There’s no classroom greater than the great outdoors. The next time you take a family camping trip, use these fun, easy strategies to enhance the educational value of your wilderness adventure.
Use a Field Guide or App to Identify Plants and Animals
Whether you prefer a paperbound book or an online catalog, there are tons of regional references to help you learn about the inhabitants of your campground. Being able to identify the animals they see on the trip not only focuses kids’ attention, it gives them a sense of pride in nature. Teach them to recognize and appreciate the wild world early on and they’ll grow up to practice the conservation skills we all need.
Keep a Wildlife Journal
Naturalists keep records of the plants and animals they encounter on their explorations. Bring along a composition book and some pencils so your kids can do the same. Keep the book with you on hikes and pause to make notes whenever you spot something interesting. At the end of the day, you can add more detailed descriptions or color in sketches made on the trail.
For younger kids, sophisticated observations might be tough, but even they can do simple drawings of what they see. Let each child have their own comp book and share everyone’s notes around the campfire at night.
Not all campsites will appreciate your use of natural materials for your own personal fort, but in areas where this is permitted, working as a family to build a small shade or rain shelter is a great way to teach thinking and experimenting skills. Try to avoid giving too much guidance. And let kids have fun figuring out by trial and error how to most effectively put things together. There’s no pride like the pride of creating something. Your kids will feel a greater bond with nature by learning to appreciate its resources.
Search for Constellations
Getting beyond the city lights is the best way to see the stars. When you’re sitting around the campfire, point out the visible constellations. The mythology of how these stars earned their names is great fodder for s’mores story time. If you’re a buff yourself, just talk away. But there are plenty of books and apps to help if your own stargazing skills are a bit rusty.
Grab the Map and Compass
Sure, we’ve got fancy GPS to guide us, but everyone should learn navigation skills. Knowing how to find your way in unfamiliar terrain is not only a critical survival skill, it’s also a great way to increase mental acuity. It also helps your young ‘uns to familiarize themselves with surrounding terrain, so they’re less likely to become lost when out on a hike or excursion. Show them how to use these important tools on a large group hike. Then let older kids do a little nearby exploring on their own.