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Skill Builder: Camping With Dad

One father’s advice for happy outdoor overnights with the kids.

By Robert A. Ramirez Sr.

Many of our favorite memories involve spending time watching our loved ones enjoy themselves. Getaways with all the comforts of home are nice enough, but camping provides a special experience. Immersing your family in nature is not only fun, it actually increases self-confidence. Taking the family camping may seem like a huge undertaking; however, with some planning and a lot of patience you can have a memorable time.

I have camped for decades, but when I became a father I had to figure out the best ways to give my kids an enjoyable experience. Here are some steps you can take in order to make life better outside for everyone in the family on your next vacation:

1) Do your homework. Chances are you know someone who goes camping. Get online and search your city and state parks departments. They have a wealth of information and programs to get you started.

2) Camping does not need to be expensive. Some stores rent equipment, and some friends will loan it out. Another place to find equipment is at secondhand stores and yard sales. I purchased all of my camping kitchen utensils from a secondhand store.

3) Do a test run. Practice putting the tent up at home and camping outside with the kids. This way they become comfortable with sleeping outside.

4) Make a checklist. You’re probably thinking, “Well, what am I going to need?” Luckily, checklists are available online and at sporting goods stores. Once you get a general idea, you can make your own and tweak it after each trip. Divide your list into different categories such as kitchen, clothing, personal items, gear, etc.

5) Do your meal planning and food list on the backside of the checklist. This way you’ll have it with you at all times.

6) Make sure your basic first aid skills are up to date. Kids are accident-prone. If something should happen, you’ll want to be ready for it.

7) Be enthusiastic about going. Make trip planning a family affair. Include them in the meal planning, setting up, cooking, cleaning and fun.

8) Educate your campers. Take the time to teach them about the camp layout (fire pit, kitchen area and clothesline), safety rules (no running in camp and no food or drinks in the tents) and camping hazards (poison ivy and poison oak, animals and the terrain). All kids should be given a whistle on a lanyard and taught how and when to use it. Headlamps are also a must-have for the kids.

9) Keep your meals simple the first time out. Plan them so that you can use the same ingredients for dinner that you used in breakfast. Also learn to put together some one-pot meals. Prep ingredients at home, if possible.

10) Bedding. This is a very important item. Some kids are OK with a rolled mat, and mats are fine for you, too, if you’re a hard-core camper. But a double-height air mattress can be worth every penny.

11) Shelter. Tents come in all shapes and sizes. With a family it’s best to find one you can stand up in, with room for your cots/air mattresses and walking around. Be careful when you choose tents larger than 10 feet by 12 feet. Some park pad sites are not that big.

A family camping trip is one of the best ways to bring the family together. Information about what to do and how to do it is everywhere. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Outdoor Family Program offers helpful advice and even workshops to teach you all the essentials, at www.tpwd.state.tx.us/outdoorfamily.

Don’t expect everything to go perfectly. Life rarely does. Just enjoy the experience and be flexible. It’s another good life lesson. As I once read, “You probably learned from your failures more than from success.” So take your family camping and have fun learning!


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