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Back 40: Prepping for kids’ first camping trip

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By Bryn Huntpalmer EBS Contributor

Do you remember your first camping experience? If you’re like me, you’ve grown up tent camping and exploring public lands. If you haven’t already taken your kids camping, they may have some anxiety and questions about their upcoming adventure.

If your family doesn’t spend a lot of time outdoors, your children’s first camping experience might be a shock. They may not be excited about sleeping in a tent with bugs and dirt close at hand. Work your way up to spending an entire night out in nature by exploring the outdoors beforehand—make regular trips to a nearby park or go on a half-day hike as a family. The idea is to work your way up to a full night away from home.

Once your kids are comfortable hiking or having a picnic outside, then you’ll know it’s time for them to get the fully integrated camping experience. It’s also important to instill in your kids an appreciation for nature. Spend a few hours a week where the family interacts with nature instead of looking at computer, phone or TV screens. This habit will also make the lack of technology easier to cope with when they spend a few nights in the wilderness. Here are some fun tips to prep the kiddos for their first camping experience.

Set up a campsite at home. A simple way to expose your kids to camping is to set up a tent indoors. Familiarize your kids with flashlights, sleeping bags, and other equipment you plan on using while camping. Add some excitement by allowing your kids to invite friends over, and encourage them to sing camp songs and make s’mores in the microwave or over a supervised backyard fire.

Once they’ve mastered the indoor camping experience, move things outside and spend the night in a tent. You can also use this opportunity to teach them about campfire safety by lighting a fire pit.

Teach your children fire safety in a supervised spot, like the backyard, before their first camping trip. PHOTO COURTESY OF BRYN HUNTPALMER

Anticipate fears. Kids may have specific fears about camping, so talk to them and find out what they may be anxious about. Are they scared of bears attacking them in their sleep? Are they nervous about sleeping in the woods? Have they been around a campfire before?

The best way to prepare your kids for their first camping experience is to explain in detail what the trip will entail. Let them know they may hear new noises in their tent and that there will likely be bugs. You can put their fears to rest by letting them ask questions about the trip before you go. If you anticipate the fears they may have, you can reduce any negative reactions once you’re in the great outdoors.

Engage with your kids. Get them excited by packing for the camping trip together. Use this time as a teaching opportunity and show your children the importance of being prepared. Let them pack their own backpack and quiz them on what items they need for the night or two away.

It’s important to allow your kids to take ownership of their belongings so they’ll be comfortable while sleeping outdoors. If there’s a special blanket your daughter loves, let her bring it. You can also plan meals together that revolve around your children’s favorite foods to make it more exciting.

If you prepare them properly, your kids’ first camping experience can begin a lifelong love for the outdoors. So get out there and make some amazing memories with your children.

A version of this story first appeared in the June 26, 2015, edition of Explore Big Sky newspaper.

Joseph T. O'Connor is the previous Editor-in-Chief for EBS newspaper and Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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