The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids (Roost Books, 2012) by Helen Olsson offers a fully rounded and comprehensive guide to having a fun and safe family vacation in the woods. Olsson offers families tips, checklists, recipes, and more to make any trip into the wild a success. In the following excerpt, she discusses proper camp etiquette.
Campsite etiquette may sound a tad oxymoronic. Do you really need to mind your manners when you’re rolling around in the dirt? The short answer is yes. Campsite etiquette isn’t so much about properly identifying the fish fork and keeping your elbows off the table. It’s about being kind to the environment and considerate of your camping neighbors.
There is no better time than a camping trip to encourage children to become stewards of the land. Being out in the woods, surrounded by the scent of pine and the plaintive cries of a loon, can instill a wonder in kids that will stay with them the rest of their lives. Foster a respect for nature in your children now, and they’ll be more inclined to help preserve the environment for future generations.
Not so long ago in Yellowstone, it was common practice to make a wish and toss spare change into pools and geysers. More egregious yet, some visitors simply hurled trash into the hydrothermal springs. One erstwhile geyser, now called Morning Glory Pool, no longer erupts because it’s clogged with litter. This iridescent azure and turquoise pool is the inspiration for a lovely children’s book by Jan Brett called Hedgie Blasts Off! In the story, a hedgehog is dispatched into space to unplug Big Sparkler, a space geyser that has become plugged up over time by aliens hurling coins into it. Talk about a teachable one-two punch. The combination of reading the book countless nights and seeing the inspirational pool in real time has left a lasting impression on our kids. They have become pintsized preservationists.
Smart Tip: Carry a small plastic bag for your own garbage and for any litter you pick up along the trail.
Don’t Leave Your Mark
Camping affords you the perfect opportunity to teach kids about reducing our impact on the environment. On any given hike, chances are you’ll see evidence of previous generations who clearly did not embrace the “tread lightly” ethic. You’ll see scars on trees where people have carved their names into the bark — “Dwayne loves Brandy” — professing love in a way that’s very unloving to trees. My kids see those scars and shout, “A bonehead did that!” (I’m not saying they heard that from me.)
This is the time to talk to kids about phloem and xylem, and how carving deep into the bark of a tree is not unlike cutting through our skin and gouging veins and arteries. Even shallow scratches in a tree can leave it vulnerable to damaging insects and disease. Teach kids to understand and appreciate trees as living things, and maybe they won’t waste so much toilet paper.
Coach children to stay on the trail and walk single file to reduce erosion and support plant growth. Hiking with kids nearly always means lots of trailside breaks. If you pull off to the side of a trail, try to rest your butts on a durable surface like a rock or a fallen log rather than on a patch of delicate wildflowers or fragile alpine tundra. When you’re finished with a trailside snack, make sure to clean up any food bits and pick up any wrappers. Dole out bonus points for picking up garbage others have left on the trail. You’ll need to help kids determine what’s safe to pick up. Our kids are so conditioned to pick up trash on the trail that they have come to us with proud smiles and chunks of broken glass.
Resources for Responsible Recreation
A valuable resource for eco-conscious campers is Tread Lightly!, an organization dedicated to responsible outdoor recreation. Their website features a kids’ section with games, a quiz, a downloadable coloring book, and a Tread Pledge filled with tips for treading lightly.
Leave No Trace, an organization with a similar mission, offers an educational program designed to teach outdoor enthusiasts to minimize their impact on the environment. Find a complete and detailed list of Leave No Trace principles, as well as information on programs and events in your area, at www.lnt.org.
The vision of a toddler collecting a bouquet of wildflowers is sweet, but it must be discouraged. You want to leave the flowers for others to enjoy. Many people wonder what the harm is in plucking a daisy from a meadow full of wildflowers. And they’re right. One daisy is no big deal. But if every hiker on a busy trail picked a big old bunch, there would be few flowers left.
Similarly, when your child starts collecting cool rocks, you should repeat the environmentalist’s mantra: take only pictures, leave only footprints. You don’t want five pounds of rocks in your car anyway. Leaving the wilderness as you found it is a good all-around policy, but it’s especially important in national parks, where it’s illegal to remove any natural object.
Of course, kids just love collecting things. While we’re camping, we let them collect pinecones, rocks, feathers, and sticks. But before we head home, the booty gets dispersed in the woods around the campsite.
Be a Tidy Camper
It’s important to keep your campsite clear of food and garbage. Even during the day when you’re off on a hike, keep all food locked in the trunk of the car or in a bear box. Regularly empty your trash into the campground’s animal-proof dumpster. You don’t want to attract wildlife to your campsite. And tempting as it may be, discourage kids from feeding crumbs to little creatures like chipmunks and birds. Always do a thorough cleanup of your campsite before you leave. This includes cleaning up after a campfire.
Most campgrounds have set quiet hours, usually from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. Those restrictions are a good thing, especially for families. The success of a camping trip can hinge on the quality and quantity of sleep your kids get. There’s nothing worse than finally settling down a child who had been brimming with excitement about sleeping outside, only to have them woken up by a loud talker passing by the campsite.
At 6 a.m., your job is to keep any early wakers quiet while the loud talker is still sleeping. And yes, you’ll be taking the higher ground by not exacting revenge on said loud talker.
More from: The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids• How to Properly Extinguish Campfires
• Homemade Fire-Starting Egg Carton Kindling Project
• Camp-Ready Bananas Foster Recipe
From The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids by Helen Olsson © 2012 by Helen Olsson. Illustrations by Scotty Reifsnyder © 2012 by Scotty Reifsnyder. Reprinted in arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.