In 1998, more than 9.2 million overnight stays in national parks in America were recorded. Flash forward 15 years to 2013, and then number has dropped to 7.91 million. The phenomena isn’t limited to the USA. In the UK, camping has declined by 1/5 since 2002 and Australians are camping less too. In short, people aren’t taking their kids camping as much anymore. Before you choose a hotel for your next family holiday, consider all of these good reasons to take your kids camping.
Camping Builds Self Esteem
Last summer, I took two mom friends and their kids camping. It was us 3 moms and 3 kids aged 3-5. At the time, one of the kids was having a really hard time separating from his mom. He wouldn’t even go play at birthday parties and instead clung to his mother. A lot of it had to do with the fact he lacked confidence, especially in new situations.
Considering how scared the boy was in everyday life, it was amazing to see how easily he took to camping. He helped us put up the tent and gather firewood. I showed him how to build a fire (though I did the lighting). We went for a hike in the woods. After each task, he was beaming with pride. The experience of camping and hiking really helped him come out of his shell and feel good about himself.
As an article in Today’s Parent points out, it takes more than praise to build a child’s self-esteem. Jim Taylor, the author of Your Kids Are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You says that:
Building self-confidence in children starts with helping them become competent in the world. To do so, you have to learn to step back and let your child take risks, make choices, solve problems, and stick with what they start.
Camping Helps Your Kids Disconnect
Tech addiction is a real thing. As an adult who was born in the 1980s, I can still remember a time without computers, cell phones, and the internet. The biggest technology in our home was a Sega Genesis console, which I didn’t like to play very much.
Our kids were born into a world where technology is everywhere. Many don’t know what it is like to go 1 day without the internet. Heck, More than 90% of all two year-olds in America have an online footprint!
An article at Inhabitots points to the numerous alarming studies about technology and health problems in kids.
- Kids who watch 2+ hours of TV per day are more likely to be overweight
- AAP notes that too much screen time is linked to sleep and eating disorders
- Child cell phone use is linked to ADHD
- Too much multimedia content is causing shortened attention spans
- TV and computer use are linked to worse levels of psychological wellbeing
As a parent, I know I can’t deny my daughter all forms of technology (there are many benefits, and we do live in the “real world”). However, I can take her camping so she learns how good it feels to disconnect.
Camping Is Great for Family Bonding
Some of my greatest moments from childhood are from backpacking trips with my dad and sister. If you ask me how I celebrated my birthdays, I can’t remember. I can’t even remember our trip to Disney World. But I do remember picking out candy for our trail mix, singing country western songs in the car ride to the Adirondacks, seeing a beaver making a dam, feeding friendly chipmunks, and making fire-baked bowls out of clay that we sourced from the stream.
Without all of the distractions from work and technology, you can really bond with your kids during camping. And, out in a new environment, you will get to really see their strengths, weaknesses, fears, and interests. In short, you will get to know your kids and they will get to know you.
Camping Is Good Exercise
In the United States, more than 1/3 of children are overweight or obese. Part of the reason for this is because kids are spending increasingly more time indoors instead of playing outdoors. You can’t run around and burn energy when indoors!
Camping provides a lot of opportunities for exercise. Kids get exercise when they go for hikes, gather firewood, swim in a stream, or just when they are running around like crazy – and you can let them because you are out in the wilderness!
By the way parents: you’ll love how quickly your kids fall asleep after a full day of camping!
Camping Teaches Respect for Nature
Most people go into nature so rarely that they start to fear it. In his book Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv talks about how there is an increase in nature-related phobias, especially in children. He says that this fear of nature comes because parents keep their kids indoors in order to keep them safe, and the children lose their innate affinity for nature.
Humans have a natural urge to affiliate with other forms of life. Scientists refer to this urge as biophilia. If you don’t go into nature, then you are going against your human nature.
As a mother, one of the things that I am most proud of is that my daughter LOVES spiders. She even has asked several times while camping if we can take them home with us. If she sees another kid trying to squish a bug or a worm, she immediately comes to their defense, explaining that “all animals are important.” She can even give a good lecture on how spiders eat the bad bugs like mosquitoes, and that without bugs and worms we wouldn’t have birds, foxes, wolves, bears, cows, or even people. Yes, she is 5 and understands the circle of life.
*Side note: Like most people, I used to be semi-afraid of spiders. I didn’t want my daughter to pick up on this fear, so I pretended that I like them. After a year of pretending that they are “cute” and “pretty”, I stopped being afraid! Now I don’t mind picking up a spider to throw it out of the tent.
Camping Teaches Survival Skills
Now, I’m not one of those doomsday preppers. But I do acknowledge that I live near an earthquake zone. And I read the news reports about what happened in the aftermath of natural disasters like hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.
If some major disaster occurs, I want to feel confident that my daughter can take care of herself. On our backpacking trips, she has learned a lot of survival skills, like: how to read a map, that you’ve got to filter water before drinking it, how to make a fire to stay warm, how to make an improvised tent, and what wild plants are edible.
Even if my daughter never finds herself in a disaster situation (let’s hope!), knowing these things still boosts her self-confidence – which brings us back to the first benefit of taking your kids camping.
Camping is Affordable
One of the main reasons people give for not going on a family vacation is cost. Experts estimate that a typical vacation for a family of 4 costs $1,600 to $4,550. With so many people living paycheck-to-paycheck, it makes sense that people are worried about costs – until you compare the costs of a camping vacation.
If you go wild camping, then you don’t have to pay a cent for the campsite. At campgrounds, the rates are usually affordable at about $10 to $40 per night for the entire family. That just leaves you with the costs of transportation to/from the campsite, the cost of any activities you’d like to do (boating, horseback riding, etc.) and food (which you can pack yourself instead of paying exuberant tourist rates).
Yes, you do need gear to go camping, but you only have to buy it once. If you are really on a budget, you can borrow camping gear to save money. You can read this price breakdown to find out How Much It Costs to Go Camping.