Camping with kids can be tough. We asked Rebecca Stonehill, something of an expert when it comes to bedding down in the wild with her kids, how to do it.
We moved to Kenya in 2013. The transition wasn’t easy for my youngest, who was very unsettled. Remove him from our Nairobi surroundings and the confines of four walls, and, as though by the flick of a magic wand, he settled. Tantrums ceased, tears dried up and he didn’t need to come to us at night because he knew we were just a couple of sleeping bags away.
Camping in Kenya was nothing like our experience of camping in the UK: invariably cheek to jowl with other campers, soggy fields and noisy, crowded (though undeniably fun) festivals.
Suddenly, we found ourselves very often alone with no other tent in sight, beneath star-studded skies, sitting around campfires listening to the whoop of hyenas and even the distant roar of lions. Now, if we ask all our children (currently aged 6,9 and 10) what they love most about living in Kenya, their answer without hesitation: Camping.
Preparation & Journey
Sometimes you can return more exhausted than when you set out. True, there’s lots to remember, but don’t make life harder for yourselves. Be organised! There are few more annoying things than making coffee then realising you’ve left the mugs behind.
We have a tried-and-tested checklist for what we need, including food and drink essentials. Don’t forget to find out if there is a water point where you’re going. You may even need to bring your own water, both drinking and non-drinking.
Make sure you have plenty of snacks. Camping – I feel – is a time for letting go of eating habits you may require of your kids back home. If you have a long car journey, kids are bound to start getting edgy so story CDs are also a winner. If you don’t have any, you can download them through Audible.
At the point when the kids are starting to whack each other over the head, how about I Spy (for younger children, I spy with my little eye something the colour of…works equally well), Animal, Mineral & Vegetable or Car Snooker (spotting cars of different colours with each colour representing a certain number of points.)
Children love helping to set up tents, so give them jobs such as attaching poles together or banging in the pegs with the mallet. If they’re too small, send them round the campsite looking for sticks for firewood and marshmallows later.
A great idea is to bring kebab sticks and a small knife and get children to chop up vegetables, halloumi cheese, small chunks of meat, whatever you want to cook over the fire. Kids love being able to slide the raw food onto sticks and watching as they cook and bubble over the fire, then eating ‘their’ creation. Delicious!
It can be fun to let children have their own small fire, separate from yours, but obviously nearby so you can keep an eye on them. Like it or loathe it, kids are fascinated by fire, and by helping them to look after it responsibly, you’ll be imparting a lifelong skill to them.
Fire aside, there are two magical qualities to camping by night that we don’t get in our everyday lives: The first is stargazing. Lying on blankets with a vast cosmos spread above your head like scattered salt is humbling, fascinating and awe-inspiring for children and adults alike. Not only can I guarantee every child will be enthralled, but it will also throw up some interesting and often unexpected conversations about other worlds, cosmology and life itself.
Secondly, there’s storytelling. Even if kids are read stories back home, creative storytelling comes into its own whenever we camp. Either we take it in turns to tell stories (my three love ‘spooky’ tales round the campfire) or, try a chain story where somebody begins a story, speaks for a few minutes and then passes it on to the next person, and so on, around the campfire.
I don’t know what your children are like, but no matter how late mine have gone to bed, they’re up at the crack of dawn when we camp. Fine, if you’re a morning person (my husband) and a little less fine if you’re not (me). For those mornings when you don’t relish the idea of rising at 6 am, have a bag of playthings they love at the ready and make sure they know where to find it. Hey, it might not work. But, it may give you an extra half hour. That being said, there are few more awe-inspiring sights than watching the sun bursting its way over the African savannah!
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