With warmer weather and looser schedules, summer is the ideal time for families to get outside and find ways to be active together. From hitting the beach to hitting the trails, there’s a myriad of ways to get some fresh air and start connecting.
For the past two summers, my husband and I have made a concerted effort to introduce our kiddos (now 2 and 4) to the wonders of camping. We believe there’s nothing like forging your own trail in the mountains or cooking supper over a campfire to instill a sense of self-confidence. We also believe that the younger you start introducing your kids to nature, the better.
But that doesn’t mean it’s always simple. As captivating and enticing as nature is, children (especially small children) can still have a tendency to get bored, tired, or just plain hungry - even in the most majestic of settings. Which is why we’ve developed a sort of bag of tricks to help combat these setbacks and ensure a good time for all.
Here are some of our favorite tips, as well as a handy checklist for keeping the whole family happy and healthy while exploring the great outdoors.
As with all other facets of life, braving nature with kids always goes better when you’re well prepared. There are three specific areas we always make sure we’re ready for: supplies for staying protected, supplies for exploring nature, and supplies for when boredom strikes.
It’s the natural inclination of most parents to slather their young with sunscreen and then plop on some sunglasses and a hat before sending them out into the summer heat. But don’t forget to guard you kids against other issues they might encounter too.
If you’re heading to the woods, bug spray is a definite must, and if you’ll be playing near water, be sure little feet are protected from sharp rocks with proper footwear. It’s also a good idea to have a small first aid kit stocked with bandages and ointment as well as aloe and an instant ice pack for sunburns. Finally, be sure to pack lots of bottled water and high protein snacks to avoid dehydration and exhaustion.
If you’re worried that, with no electronics in sight, your kids will quickly lose interest in their surroundings, pack some special nature exploration tools for your journey. The addition of a magnifying glass or a pair of binoculars can instantly transform an average hike into a nature expedition.
You can also get your children to pay attention to their surrounds by playing “I Spy” or adding a theme to a hike. For example, go on a “listening hike” and take turns finding new sounds or a “color walk” and take turns finding items of various colors. Take along a small backpack for found treasures and encourage your kids to start a collection of rocks, seashells, pressed flowers or, if you’re really adventurous, bugs.
Finally, don’t forget to utilize the power of your children’s imaginations. With a little creativity, digging in the sand can easily become an archeological dig or a hunt for buried pirate treasure.
If you’re planning to spend an entire day, or days, in nature, then you’ll want to plan some low-key activities for your down time, too. Classic activities include playing with bubbles, singing songs, or snuggling up with a good book. We recently discovered that a few travel-sized spray bottles are also great to have around for small children. They can spend unheard of amounts of time “cleaning the trees” and “watering the forest”.
We also love to hit up the dollar aisle at our local big box store before our adventures. It’s amazing how innovative kids can get with simple materials like a plastic propeller or a few bendy tubes when there aren’t a million other toys vying for their attention. Last weekend the kids built an entire irrigation system with five dollars worth of toys.
Last but not least, invite other families in on the fun! Camping with the family is fun, but camping with your family plus your best buddies and their families brings a whole new level excitement. Similarly, there’s nothing like a bonfire on the beach with a few of your closest friends.