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Summer Camps: Canoes, Campfires, and Family Time

I knew I was doing something right when my young daughter exclaimed, “I love camping!” Grinning wide through a mouthful of pancakes, she was the most contented camper who ever dined at the tiny table of our weathered tent-trailer.

Connect to nature. When your home is decorated, edged, mowed, and landscaped, you lose track of nature’s natural tendencies. National and provincial parks that offer campsites are all about preserving native vegetation particular to the region.

From the beginning of my parenting journey, I was very conscious about wanting to share similar camping experiences with my children that I had experienced while growing up. My childhood perspective saw that while camping, the basics of life were fulfilled and life felt unencumbered. Some of the most vivid and treasured memories from my childhood come from my family’s summer camping trips near Calgary.

But not everyone had the same outdoor summer camping experiences my family did. And by the time my happy camper was in high school, she reported that many of her friends had never been summer camping. Richard Louv’s landmark book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, documents the dramatic change in modern childhood that has resulted in children spending less and less time outdoors. Luckily, a growing awareness of the developmental need for children to experience a connection to nature has spurred widespread implementation of programs that aim to support children and families with opportunities to get outdoors and to increase visits to national and provincial parks.

What if you didn’t grow up camping? You may not have camping gear stocked and ready for the next summer outing in Alberta. Reservations ought to be made and precautions considered before you are ready to pack up the car.

If you opt to give camping a try, you and your kids could grow to love camping as a family, too.

Choose from abundant camping choices. These days, you can choose campgrounds that offer resort-like amenities or you can camp out in your own backyard. And when you are ready to experience summer wilderness, more primitive accommodations are waiting to be discovered.

Once you have your camp gear together, getting to know your national and/or provincial parks is a good place to start. (There are definitely ones close to Calgary that are drivable and easy to find.) Well-established facilities normally provide shelters, bathrooms, trash disposal, and access to clean water. The presence of equipped and experienced park staff give support to your camping efforts and can provide peace of mind when you are away from home.

Slow down. When you arrive at the best location for your family, camping offers a chance to adjust your pace as there are no calendars with appointments to keep. Breathing fresh outdoor air is the first step in releasing accumulated stress from worries at home. Shift your perspective and notice what is unique and beautiful in your temporary landscape.

Create a simpler life. The basic rhythms of mealtimes, planned or spontaneous activities, and evening time around the campfire are enough to structure your day. Young children are often happy to explore the microcosm of nature near a shrub, in a puddle, or under a tree.

Any early-birds in your family can revel in a sunrise while everyone else sleeps peacefully in the tent. Watching the sun go down as a family offers an opportunity to appreciate an everyday occurrence that we often miss or take for granted in day-to-day life.

Connect to summer nature. Whether high desert, forest, meadow, or coast line, your chosen campground offers an environment ready to explore. Guided nature walks and evening talks may be provided. Nature needs to be experienced first-hand by little and big hands; use all of your senses.

Develop outdoor and wilderness skills. Backyard camping is a good way to practice setting up the tent. You may also want to test the pad or air mattress you plan to sleep on. Do you know how to attach propane bottles to the camp stove?

Building a ‘10 essentials pack’ can engage kids in learning basic outdoor skills. A compass, First-Aid kit, whistle, space blanket, and nutrition bars are some of the items to include in your essentials pack. Older children will need guidance in learning to handle fire-starting materials. All children can carry a flashlight.

Learn history and geology. Camps are often located near natural areas that feature museums and educational displays available to the public. Investigate these places along the route to your camp's destination. You may be amazed by the colorful characters who occupied the territory before you. Before leaving on your camping trip, watch films or search YouTube for information detailing the hundreds of years of geological transformation in the region you are traveling to.

Mishaps make for fun storytelling around the campfire. Campfire time offers opportunity to recount the adventures or misadventures of the day. Embellishments are allowed and all members of the family can contribute. Watching the flames dance in the darkness stirs our sensibilities and has the power to unite family members in lasting and memorable ways.

Form traditions over time. When you have gone on enough summer camping trips, favorite spots at camps become apparent. Think of all the memories that could be formed over many years of visiting the same camps or locale. Each return visit feels fresh and new, yet the familiar landmarks, the places to watch the sunset, the familiar trails that meander up the hill all form an imprint that steadily builds on previous visits. A summer camping tradition that you start with your family may very well be carried on by your children and their families.

From every trip, bring back the best experiences from summer camping to everyday life at home. There will be gear to put away, clothes to wash, moments to remember, and stories to tell. The evening summer sunset at home beckons weary campers for yet another Calgary view.

Diane is a freelance writer who loves the outdoors, and is actively anticipating camping trips with friends and her grown children this summer.

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