The Benefits of Camping for Children.

Canoe tripping has been an integral part of our family life since the girls were, at the youngest, 6 weeks old.  We just came off a 6 day trip into Algonquin with our 5 year old and it was fantastic.  We have finally deciphered the ins and outs of taking children into the back country.  Here are a few tidbits from 7 years of experience:

  1. Never, ever forget their fishing rods and some appropriate tackle for the lakes that you are travelling.  Our intrepid little adventurer fished for hours over the 6 day period.  By the third day she was out-fishing me 2-1.  Each time she caught a fish she was thrilled.  She even started to pick out good spots to cast and hit them with pin point accuracy on occasion. 
  1. Give them responsibilities that they are held accountable for.  On this trip, Charlotte was responsible for portaging the throw rope, putting together the tent poles, blowing up the thermarests and laying out the sleeping bags and other tent gear.  She took lots of time to do all of those things, but she took them seriously too. 
  1. Let them play with nature instead of toys.  Since the beginning, we have only brought their favourite stuffed toy for bed time.  No other crappy toys.  We did experiment with a bucket once but it just turned into a great way to dump water into the canoe while we paddled.
  1. Tie ‘droppable’ items to the yoke of the canoe.  This was not necessary this year because Charlotte only dropped her paddle once and when it happened she felt really bad.  She has come to respect her paddle which is something many older kids seem to forget. 
  1. Following up on point 4, teach your kids to respect their gear.  Our tent is ultralight, therefore ultra-breakable.  It must be respected.  Paddles are not walking sticks or rock pushers.  Stoves are hot and pots are filled with boiling water.  Filtered water is precious and is never to be wasted.  The list can go on and on and it takes years to get it all.
  1. Don’t get upset about the state of a back country site when you arrive, be proud of the way you leave it.  Charlotte was tasked with picking up the tiny corners of granola bar wrappers, chunks of fishing line or pieces of duct tape that inevitably littered all the sites that we visited.  She came to understand why Mummy and Daddy would fill their pockets with other people’s garbage and then proceed to carry it out of the park day after day.
  1. Educate them about nature and what they are seeing.  I love to identify birds, plants, rock types and many other aspects of the wilderness.  I like to point out the roots of a huge pine tree clinging to a granite rock.  My children actually seem fascinated by some of the things I show them out there.  My wife generally keeps paddling so we don’t have to stop for Daddy to talk about every shiny rock!
  1. Never, under any circumstances, underestimate a 5 year old girl.  Our little trooper portaged 1800 m up and over some treacherous trails and sang and danced the entire way.  She asked when we get to ‘hike’ again and loved to hear about how many portages were ahead of us on any given day.  Having experienced the gloomy attitudes of many teenagers when faced with a 500 m portage, it is always a point of pride to send my two girls bouncing down a trail. 
  1. Plan to be busy.  Once, and only once, we planned a 2 day stay on a campsite in Algonquin.  Big mistake!  Kids don’t quite get the ‘sit and read a book’ idea and need to be on the go all day.  Travelling from site to site on a daily basis opens up a world of adventure and renewal.  On occasion it evens tires them out and they have a nap. 
  1. Show them what hard work looks like.  I would come in from the second leg of a portage just dripping in sweat and breathing like a mad man.  My daughter would hand me a water bottle and say “good job Daddy.”  That, for me, is parenting.  Both my girls know that it is up to us and only us to get our precious gear and food from one point to another, no matter what the circumstances.  Parenting – plain and simple.

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