Into the Woods with Kids

We’re heading into another gorgeous weekend here in Northwest Arkansas. What a great time to take the family camping!

Taking kids into the wild is easier than you might think – especially if you start early. It’s really just a matter of some common sense and good planning.

Start small, and keep it simple:

  • A one- or two-night trip is a great start, and it might be a good idea to stay within a couple of hours away from home in case your best laid plans go awry.
  • Choose a campground with short trails unless your kids are already experienced hikers.
  • S’mores and hotdogs on a stick are a must for any campout, but we get it if you’re not terribly excited about cooking over the fire for every meal. Take a cooler full of pre-made meals like chicken salad, fruit and cheese sticks, or just find a campground close to a restaurant. Many state parks have restaurants in them – check out their websites when you’re doing your planning.

Modern tents are so easy to put up that you should be able to do it yourself, but be patient enough to let the kids help. The sense of pride they will get from learning a new skill will help them stay excited about your time in the woods (and away from their laptops and game systems). For your own sanity, get to your site with plenty of time to spare before sunset. Setting up camp by flashlight is not an adventure – it’s the beginning of a frustrating night.

Spend some time before your trip explaining some safety rules to your kids, and go over them again around the campfire. Some good ones to remember:

  • Never leave the campsite alone;
  • Don’t go near the water unless accompanied by an adult,
  • If you do get lost, sit down and wait – wandering around in an unfamiliar place makes it less likely that you’ll be found (have your kids carry a metal coach’s whistle to use in case of this emergency – it’s easier to blow a whistle than to yell for help for hours)
  • Never eat any wild plants found in the area, even if you think they look familiar.

If you’re with younger children you should probably stay away from camping areas that are close to bluffs or natural formations that would tempt them to climb. Save those trips for when they’re more experienced on the trails.

Finally, tell someone else where you’re going and when you plan to be home. If you’re staying in a state park, you’re required to reserve a campsite online and check in with the park ranger when you arrive, but it’s always a good idea for someone else to know your whereabouts in case there is an emergency at home or you have an emergency yourself that needs to be reported. Remember, cell phones are not reliable in many state parks or private campgrounds.

The best way for your kids to learn to appreciate the natural world around them is for you introduce them to it. You can be sure they’ll remember those s’mores over the campfire.

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