Having been instructors and teachers on numerous wilderness trips ranging from overnights to 28 days my husband and I would call ourselves professionals, but when you add two kids to the mix, things change…drastically. Two summers ago we embarked on our first family canoe camping trip with a two and four year old: camping with kids. It felt ambitious, and we were only gone for an overnight. The trip was a big success other than that our two year old didn’t sleep much. The weather was beautiful; the kids were entertained by fish nets, portable trucks, Play Doh and markers. They were excited and happy to be outdoors and so were we.
This summer our son was six and our daughter, who is a much better sleeper, was four. We decided they could handle a longer trip so we organized a four day car camping trip followed by a three day canoe trip. When a friend of mine heard about our trip she asked a very interesting question, “Aren’t you worried your kids will be bored?” I thought about it for a bit; I know my kids, I’ve seen them entertain themselves with sticks and rocks in the woods and play imaginary games with each other in the bushes outside our house, I’ve also seen them be bored, and sometimes it isn’t pretty. I determined that the answer could be one of two things a) no they wouldn’t be bored, they would find things to do or b) yes they would be bored, but isn’t that kind of the point?
We headed off on our car camping trip with a minivan fully loaded with equipment, food, drinks and things to entertain. The kids were not bored but that was hugely in part due to the fact that we were camping with eleven other families all with kids. There was a beach and bikes and other children and adults (most of whom had been camp counselors) to play with. In the four days I did not once hear “I’m bored”. I realized then that the true challenge would be canoe camping, as there would be no other people there. It would just be us.
The day we were to head off on our canoe camping trip we got off to a late start mostly due to a stove malfunction resulting in a necessary stop at an outdoor store to purchase a new pump. As a result, we arrived later than we had expected at our campsite. The kids were really excited to be there and willingly helped set up camp and prepare dinner. They became stuff sack unstuffers, firewood collectors and sue chefs. They kept asking how they could help something they rarely do when at home.
While my husband and I were busy with the day to day chores of camping, the kids entertained themselves. They played ninjas in the forest, had ninja “birthday parties” and “slumber parties” and taught each other new ninja fighting techniques. They fished with their fake fishing rods, built inukshuks, sang songs and ate marshmallows. We went for hikes, read books, and swung in the hammock. They helped us start the fire, cook and bake cinnamon buns.
Were the kids bored? No, not any more than they should be. I think the only time they felt any true boredom was paddling in the canoe but really, isn’t a little boredom a good thing? One morning while we were eating breakfast my son said, “ This is what canoe camping is all about, right here, a loon right beside our campsite and hot chocolate.” It made me so happy to hear him say this. I hope we have a lifetime of canoe camping ahead of us. We will most definitely do another trip, hopefully this fall but if not, next summer and I will not worry the slightest bit about the kids being bored.
Suggestions of things to bring when tripping with kids:
- A hammock or a rope swing
- Journal and markers
- A deck of cards (for older kids)
- One or two special stuffed animals
- A kid’s fishing rod with a weight to practice casting but not a hook (unless they and you know what you’re doing). Or a net and some floating fish to catch (for younger kids)
- Whistles (good to have for kids if they wander too far).