Veteran camper Simon McGrath reveals how to introduce the whole family to the joys of camping – and avoid the common disasters that can ruin a great adventure.
Life’s getting busier. And with society’s every-growing focus on technology, future generations of children are at risk of becoming detached from the natural world around them.
So step forward camping, a fantastic pastime that enables kids and parents (and not forgetting grandparents) to quite literally get closer to nature. Camping makes us slow down and tune back into the countryside and our natural environment. And, above all, spend quality time with our nearest and dearest, talking, having fun and simply being together.
There are many activities to enjoy, games to play and skills to learn just by pitching up at a campsite and getting out into our great outdoors. And first-timers will find camping is much easier than they think – it just takes a little planning and a sense of adventure.
First pitch up in the garden
You’ve just bought a tent so practise pitching it in the garden before heading to the campsite. And if you’re going to do that, the kids may as well sleep the night there too. If you pitch it nice and early the children can have fun playing in the tent during the day. Ensure everyone is going to be nice and warm for the night, enjoy a tasty mug of hot chocolate, and don’t forget the torch in case anyone needs the loo. Oh, and remember teddy too.
Be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed
If the family has at least had a reasonable night’s sleep then they’ll be set up for fun and adventure the next day. So do what you can to sleep well – think about warmth, comfort and light. Invest in a good sleeping bag and consider what goes beneath it to insulate you from the cold and potentially bumpy floor such as a self-inflating mat, or SIM. More manufacturers are also producing tents with sleeping compartments using darker material that can help block out the early morning light.
Then accept that you may well wake earlier than expected due to the light and the dawn chorus. My advice is don’t resist it – embrace it instead. Prepare a breakfast picnic the night before and once awake, tip-toe off the campsite and go for a country walk. Find the ideal spot to eat it and enjoy the moment as the countryside around you wakes up too. The kids will love it.
Remember to take a compass along with you (or use a compass app on a smartphone) and pitch the tent with the front door facing east. That way as the sun rises, the warmth will work its way through the tent. It’s also much nicer to poke your head out of the door first thing in the morning with the sun shining on your face.
Build a den
Children love den building and when better than while on a camping holiday? Encourage the kids to think about how strong the structure can be, the materials themselves (it’s a way to learn about the different properties of wood and forest plants), and how the den can provide the most shelter from the elements. Then simply have fun playing in it.
Whatever the weather
Tune into the environment by learning how to read the weather conditions. Learning about the different types of clouds is not only fun but can also be useful if you want to avoid getting drenched in a shower. Clouds also create ever-changing skyscapes that are great to get the imagination going in young minds.
Games for a laugh
You’re on a camping holiday so don’t forget a pack of cards and a board game or two for quality family time together. Go one step further with some energetic outdoor games. Hide and seek takes on a new dimension in a wood when using tracking and stalking skills.
Take a hike
Turn a country walk into an adventure for the children. Bring the walk alive by sharing myths and legends from the local area, or lay a trail through woodland using sticks and stones for little ones to follow. Scratches on rocks are not from winter climbers – they’re from a dragon’s talons of course.
Explore at night
It’s headtorches at the ready for a short (and easy to navigate) walk in the dark. Encourage the kids to tune into their new night-time surroundings as their senses become more heightened and listen out for creatures that are more active at night. “Did anyone just hear an owl?”
Take a tarp
You want your camping adventure to be perfect. You’ve eaten and slept well. And you’ll also want to stay warm and dry so consider how best to kit out the family. Camping stores offer a wide array of clothing and accessories such as tarpaulins, or tarps, which help keep equipment – and you – dry. Think about investing in good waterproof jackets and walking shoes, not that it ever rains in this country…
By Simon McGrath, editor-in-chief of Camping & Caravanning, the monthly magazine for members of The Camping and Caravanning Club. Simon is also author of Camping with Kids: Hundreds of Fun Things to Do!