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Adventures in Early Childhood: Time for a camping trip!

From Erin Carlson

Summers in Minnesota are short and there are a lot of things we all want to do during the next three months. For many of us, camping is at the top of that list. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and out into the woods can be therapeutic for any of us, but it can be especially valuable to children.

We shouldn’t automatically think that camping with young children will be stressful and not worth the effort. Instead, we should think about the lasting benefits that weekend of camping can offer a child.

Being outdoors allows children to engage in endless amounts of physical activity, something that is increasingly lacking as our youths’ screen time increases. Taking the family camping is a great opportunity to turn off the televisions, cell phones and tablets, and take in the beauty and abundance of nature. Camping with children, however, does require a little more planning and preparation, but it is worth it. The first task is packing. You’ll need a first aid kit, extra bedding, lots of snacks and water, games, art materials, sunscreen, and insect repellent. Here’s a recipe for a simple homemade insect repellent using natural essential oils to replace the chemicals in the popular brands we are all used to using:

Fill an 8-ounce spray bottle almost to the top with witch hazel. Add 20 drops of citronella essential oil, 10 drops of tea tree essential oil, 5 drops of cedar essential oil, and 5 drops of lavender essential oil. This is the combination that has worked for me, but you can certainly play around with different oils. You are guaranteed to feel better about putting this insect repellent on your children while outdoors!

Once you have your campsite chosen and camp set up, it’s time to really start to enjoy the benefits of being one with nature. The benefits of camping are endless for young children. As I mentioned earlier, children have the opportunity to involve themselves in boundless amounts of physical activity. The obesity rate in children continues to be a concern in the United States, so allowing children to have opportunities to play outside is crucial. Outdoor physical activity also supports and strengthens children’s immune systems. In addition, their mental health and cognitive and social development are all supported on a fun camping trip. And of course, camping provides the most important benefit of all — family togetherness and communication. One of the best parts of camping is sitting around the campfire at the end of the day, so don’t forget the marshmallows!

Prior to your camping trip, you can have children help make homemade fire starters at craft time. All you’ll need are pine cones and old crayons. First, peel the wrappers off of old or broken crayons, trying to use shades close in color. Place the crayon pieces in a bowl and microwave or melt in a double boiler. If using a microwave, try using 20-second intervals and monitor the crayons closely. Stir the wax well after its melted and then roll the pine cones in the wax. You may also spoon the wax over the pine cones until they are well coated. Cool the pine cones on wax paper and you’ll have home made fire starters for your camping trip.

We are all fortunate to live in a beautiful area filled with a variety of camping opportunities. If you choose to camp at a state park, don’t forget to ask about the Minnesota State Park Junior Naturalist Program. Your children can stay busy all weekend completing the activities in the program. Afterwards they will be rewarded with a badge and certificate titling them as Junior Naturalists, something I had the honor of coming in the early 1980s and continue to do today with my preschool students. Have fun camping this summer!

Erin Carlson is a licensed early childhood educator and owner of Silver Creek Early Learning Center, a nature-based pre-school program on Hwy. 61 outside of Two Harbors.