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There’s no doubt about it: children love camping. The wide-open spaces, fun activities, and opportunities for new adventure around every corner are undeniably enjoyable.
This isn’t the only way that camping benefits kids, though. The camping experience also teaches quite a few important life lessons that your child will carry with them for years to come. The best part is that these lessons happen naturally while your child is playing and having fun in the outdoors.
Experiential learning—the knowledge that we gain through movement, acting, and doing, as opposed to listening to lectures or reading—often stays with us almost effortlessly. It is easy to forget something we learned quickly while studying for an exam, but the lessons we learn through life experiences are much more enduring.
Unfortunately, according to this article in The Atlantic, experiential learning opportunities are becoming increasingly rare in school settings. The good news, though, is that children don’t stop learning when they leave the classroom.
A family camping trip can actually be an incredible source of experiential learning for children. Take a look at this list of 12 invaluable life lessons your child will learn from camping.
1. Environmental Conservation and Protection
A heightened appreciation for the beauty of nature increases a child’s understanding of the importance of conserving and protecting that beauty. While camping, it’s great to mention the ways in which we can help keep our planet clean, safe, and hospitable for everyone.
When helping to clean up each day, kids can think about trying to leave the campground the same way it was before arriving, or even improving it if previous campers left behind trash. Simple chores such as picking up litter are great reminders of the importance of reducing the footprint we leave on natural spaces.
Along the same lines, this is a great time to talk about all of the resources that we use up in our regular, modern lives. Brainstorm ways that the family can reduce waste at home—simple things like conserving water and reducing excessive use of electricity are great to talk about while you are out in nature.
2. Importance of Family
Camping is the ideal time for family bonding. Away from work, school, errands, and other routine responsibilities, we have the opportunity to simply enjoy each other’s company.
This provides us all with an opportunity to reflect on our relationships with one another and to appreciate the joys of just being together.
3. Self-Sufficiency and Survival Skills
In generations past, knowing how to catch a fish or cook over an open fire was common knowledge. Nowadays, however, some of these basic survival skills are lacking in many of us.
Camping is a great way to learn self-sufficiency and to hone our ability to survive in the face of disaster or unexpected circumstances.
While camping, opportunities often come up for small children to learn fire safety and basic first aid. Older kids can learn how to clean and gut a fish, how to find water that is safe to drink (or how to boil water to make it safer), and how to keep one’s food supply safe from animals. These are just a few examples; you will likely find that many more arise as you go throughout your trip.
If you’d like, check out 32 Survival Skills Your Child Should Know and be Able to Do ASAP and see which of these you may be able to help incorporate into your camping adventure.
Teamwork is another essential life skill that is easily learned while camping. This is a time when it is important to let your child help out with daily tasks.
Whether you are pitching the tent or preparing dinner, make sure you do it together, and talk briefly about how much easier things are when you work as a team. Not only will your child feel like a valuable contributor to the family, but he or she will also learn the importance of cooperation in all aspects of life.
Point out and celebrate the cooperative behaviors your child displays in order to encourage the continual development of this lesson.
5. Resilience and Flexibility
Sleeping in a tent may not be as comfortable as your child’s cozy, soft bed back home. Likewise, your little one may miss some favorite toys or have a bit of trouble adapting to the new menu at dinnertime.
These inconveniences and small hardships are great ways of teaching children the importance of resilience and flexibility in life. Crying and complaining won’t make your regular bed appear in the middle of the campground nor will it make your favorite food suddenly materialize, and that’s a good thing in the broader scope of things.
Children learn to make do with what they have and to be flexible and adaptable when circumstances require it.
6. Courage and Facing Fears
At times, camping can be frightening for young children. Especially at night, the sounds of the wind and animals, combined with the darkness and lack of familiarity in the surroundings can be a bit scary. Even adults sometimes become apprehensive about talk of bears or wolves in the wilderness.
What’s important to remember is that facing one’s fears with courage is an important life lesson. Reassure your child that everyone is safe, but also take advantage of this opportunity for him or her to learn the valuable lessons that come from stepping outside of one’s comfort zone.
Along the same lines, PBS Parents says that one of the best ways to build courage in small children is to encourage them to learn new skills that require effort and stretch their abilities.
Trying something for the first time can be intimidating, and camping is sure to require new skills in children of all ages. For little ones, it may mean figuring out how to walk on bumpy, uneven paths and trails; for older kids, it could be learning to fish or helping to pitch a tent.
Not only will your child learn this new skill, but he or she will also learn to be courageous in the face of new and intimidating challenges.
It’s easy to take the luxuries of modern life for granted. We’ve grown accustomed to central heating, air conditioning, and soft furniture. Even electricity and running water are luxuries of sorts.
When we go without these things for a while, it is easier to remember to be thankful for them. Once you get back home, talk with your child about being grateful for all that you have.
Television, movies, social media, and video games may seem like essential parts of life for many young people. Sometimes children experience seeing their own parents distracted by technology, compulsively checking email, text messages, and such.
Many of us try to do several things at once in order to keep up with the fast pace of our lives, and this can make it difficult for our children to get our undivided attention.
Camping teaches children the beauty of simplicity in life. Without all of the technological distractions of our modern lives, we have more time to talk, listen, relax, and refresh ourselves. We come to experience the simple pleasures that life offers.
Traditional camping activities such as campfire stories bring back the age-old art of storytelling, a simple form of entertainment that encourages qualities such as being patient and using your imagination, which are more difficult to cultivate in children who are constantly immersed in television or video games.
9. Value of Hard Work
As fun as camping can be, it’s also a lot of work. Without the conveniences of a dishwasher and microwave, even preparing and cleaning up after meals can be more work than many of us are accustomed to.
Be sure that you don’t do all of the hard work yourself, but rather allow your child to help out whenever possible; this will help them to recognize the value of hard work.
Children can help gather firewood, then appreciate the warmth it brings later on when the weather gets chilly and everyone gathers together around the campfire.
Similarly, the fish a child catches and cleans themselves is likely to taste much better than the fish sticks that come in a package at the grocery store. Camping provides great ways to learn the value of hard work.
10. Problem Solving
No camping trip would be complete without something going wrong. When you’re out in nature, away from your familiar routines and conveniences, unexpected occurrences almost always arise at some point.
Maybe rain starts pouring down unexpectedly just as you’re trying to set up the tent or it’s time for dinner and you realize you didn’t pack any kind of plates or utensils.
This is a great time to let your child help out with brainstorming ways of resolving the problem. In fact, you may be surprised by the innovative solutions that kids come up with at the spur of the moment; children tend to be pretty good at improvising when given the opportunity.
Regardless, know that these burdensome moments are actually helping to build your child’s problem-solving abilities for life.
Likewise, this is a great way to learn the importance of preparedness and planning ahead. If a problem could have been prevented by better preparation or forethought, don’t try to hide that.
Adults make mistakes too, and it is good to acknowledge this fact and talk about how things can be improved next time.
11. Appreciation of Nature
The wonders of nature aren’t something that can be learned from reading a book or hearing another person’s account or explanation. These things must be experienced firsthand, and camping provides the perfect opportunity.
Ask children questions that help them focus on the sensory experiences around them: What can they see? What does the air smell like? What sounds can they hear when everyone is quiet?
When your family is all sitting down together after a busy day of hiking or fishing, it’s a great time to just relax and appreciate the beauty of nature.
Being out in the beauty and vastness of nature, surrounded by creatures big and small, it is easier to realize that we aren’t the only creatures that matters in this universe. Our own small problems and troubles in life may look smaller when looking at the world through a less familiar lens.
This is a great time to encourage your child to respect the value of all living things and to emphasize being humble and having empathy and compassion for others.
With these 12 life lessons I’ve shared above, I hope it’s clear that there’s more to camping than simply spending some time outdoors.
The next time you take your child camping with you, keep these points in mind and make sure they leave with improved life skills that will last them a lifetime.
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