We arrived home Sunday afternoon and dragged ourselves across the threshold of our air-conditioned house. We were dirty and sweaty and exhausted. But we were also content and connected and a little more appreciative. Because we had just spent the last two days camping as a family.
I’m not going to spin a fairy tale and tell you that camping with kids is easy or always magical, though I do in my heart believe it is mostly magical. But I will say that it is worth it. It’s worth it to see the joy beaming out of your children’s over-tired eyes. It’s worth it to feel the connection that runs through your relationships when you’re stripped bare of all but the necessities. It’s worth it to forget what’s not important and remember what is. It’s worth it for so many big and little reasons, but here are my top five.
1. Connection Without Distraction
The world today is loud and busy, constantly pinging with notifications and invitations and opportunities to pull your attention in a different direction. Even when we try to turn off the outside distractions of the world, our house itself can be a distraction. There’s always something to be cleaned, some task to be done, some toy or child that’s wandered off and needs finding or fixing. But when you pack up only the essentials and are away from home, all of that fades into the background. It feels a bit easier to focus attention and listen when you’re nestled around a campfire instead of staring at a screen. Barriers break down in the soft structure of a tent where each whisper is heard and you fall into a family rhythm. You’re not all running in a million different directions, you’re just right there, together.
2. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
This is a motto we use a lot in our house to try to get the kids on board with helping out, and never is it more true than with camping. Because of the extra effort to make things happen when out in the woods, having all hands on deck is required. And it was amazing to watch my kids rise to the occasion. They jumped at the opportunity to help pitch the tent, were captivated by learning to build a fire, and helped fetch water and wash dishes in the makeshift sink bucket. While camping, the kids had a clear purpose and a place, we needed them. And stepping into those roles empowered them with pride, and created a sense of camaraderie within our family. You remember again the team and the dream.
3. The Simplicity of Living Outside
Given the opportunity, I would gladly live outside. Well, until bad weather came or a snake slithered across me in my sleep or it was too hot or too cold. So maybe not always… but I do feel that, for me personally, the more time spent outside with kids, the better. As they say, they can’t bounce off the walls if you take away the walls. And also, I’m just a generally happier person when exposed to the outdoors. Other than huddling in our tent to sleep at night, we were outside the entire time. Cleanup from meals was easier since there was no floor to pick up. There was no furniture I had to remind them not to jump on. Loud voices drifted off with the wind instead of reverberating off walls and settling into my overwhelmed ears.
4. Imagination Runs Wild
It’s easy to believe that kids need all the things – toys, books, art projects, endless entertainment. But put out into the wild of the world, their imagination blooms. They create forts in the forest, make toys from sticks and rocks, come up with their own games and adventures, make up stories around the campfire, and explore the limitless capacities of their minds and bodies. Nature inspires and ignites creativity and ingenuity. And if you can camp with other families, all the better, because the kids will be off creating a world of their extraordinary imagining. And you’ll watch and for a moment remember, feel in your bones, what it was like to be a child so young and wild and free.
5. S’Mores for Breakfast
No camping trip is complete without the requisite treat of gooey marshmallow and melted chocolate sandwiched between graham crackers as you gather around a campfire and watch the sun dip below the treeline and fireflies begin their twilight dance. You’ll tuck sticky, overtired kids into sleeping bags to slumber with a cricket lullaby. But as soon as the sun rises and the the birds sing their first tune, those small eyes will pop open. And when you quickly start a fire to slowly heat the water for that much-needed cup of coffee, those kids with their Pavlovian memory will know a fire can mean only one thing. So s’mores supplies will be pulled back out and you’ll snuggle together in the first light of day roasting marshmallows and breaking every parenting rule that awaits you back home and enjoying the best breakfast around. Because s’mores pair quite well with a long-awaited cup of coffee.
It may feel like you’re packing up a quarter of your house to set up camp six miles away. It may take you two weeks to recover from two nights of camping. You might have a baby who screams for an hour straight, wakes up the entire campground, and has fellow campers convinced there was a rabid fox roaming the forrest.
And also, you might get to see the wide world of nature through your children’s eyes. You might get to witness their youth and their growth all in one fail swoop. It might just be one of the most memorable experiences you have as a family.