing disengagement from nature, I soon realized, is the reason why I love immersing ourselves in these rustic getaways. As my children lift a rotten log and make amazing discoveries, I do too. Their unnumerable questions have motivated me to find the answers. Their sense of wonder is what makes family camping so meaningful at such a young age. Observing my four-year-old move around stumps, rocks, and other loose parts in an uneven ground can be nerve-wracking, but ultimately, I know he is building self-confidence.
If we want children to protect nature they must experience it first-hand.