Sustainable Camping with Kids: How to Overnight Outdoors for Educational Fun

By Bethany Johnson in Thinking Sustainably

There are few family activities more memorable than camping. As an adult, you may either love or hate the lack of modern conveniences while camping, but one thing is certain—you’ll always remember the last time you unplugged and spent a few days away from it all.

Share the goodness of a camping trip with children, and you’ll enjoy all the benefits together. Camping with kids can form a strong bond through shared memories, funny misadventures, and lessons learned.

Plan Together

Before tossing your gear in the family van and heading out, sit down together. Discuss how camping benefits your family. Show how for kids, the chance to build a fire, pitch a tent, or catch dinner from a nearby stream can provide both physical exercise and a fun mental challenge they wouldn’t otherwise have faced at home. And for parents, exposure to natural light patterns can restore deep sleep cycles, which can have ripple effects like improved moods.

Then, formulate a simple plan.

First, check the weather forecast to ensure you bring what you need instead of borrowing supplies from nature. Then, pick a time and think critically together about it: Ask your kids when most families would be camping, and why. Plan to go during times of low traffic. Also while still in the comfort of your home, learn map and compass skills. The Idaho State University Outdoor Adventure Center‘s website offers fun, educational games that teach kids about orienteering. This way you can rely less on trail flags and marking paint once you’re in the wild.

When packing snacks, you want to rethink food packaging to cut waste. Package foods into watertight, reusable containers. And finally, discuss what makes a “durable surface,” and the importance of choosing an established campsite instead of creating a new one. Engage kids in conversation about how sticking to predetermined trails and sites can benefit the planet.

Games to Teach Preservation

It can be difficult for kids, especially young kids, to grasp how their presence affects the environment. Their young brains are stuck on “consumer” mode, and that’s OK—it’s what helps them enjoy the great outdoors so much. That means it’s up to you, however, to show them how the presence of humans can impact natural ecosystems. Instead of viewing the task as a chore, consider it an opportunity for fun. Use one of these simple games to educate kids on the seven principles of Leave No Trace (LNT).

  • Flash cards . Help kids craft simple flash cards that show a principle on one side and the explanation for it on the other. Let them time one another with a stopwatch to see who can identify each action the quickest. Then, test yourself. Can you beat your own time?
  • Memory Match. Use blank cardboard coasters to make two sets of cards that show LNT principles. Then, shuffle them up and lay them flat on the picnic table or blanket. One by one, take turns flipping two cards to reveal a hopeful match. If no match is made, your young camper’s turn is over and the next player gets to try.
  • Charades. Without speaking, act out each of the seven LNT principles while the others try to guess what you’re doing. Because it’s a fun distraction, this game can be effective for teaching kids about camping while you fix a meal or assemble the sleeping mats.
  • Pictionary. Draw a catastrophic event on paper to show the worst case scenario when an LNT principle is violated. Can your kids and partner decipher which best practice has been neglected to create such trouble? The first player to call it out gets to go next.

Divvy Duty

Kids love age-appropriate responsibilities. Distribute the tasks of monitoring impact among the kids, and have each child keep an eye on your family’s behaviors for potential infractions. Just this once, allow them to be a little bossy to ensure everyone complies with environmental best practices. Help dramatize their new roles with names like “waste manager,” “fire marshal,” or “noise controller.”

Camping with kids can easily beat resort vacations. The trick is to loosen up, know your sustainability duties, and involve the youngsters. Take lots of pictures, and share them with fellow responsible campers online—once you return to civilization, of course!

Image source: Flickr

This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.

Why It’s Good

Psychological sciences have established camping has many benefits, and one of them is the good feeling of simply getting away together and enjoying the outdoors. Combine your outing with some educational activities to teach kids about sustainability, so they always associate environmental responsibility with the goodness of camping in the wilderness with their favorite people.