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Camping for Kids: Some tips before you go

With the Great American Backyard Campout this weekend, Liz Baird of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, offers some tips on how to camp with kids.

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Liz Baird of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences
Editor's Note: I'm not a regular camper, but I know Liz Baird at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences is. So in advance of the Great American Backyard Campout, which is Saturday, I asked her to share a few tips for camping with kids. Thank you Liz!

Summertime brings the desire to “get away from it all.” Camping is a wonderful way to disconnect from the electronics and enjoy the restorative power of spending time in nature.

Introducing kids to camping might sound daunting, but here are a few tips to help you get started:

Practice! Before taking off for a remote adventure, practice close to home. Take a walk in your neighborhood after dark to look and listen to the night. Let your child sleep in a sleeping bag in their own bed. Pitch your tent in the house, or in the backyard and make certain all of the pieces work.
There are many stories of trying to pitch tents for the first time only to discover that stakes are missing or there is no rain fly! Join the Great American Backyard Campout  on Saturday and try out your gear. Or visit a local park so you can head home quickly if needed. Afterwards, make a list to help you prepare for the next trip
Organize! Packing a full set of clothes per day in individual zip-top plastic bags will help keep your child organized. Designate a “dirty clothes” bag (Not plastic! Damp clothes will mildew) and use it. Remember “there is no bad weather, only bad clothes” and pack accordingly. Even if there is no rain in the forecast, a small plastic poncho for each person can turn a rainy afternoon into a wonderful adventure.

Find camping recipes that everyone wants to try such as s’mores. Label boxes and cans by meal (ex. “Saturday breakfast”) so main ingredients don’t disappear as snacks. Prep as much as possible by chopping vegetables and pre-cooking some items so you simply have to heat them.

Remember safety. Give each child a flashlight for night walks. Go over safety rules with your kids such as staying within eyesight or earshot, and waking up an adult for a late night trip to the bathroom. Take a small first-aid kit. Give your child a small whistle on a lanyard to blow in case of emergency.

Enjoy! Let your child bring a playmate, or camp with another family, so everyone has a companion. Record your adventure with photos and video. Take some art supplies and let your child create a journal with drawings of your campsite and surroundings. Bring a field guide and write notes in the margin about what you find. Participate in activities offered at your campground, such as ranger hikes or evening programs. Pack a favorite storybook and read aloud around the campfire.

Embrace the experience with a positive attitude. Your clothes might smell smoky, your meals might not be perfect, your shoes might get wet, but in a day or two you will be back to your usual conveniences. And you’ll have great memories when you return to your daily hectic life.

Liz Baird, a mom, is director of education at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences and founder of the international Take A Child Outside Week, which is Sept. 24 to Sept. 30 each year.

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