Guest Post by Heather Drake owner of High Country Excursions
Punxutawnie Phil has made his prediction …spring is on its way! Which means I’m in full throttle campout planning mode!! Do you have any plans for camping this year? No? Well, perhaps I can convince you to reconsider…. You’ve probably heard of Car Schooling, well let me encourage you to try Camp Schooling.
It can be an amazing and rewarding learning and bonding experience for your whole family! Research indicates that early exposure to natural spaces is crucial for developing a lifelong love and respect for our priceless wildlands. Some Doctors even believe that many of our children suffer from “Nature Deficit Disorder” with symptoms such as depression, anxiety, decreased long-range focusing ability of the eye, allergy, and autoimmune conditions. All caused by spending too much time indoors and in front of screens.
The good news is that we just happen to live in a wonderland of outdoor adventure opportunities that are available YEAR ROUND! There is always somewhere in Southern California where it’s camping weather! From the pine-dotted peaks of the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains to the magical night skies and wildflower explosions of Joshua Tree NP and Anza Borrego Desert SP, all the way down to the Badlands of Death Valley NP or the ethereal (all-be-it stinky) beauty of the Salton Sea... and that’s just to name a few that are inland! Factor in the coasts and you have an astonishing array of Camp Schooling opportunities all within a few hours drive!
So, now you are thinking “Yeah, yeah… I know all this stuff, Campy-lady…” But, maybe the idea of camping is daunting to you (or perhaps even scary). A lot of people think camping is just for the “extreme action adventure” type and they are just not cut out for it, or it will be too difficult to manage, or you will need to buy a ton of expensive gear. This is particularly true for beginner campers. But let me assure you that there are tips and tricks to learn that can go a long way to ensure a safe, sane and amazing Camp Schooling Adventure!
I’ve been a camper my entire life. I spent weeks on end camping near Big Bear every summer with my Great Grandparents as a child, and as a result, have been an avid camper and lover of the outdoors ever since. Do I backpack overnight? No, my back prefers that I not sleep directly on the ground. Do I rock climb? No, I’m actually afraid of heights. Do I enjoy extreme hiking? No, I enjoy leisurely strolls with frequent breaks to admire the plant life or vistas, more in line with Shinrin Yoku's Forest Therapy. Believe me… if I can do it, you can do it! Yes, YOU!! Camping is for EVERYONE!
In recent years I’ve had the new experiences of planning large campouts for homeschooling families. I’ve also taken my own homeschooled daughter alone on many “Just the Two of Us” Camp Schooling adventures during the week (while my husband was working and the campgrounds were not crowded). I’ve compiled a lot of camping related knowledge over the years that I’d love to share with homeschool parents who are intimidated with the idea of camping. So I’ve put together a list of tips, tricks and common concerns along with some suggestions to manage them.
Camping is more fun (and safer) in groups. Plan trips with another family or two. There is safety in numbers (particularly in isolated areas) and if one of you forgets a can opener…chances are somebody else has one!
Let someone else do most of the planning!
Cut your Camp Schooling teeth with the help of an experienced host by signing up for a field trip! There are often homeschool field trip opportunities that include camping available at Homeschool Concierge. Some hosted by yours truly: Anza Borrego Homeschool Excursion and Joshua Tree Music Festival and Camping.
Find a camping “Guru” and learn “The Tao of Camping”!
Do you know someone who loves to camp and goes often? Ask them if you can tag along on their next camping trip so they can show you the ropes. You can learn a ton just by watching how experienced campers do things.
It’s always a good idea to try out camping locally first. Look online and see if there are any Regional Parks or Campgrounds nearby. That way, if something goes wrong, you can literally get in the car and drive home for the night and come back to try again in the morning.
Choose “Easy-Peasy” camping!
One of the things that is most intimidating to new campers is packing the ice chest and cooking at a campsite. So, just don’t cook at camp! Seriously, find campgrounds (like Black Rock Canyon in JTNP) that are near towns and go out to dinner! Just go out for pizza and stick to roasting marshmallows and hot dogs over the campfire. Pack sandwich makings for lunches and easy breakfasts like granola bars and yogurt. Keep it super simple.
Know before you go!
Check current fire restrictions and alerts about closures, etc… Always check the forecast before you go and pack clothes and bedding accordingly. Be sure you know the elevation at the campground you are headed to. A good rule of thumb is this the higher the elevation the colder the nights will be and the more intense the suns rays will be during the day.
Don’t get lost!
Be sure to print out or save the directions to your campsite on your phone. GPS is often unreliable or even unavailable in areas that people tend to camp in. Don’t be lost with no way to reconnect to the GPS you were following!
Be an early bird!
Plan to arrive at your campsite with plenty of daylight hours left so you can find your site, set up camp and start dinner before it gets dark. It can be very hard to locate campgrounds and select (or find your reserved) site in the dark.
Glamp it up!
Many resorts and campgrounds now offer what’s known as “Glamping” or luxury camping options. This is where you arrive to find a cozy bell tent or teepee already set up for you, with cots or actual beds inside and electricity. This option can be pretty expensive, but some good deals do exist! Check out the teepees at Olancha Rv Park and Campground for a more affordable semi/glamping option.
Make a checklist!
You are going to forget something, accept it… but minimize this inevitability by creating a camping checklist. Don’t check the item off the list until its actually IN the car. I made this mistake once and checked it off because I had packed it all in a bag, then did not load the bag into the car. We had no toothbrushes, hairbrushes, deodorant, soap or washcloths for nearly a week! Yuk.
Bring the beanies!
Even if you don’t think you will need them. If it gets colder than expected at night, sleep with the beanie on. Keeping your head covered will prevent a lot of heat loss and keep you much warmer.
Grab the wipes, baby!
Baby wipes are a camping no-brainer. Take care of messing marshmallow faces and dirty feet without needing to take a restroom trek or lugging wash water to camp.
Bring along the glue and yarn!
Some of my fondest camping memories involve making nature art. Bringing some simple craft supplies such as white glue, yarn, tempera paints and the like can provide hours of artsy fun! Kids love to glue their nature finds to paper to create collages and hang painted pinecone mobiles around the camp. You would be surprised at what kids can come up with when they are away from tech but have a few simple supplies to work with.
Tell or read a bedtime story!
Some kids can feel a bit afraid when it comes to sleeping in a tent. Telling a bedtime story or reading a book once tucked in safely can put frightened kids at ease. Let the kids tell their own stories if so inclined. But save the spooky campfire tales for later when they are more accustomed to camping.
Glow sticks rock!
Glow sticks can be used for all sorts of practical and fun purposes while camping. It’s easy to see where little ones are after dark if you load them up with glow jewelry! Put some inside a beachball or balloon and blow it up: Instant fun bouncing it around the campsite at night, and a safe nightlight inside the tent as well.
Bring a few solar powered yard lights and place them around your campsite during the day (maybe even make a trail to the restrooms with them) At night they become battery-free lighting to keep you safe from trips and falls!
Ice chest cheats!
Freeze cake pans, milk containers or plastic bottles full of water to create longer lasting (and free) blocks of ice. You can easily place the cake pan sheets of ice on top of everything in the ice chest (cold sinks).
If you hate the idea of having to walk to the restroom in the middle of the night just to tinkle you are not alone! I always bring a bucket potty for this situation. Sounds nutty, I know, but it’s a lifesaver! It’s a bucket with a handy toilet seat that snaps on! Put a trash bag in it, snap on the seat/lid and skip the late night restroom trek!
You may think tech has no place in camping or camp schooling. But apps can help you understand and interact with the natural spaces around us. Download a few nature apps before you go!
I’m afraid to go camping without a bunch of other people, but I want to be able to take my children even when we can’t find camping buddies… This can be a legitimate concern, but there are some simple rules to follow to keep your small party safe in the great outdoors:
Do not camp where you have no cell phone reception.
Make sure others know where you will be and when to expect you home.
Camp in campgrounds that have onsite hosts.
Try to camp within earshot of other families in the campground.
Bring some extra camp chairs, so it looks like more people are with you.
Keep your car keys inside the tent with you and hit the panic alarm if you hear something in your campsite at night.
I can’t afford to buy a bunch of expensive camping gear... Camping gear can be very expensive, it's true, but it doesn’t have to be. The average family doesn’t need high-end tents or subzero sleeping bags for a typical campout.
Here are some tips to keep camping affordable:
Consider borrowing equipment from friends who camp. You can also rent camping gear in certain areas (usually near national parks).
Shop for camping gear in the winter. The best buys on camping gear are during the camping “off-season” so wait for the winter sales to make major camping purchases like tents, chairs or sleeping bags.
I hope these tips, tricks, and suggestions for common camping concerns help boost your Camp Schooling confidence! Maybe even give you the gentle nudge you needed, if you were on the fence about setting out on a Camp Schooling Adventure. Remember, camping is for EVERYONE! Even you. Yes, YOU! Happy Camp Schooling!!
High Country Excursions is a field trip vendor who has Partnered with
Homeschool Concierge with the mission to provide quality and affordable field trips to the
HCE believes in the importance of the arts as a core subject that deserves as much emphasis as the rest of the letter's in STEAM style learning. HCE also strives to provide opportunities for Homeschool Families to experience the wonder of the outdoors and hopes to help instill a lifelong love and respect for wild places everywhere.
Heather Drake is a homeschool parent who holds a BA in Art Education and a California Naturalist Certification. She specializes in Art and/or Naturalist related field trips, but offers a wide variety of trips.
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