Thursday, December 11, 2014

How to Help Kids Become Better Camping Neighbors - Teachable Moments

Left by backpackers, Governor Dodge State Park
Sometimes teachable moments pop up at inconvenient times. We pack for our backpacking trip carefully, we pack light. We plan foods that  allow us to keep our trash bag small and fairly clean for packing out.

Now we're out there. We check out a recently abandoned campsite only to find bread tossed into the brush and smoldering food cans in the fire ring. Do we walk away and pretend we never saw the messy campsite? Or do we recognize a teachable moment?

If we want to teach our children well, we pull out the extra trash bag we brought long just in case and get to work.

Teach our Children About Leaving Campsites Better Than They Found them

Campers are sure to encounter opportunities to teach children about leaving campsites cleaner than found. Rejoice when you find campsites free from trash. Bottle caps, twist ties, juice box straw wrappers, and other litter are common place. And it’s not just a fact when car camping. Sadly, trash can be found even when backpacking or paddling miles into the wilderness.

Leaving a campsite better than we found it is a wonderful thing to teach a child. What a valuable lesson, learning to leave the world a better place. Aside from pack it in, pack it out, what else can we teach our children about being good camping neighbors?

Ready to hike out with a bag of smelly charred food cans and bread slices from a
neighboring campsite - in the trash bag dangling from the back of my pack.

Teachable Moments Around the Campfire

If we have unused firewood, we can ask our children to help stack it neatly for the next campers. We can teach our child that a fire must be put out before going to sleep or leaving. When our children step forward to throw trash into the fire, we can point out the reasons we don’t burn trash. We don’t want the floating cinders from the trash to land on our hair or tent. We and our neighboring campers do not want to inhale fumes from plastic containers. We also don’t want to pluck the charred, smelly remains of the plastic container from the fire. When our trash fails to burn completely, the next camper feels obligated to clean up our mess.  

Learning about putting out the fire under Dad's supervision.



Teach Children Not To Feed Wild Animals

A chipmunk scampers into camp. Ants struggle to carry dropped snack crumbs twice their size. After sunset, raccoons show up hoping for an opportunity to forage. Our children are sure to enjoy watching these picnic pests, finding them cute. Charming even.

Cute as it may be, we should not allow children to feed wild animals, intentionally or unintentionally. It’s bad for wild animals, and it’s bad for people. The next campers don’t want to be pestered by aggressive chipmunks or unintentionally habituated bears. Teach children that food scattered on the ground for a particular delightful creature will also attract other animals and insects.  Teach them that uneaten food should be packed away. Although always important, when camping in bear country it’s especially important to teach children to help us keep a clean camp.

At Harrison Bay State Park in Tennessee, deer and ducks are so habituated by campers feeding them,
they walk through campsites begging for food each evening, and allowed us to
approach unbelievably close with our canoe.

Teach Respect For Others

When it comes to campgrounds, rules for quiet hours are posted and often rigorously enforced. On backpacking trips, not so much enforcement. But sometimes designated campsites exist within earshot of one another. We can teach our children to respect a logical set of quiet hours. After 10 o’clock at night, the rule should be inside voices only.  

Also, we can teach our children not to cut through or hang out in occupied campsites uninvited. This is about boundaries. Yes, we’re likely in a state forest, national forest or some other public space. But folks pay for permits and/or reservations. Kids wandering through others' campsites could walk into an uncomfortable encounter, especially after dark.

Campfire time is quiet time after 10 pm.

When it comes to camping with kids, a little teaching goes a long way. For more on camping with kids, check out Mama’s tips for activities to keep kids happy and engaged in the wilderness, and camp chores for kids.

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