Nature is an amazing classroom, and camping at its best will give your kids a healthy dose of independence and self-reliance. But there are some tasks you just shouldn’t let young children do without grownup assistance.
This one might seem obvious, but prepping a campfire is one of camping’s most important rituals. It’s a multistep chore that leaves the fire starter with a feeling of pride in accomplishment, and chopping fire wood is one of the most satisfying parts of the process. But the youngest ones in your bunch shouldn’t be swinging the axe. A piece of wood big enough to require major chopping is going to require more energy and dexterity than a child is capable of. If you want to let them in on the process, have them prepare kindling by gathering and snapping twigs. A few splinters won’t hurt anyone, but an axe in incapable hands will.
Tending the Fire
The kids can watch the fire; you can even assign the responsibility to them and make sure they keep their post. But you need to keep a careful eye on proceedings. Kids can’t always identify potential danger early enough to thwart it. And their attention spans are often shorter than those of grown folks. Share the process with them and let them take pride in the event, but never let them go it alone.
On the grill, over the open fire, or on the camp stove, camp cooking involves fire. If you’ve got a responsible young camper on premises, assign them some challenging tasks, like chopping produce, turning burgers, and watching for water to boil. But never expect them to put a meal on the table all by themselves. Teach them those camp cooking skills one at a time over the course of the seasons. One day they’ll be responsible adults who can prepare a full dinner while you lounge in the hammock.
Searching for a Water Source
Unless you’re certain there’s a nearby stream (one with a location you can identify), don’t send your young ones alone on a quest to fill the canteens. Sure, they need the freedom to explore and face some environmental challenges, but unless you know the terrain, they shouldn’t do that exploring without an adult helper. From roaming bears to challenging passes, opportunities for bodily harm abound. And kids might not be as observant of park regulations as adults, thus venturing into areas where they’re not allowed. Plus, do you really your seven-year-old to have sole responsibility for filtering the water? Send them in groups when you do let them explore. A wilderness buddy is a good idea at any age.
Plotting the Course
Teaching kids to set the path for a hike or a walk, sharing your compass skills, and schooling them in celestial navigation is a great way to engage their senses and instill pride in accomplishment. But you don’t want the youngest person to be responsible for where you’ll end up. In all aspects of camping, kids can participate and face challenges, just make sure you’re there to guide them if things get rough.