Tips for a Tech-Free Family Vacation
Introducing your kids to the joys of camping not only assures important family time, but also exposes them to a slower pace where they can be tech-free and not even miss it. Why would your kids want to drop their iPad and get outdoors? Remember the things that made it a wondrous experience for you – wide open spaces to run, the thrill of discovering new worlds and living like our ancestors, the smell of a pine forest…it’s in our DNA to take wonder in these elements.
1. The Fascination of Campfires
Building a campfire with your kids is a great way for them to learn a new skill while you sneak in some safety lessons. Start by showing them how many useful materials they can find in the natural world around them. Have them collect dry twigs and sticks and look for nature’s best fire-starter, birch bark. It’s a chance to teach kids about respecting nature. Remind them that bark is the tree’s skin and they should only collect pieces on the ground or from fallen trees, never live trees (even when it’s peeling). Help kids layer bark or newspaper, twigs, sticks and finally, the firewood, so that air can feed the fire. Later, show everyone how to properly extinguish the fire.
2. Cooking like a Caveman
First, come prepared with the right tools – at least a pair of long-handled tongs, roasting forks, and aluminum foil.
To prepare corn like a native, soak the corn in water with the husks still on, for at least a half hour. Place corn around the inside rim of the fire pit and turn often with tongs. Check after about 15-20 minutes (a parent should do this, carefully peeling back a section of husk) and cook longer if needed. The outer husks will be crispy, but inside the corn will be steamed and yummy!
For baked potatoes, show kids how to coat the potato with butter and double wrap in aluminum foil, then place on the outer rim of the campfire’s bed of hot coals. Turn every 10 minutes. A parent or an older kid can begin checking how thoroughly it has been cooked after 45 minutes.
For a very simple meal, let kids spear a hot dog or sausage on a long roasting fork and cook it over the fire. Be sure to show them how to hold it in the heat but not direct flame, so it won’t burn.
3. Going Wild
Ask park rangers or campground staff what animals are native to the area. Ask if they have a kid’s scavenger hunt notebook (many do) but if not, you can make your own ahead of time or with your child at the campsite, using sketches to help them recognize each animal. Challenge your kids to spot as many as possible. To make it even more challenging, add birds and insects to the list. Take this opportunity to talk about how wild animals differ from pets or those in zoos, including their reactions to humans. You can also talk about how humans impact them, the dangers of feeding wild animals or leaving food or trash where bears can smell it.
4. Fauna for Fun
Fauna can be lots of fun for kids when they realize how many kinds of different plants make up the sea of green around them. Come prepared with a notebook, blank paper, pencils, and crayons or colored pencils. Set up a scavenger hunt and look for specific plants, or have the kids draw the ones they find. How are they different from each other? Beyond learning about nature, a great side bonus is encouraging kids (and parents) to slow down and take in the details of the beauty around them. While reminding them never to pick wild flowers or take parts off live plants, you can encourage them to collect interesting souvenirs such as fallen leaves, acorns, or pine cones. Tip: Don’t let the kids know they are about to learn something – you can make nearly anything into a game or competition.
5. Getting Creative
For many kids, both boys and girls, building fairy furniture or structures from twigs and other found objects is a chance to be creative. Bring hemp twine or heavy brown thread and scissors and an active imagination. Tie crossed twigs with twine to make anything from a simple raft to a chair – or maybe even a four-poster bed with a birch bark mattress and leafy canopy. Layer in a little folklore and tell them to set up the evening’s work for the fairies to find in the night – they often leave gifts as a thank you! Other simple crafts are leaf rubbings and birch-bark cutouts: Simply draw a design on bark, and cut out to make tree or window ornaments.
Text and Photos: Lura Seavey. Lura is a freelance writer with a mission: to encourage families to travel and play together. She write regularly for planetware.com, is the author of several children’s books and co-author of Fun with the Family in Vermont and New Hampshire.