Rediscover the joys of summer by planning an outdoor youth camp adventure!
After a year of change and disruption, let’s make 2021 the best year yet! Start planning your child’s spring & summer adventures with some of our top trending outdoor youth camps on ActivityHero. Small group, outdoor, in-person camps are selling fast – from horseback riding to survival skills camps!
From the beginner camper to advanced equestrians, find a camp for your horse-loving kids! Learn about horse care: grooming, feeding, bathing and even horse first aid. Saddle a horse, learn about tack, and even explore different styles of riding.
Youth campers will also learn interesting facts about the history, evolution and anatomy of the horse while picking up some horse lingo (did you know that horses are measured in hands?). When not riding, kids will play games, make new friends, and get crafty!
Outdoors, active, educational, and exciting – create lifelong memories kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding, and more. With a wide variety of water sports camps available, there is something fun for every kid!
Campers at Shoreline Lake start on sit-on-top kayaks and learn the skills they need to explore the lake and beyond. Techniques include skills such as the draw, pry, figure-eight and “C” strokes. Campers are also taught safety skills to carry them through wherever they go. These include weather and tides, paddle signals, capsize assisting and self-rescue techniques.
Technical Skills: Campers learn how to properly fit a helmet and bike, practice basic bike commands and get comfortable with technical skills including bunny hops, track stands, braking and shifting, becoming more proficient riders as they take on incremental challenges.
Trail Riding: Campers are introduced to a wide range of trails — where they practice good trail etiquette as they learn to ride on rolling single and double track terrain, descending and ascending trail sections and narrow and winding trails.
Bike Maintenance: When they’re not riding, campers get familiar with the nuts and bolts of bike maintenance, learning to safety check their bikes, solve gear problems and change flat tires.
Whether you love a leisurely ride or a real off-road adventure, find a type of biking that appeals to your family. Here are 6 practical tips to get kids started with family-friendly biking.
By the ActivityHero Team with Guest Amanda Wilks
Kids are often tempted to spend hours of their unstructured play time glued to electronic devices. Instead, why not encourage them to go out for a ride? With many benefits for the body and mind, biking is a healthy outdoor activity that can be done at almost any age. Looking to try it out? Here’s expert advice on sizing, types, gear, classes, and specialized activities like mountain biking.
1. Get Fitted
The most important step is to measure your child’s Inseam. A bicycle inseam (or leg length) is not the same as a clothing inseam.
To measure, grab a book and a tape measurer. The child should stand with her back against a wall, spreading her feet about 6 inches apart, either barefoot or in socks. Place a book between her legs, close to the crotch to mimic the bike seat.
Measure from the top of the book (that is, the spine) down to the floor. Choosing a slightly larger bike is fine in order to leave a little room to grow into. Avoid choosing a size which is too far off the mark for your child, which would impede his ability to learn correct riding habits and even expose him to greater danger.
2. Choose the Right Bike
Depending on your interests, there are three main styles of bike: road, mountain, and “hybrid” (a blend between the two), depending on your interests.
If you’re interested in mountain biking, according to MountainBikeReviewed, you can easily find and buy sturdy bikes for less than $300, like the Mongoose Statis Comp, the Villano Blackjack 2.0 or the Schwinn High Timber. Other great mountain bike brands which are geared towards kids are Spawn, Cleary, Early Rider, Pello and Stampede. Many mountain bikes are, contrary to opinion, quite cost-effective.
For road bikes, your local bike shop should have recommendations. Online retailers like Amazon will often have many customer reviews posted. There are also online outfits like BikeExchange if you prefer doing research online.
No matter what style you go with, when the child stands over the bike, there should be a 1-2 “ space between the crotch and the top bar of the bike. Also, “a beginner should be able to plant both feet flat on the ground when getting off the bike, which ensures safety and helps with confidence,” recommends Nick Pavlakis of Pedalheads, a learn-to-ride bike camp based in Seattle, Portland, Denver and Chicago.
Ideally, the right bike choice should be made based on the wheel size, not the frame size. Use the chart below:
Wheel Size 12″ —> Age 2 -3 —> Height 2’10 – 3’4
Wheel Size 14″ —> Age 3 -4 —> Height 3’1 – 3’7
Wheel Size 16″ —> Age 4-5 —> Height 3’7 – 4’0
Wheel Size 20’ —> Age 5-8 —> Height 4’0 – 4’5
Wheel Size 24′ —> Age 8-11 —> Height 4’5 – 4’9
Wheel Size 26′ —> Age 11+ —> Height 4’9
These are rough approximations and, since every child is unique, you should use these numbers only as a guide.
3. Get Essential Gear
A good helmet which protects the brain is the single most important safety feature you must have. Make sure it fits, covers the entirety of the forehead and is properly ventilated. According to Pavlakis of Pedalheads, “research shows that up to 90% of fatal bicycle crashes result from head trauma,” so using a properly fitted and certified helmet will protect the head and brain from damage, which might save your child’s life. Note that helmets are mandatory for children under the age of 16 in most areas. “Check that there is no more than a two-finger gap between your eyebrows and the front part of the helmet,” advises Pavlakis.
Layer up with season-appropriate clothing. In summer, light clothing with good arm and leg coverage will protect from sun, and in cooler temperatures, don’t forget gloves, warm socks, and a wind-proof shell.
For urban and suburban biking, invest in a solid bicycle lock.
If you want to take the whole family along but have younger children who aren’t yet able to pedal on their own steam, the most common options are: Trailers (a wheeled carriage which attaches in back of a bicycle), Pedal-less Bikes (also called Balance Bikes, where kids push off the ground to move forward), and Trail-a-Bikes (a seat plus single-wheel that attaches to a bicycle, allowing pedaling without steering capabilities).
4. Find Classes or Camps
Classes and camps will generally cover the four basic rules of bike riding:
Riding in a straight line without deviating from it;
Looking back without losing balance or swerving;
Stopping the bike using the brakes, taking into account the surroundings;
Good speed control and adapting it in accordance with the terrain.
After mastering these basics, group classes are a great way for kids to learn important skills like giving hand signals, negotiating hilly terrain, understanding road signs and dangers, following traffic flow, and practicing proper spacing between riders.
As a side note, older kids will benefit from learning some everyday maintenance routines, like checking the bike tire’s air pressure, putting the chain back together, and testing the brakes, often covered in more advanced classes or camps.
More inclined to teach on your own? Here’s a helpful guide. Remember to read up on safety do’s and don’ts. If you get to the stage where a child is nearly ready to remove the training wheels, Pavlakis advises parents to take their time: “Don’t rush the process. Taking the training wheels off too early can become a negative experience for the child and may lead to resistance in learning.”
5. Mountain Biking
Mountain biking is a sport that is growing rapidly in popularity by offering excitement, challenge, and unique outdoor settings. To get kids started with mountain biking, you should remember that at the outset, your child might not have the physical endurance or the attention span needed to finish a certain route. Try increasing trip difficulty and length gradually to make the learning process smoother.
First, make sure your child is very capable and comfortable traversing flat, easy terrain. Then transition to doubletrack dirt trails with varying degrees of difficulty and topography. Plan ahead to reduce the chance of accidents. Initially choose short, fun routes that you know well and that you feel your kid can completewith relative ease. Have fun increasing the level of difficulty over time!
6. Find Focus, Stay Safe
Pavlakis recommends that beginning bikers “maintain focus and awareness at all times,” of the conditions on their road or trail to reinforce safe habits. Biking is a perfect way to leave behind the distractedness of everyday life and be more fully engaged in the present. Have fun!
On a roll? Check updated schedules and reviews of popular biking camps and classes in your area on ActivityHero.
About the author
Amanda Wilks is a writer, veteran MTB rider and sports advocate. Her passion for mountain biking dates back to her childhood, when she would join her dad every weekend for a quick ride uphill. She is now addicted to the sport and she never misses a trail. Learn more about Amanda on Twitter.
Getting outside is healthy for the body and the mind. This Earth Day, why not get the whole family outdoors for some memorable adventures?
By Wendy Chou
Research has shown that getting outside keeps kids moving, lowering the risk of childhood obesity. Another health benefit from being out and about: added Vitamin D, which strengthens bones and is thought to help the immune system fight off infection. Some health experts say that spending time outdoors also relieves some symptoms of hyperactivity, including short attention span.
Every year since 1970, Earth Day has been celebrated on April 22. It was originally created to bring attention to environmental goals like cleaner air and water. Today Earth Day reminds us to step out into nature. Try these kid-approved outdoor activities highlighting science, crafts, sports, and helping the community. Find these activities and many more in The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer, an excellent user-friendly guide for kindling the adventurous spirit in all of us.
Go outside at an unusual time: nighttime! Go stargazing or take a walk to admire the moon. Visit kidsastronomy.com for tips.
Start a compost pile from kitchen scraps and yard trimmings. If your family has a garden, generating your own rich compost (so-called “black gold”) is not only fun, but also useful. It’s also a great tool for teaching kids about nature’s version of recycling. Tips for beginners.
Watch a sunset. Watching colors change can inspire a lifelong appreciation for the environment. Find details on specific sunrise and sunset times at timeanddate.com
Arts and Crafts Lovers
Paint a birdhouse. Using a more natural palette such as gray, dull green, brown, or tan will help keep birds safe from eagle-eyed predators. And steer clear of metallic, iridescent, lead-based, or neon-colored paints which contain additives that are unsafe for wildlife.
Play “Nature bingo”. This game is a variation on a scavenger hunt. Create a bingo card for each player on sturdy paper or cardboard. You’ll need 16 assorted images arranged in a 4 x 4 grid: either paste on stickers, or draw/clip out pictures from magazines. Some examples are ladybug, leaf, flower, bird. After you design the bingo cards, have a blast exploring nature and looking for your items.
Make a nature mosaic. For this textured craft, first gather small items of roughly the same shape and size, like small pebbles, dried flower petals, or seeds. Take a paper plate and draw your desired shape with pen or pencil (for instance, outline your handprint). Working with one small section at a time, add a thin layer of glue and press the objects down to secure them. (If you apply glue over too large an area at once, it will dry before you’ve finished pasting.) Let dry and it’s done!
Roll down a grassy hill. Who doesn’t love doing this on a sunny day?
Go for a bike ride. There’s nothing quite like coasting along on the open road. Safety first: study the biker’s checklist before you head out!
Make homemade trail mix and take it on a hike.
Try geocaching, a modern take on treasure hunting. This activity relies on GPS technology to hide or find caches. To get started, check out geocaching.com.
Join a volunteer event. Find an organization near you (check your city or county listings) that is sponsoring an Earth Day event, such as a river cleanup or tree planting.
Visit a farmers’ market. You’ll find fresher fruits and vegetables here with less wasteful plastic packaging. People selling their wares often enjoy telling you where and how they grew their food –and sometimes let you try a sample for free.
Beautify your neighborhood. Clean up trash, prune or weed a garden, or do some other type of community service to show your appreciation for Mother Earth.
Find summer camps featuring the outdoors. Camp is a great way to spend time outside. Emily Moeschler has over ten years of experience in adventure education and the outdoor industries. She is currently a leader at Avid4Adventure Camp in Boulder, CO. Her top tip: “Give your kids permission to get dirty!”
Be inspired. Have your own brainstorming session to come up with even more outdoor activities. There’s really no “right” way to explore, just get outside and have fun!
Considering exploring overnight camps for your children this summer? Two directors share tips to prepare kids for the positive experience of a lifetime.
By Laura Quaglio
If your kids haven’t tried sleepaway camp, you’re entering uncharted territory for your family. That, however, is not actually a bad thing. “Doing something outside of your comfort zone burns memories that last forever because it won’t blend into the background of life,” says Michael Richards, founder and executive director of Science Camps of America based in Pahala, Hawaii. When kids spread their wings, they can grow as a person — and become more the person they really are, not limited by the perceptions and history of their classmates or even their own family.
“Campers all enter on this totally equal basis, and they can express their personality without the backdrop of their whole life, their whole history,” says Richards, whose camps are for teens aged 13 to 17 who are interested in exploring volcanoes, rocks, forests, oceans, and skies of Hawaii to learn about related sciences like geology, climate, and astronomy. “You can’t come to school and reinvent yourself — or even be yourself,” he adds. “In the camp, kids can express their personality and no one is going to judge them or say, ‘Why did you suddenly change?’ I think that gives kids tremendous empowerment.”
Being in a camp environment also helps prepare kids to function as positive and productive members of society during adulthood. At Camp Chrysalis, where kids aged 8 to 17 explore various outdoor environments in California, director Lee Tempkin takes pride in showing campers how “shared leadership” works. “Everyone calls me Lee, though it’s clear I’m the leader,” he says of his management style. “The staff and I have camp huddles, talk around the campfire, and discuss who would like to give the next camp talk,” he says. “Kids see that we are all part of an adult community. That we respect and work with each other and with them.” Being in a tight-knit group 24/7, even for a short time, helps kids build stronger teamwork skills and independence, all of which will serve them well when they eventually leave home as a young adult entering the workforce or college.
Still a bit hesitant? Worried if your kid will thrive and if you will survive? Here are some ways to tell whether you and your child are ready … and how to prepare them for a transformative, positive experience.
Think About Their Personality
Richards says that “the vast majority of kids love [overnight camp], even if it is their first time doing it.” The kids who do best, says Tempkin, are those who are open, flexible, and positive about new experiences. His camps expose kids to a variety of outdoor activities while living among redwoods, tide pools, marshes, and mountains and learning about ecology and our responsibility for our planet. Kids will get dirty and wet. They’ll sleep in tents with other campers and learn outdoor skills. Kids who are accustomed to spending most of their time in an urban area, indoors, or in solo activities may have a tougher time adapting. For them, as well as kids younger than age 8, he says it’s better to start with overnights or a weekend getaway at a friend or family member’s house. “Summer camp is not the time to have a kid be away from mom and dad for the first time,” he says.
Kindness, too, is key. “Kids who are mean to other kids may have a hard time,” says Tempkin. Campers will be interacting with each other in close proximity all day (and night) without breaks. Kids don’t have to like everything or everyone new, he notes, but they need to appreciate different experiences and different kinds of people.
In a way, this is good news, because it means that bullying is not generally a problem at either of these overnight camps, and probably many others. “Kids are amazingly open about it, and they won’t let anyone get away with the slightest bit of it,” Richards says. “Maybe because they’re not with their usual peer group. They think, ‘Let’s stop this before it starts.’ It’s really something to see.”
Let Your Child Choose the Camp
Richards says that telling a kid, “you’re going here” is one of the biggest mistakes parents make. Of course you won’t want to let your child have the only say-so: Sometimes kids don’t have the same concerns that you do. And if you aren’t comfortable with their pick, your child will sense that, and it might affect their stay. On the other hand, kids will be more invested in having a good time if they are allowed to select a program that excites them.
Some camps offer a range of activities that can include athletics, crafts, survival skills, and so on. Others center on a particular theme, such as a single sport, academic subject, or interest (like soccer, science, or computer coding). “Kids find us because they’re interested in science,” says Richards. “So they’re going to be in a group of like-minded kids. All of a sudden, these kids have that shared enthusiasm, and that makes it a very good social experience.” On the other hand, kids who don’t have a specific interest may prefer to dabble in a variety of activities, which can help them find a new hobby they’ll love. Either way, discuss these different options and be sure your child knows what “their” camp offers.
Encourage Their Independence
At Camp Chrysalis, kids learn to keep track of their gear, their toothbrush, their fork, and so on. They will spend 8 to 12 days at Big Sur, Mendocino, or Sierra. They will hike, swim, and hang out. They also learn camping skills like “how not to damage a tent,” “how to sterilize drinking water,” and “how to whittle safely.” You can help set them up for success by encouraging them to take more responsibility for such items and actions at home. Let them start packing their sports bag or packing their lunch for school. When preparing for camp, have them help you pack their labeled camp gear, too, so they know where everything is located.
At Science Camps of America, Richards likes to give kids as much choice as possible throughout the day, such as which bed to sleep in, which van to ride in, and what topic to debate that evening. If you don’t already do so, start encouraging your kids to make more of their own choices when it’s feasible.
Another tip: Once they’re at camp, leave them be. Both camp directors agree that kids will have a better experience if their parents aren’t checking in all the time. In fact, many camps take away tech, though they’ll certainly allow phone calls if a child is particularly homesick.
If you miss texting your kids, remember this: Taking that away will free them up to interact with the kids at camp. Richards says he gathers up the cell phones after each camp’s orientation. “The kids know that it’s going to happen and they’re all horrified by the prospect of it, but within a few hours, you’ve got 20 strangers who are best friends. It’s amazing to see how fast they socialize and connect without cell phones to distract them.” You can both get accustomed to the idea by easing up on the tech connections at home a bit, too. And if they do phone home, Richards says make sure to tell them you’re excited and happy for them. You may feel like you should tell them how much you miss them, but both camp directors agree that this often makes kids feel guilty about having fun, which can inhibit their ability to immerse themselves in the experience.
Fear of the unknown can be powerful, but it’s easy enough to dispel some of it. Richards, for one, believes in finding information that helps kids and parents “envision the environment” and understand what a typical day or week will hold.
“I encourage parents to look at the camp’s website with their kids,” says Tempkin. “We also have a family night in June, where we show slides. I think it’s reassuring to have some of the basic information so it’s not so scary for them to go off on their own.”
If you like, call the camp and see if a director or staff member can answer your questions. What do the facilities look like? What food will be provided? What will the campers learn? Work with your kids to create a list of things you want to ask.
If you learn something you think the kids won’t love, don’t withhold the information from them, advises Tempkin. “I’m a believer that kids are people who need to be respected to handle information, especially regarding an experience that is going to be their experience.” The more a child knows, the better they can picture themselves there, having a great time.
Talking to other parents can be helpful, too. Ask the camp director for references. Also look for written reviews such as the ones on ActivityHero or on the camp’s website.
Ask About Staff Numbers, Age, and Experience
For parents who are worried about their kid getting lost in the shuffle, it’s important to look at the size of the camp, says Tempkin. “We divide our campers into four small groups of 8 or 9 kids with 2 staff members, and they eat together and doactivities together on a daily basis, so the staff gets to know the campers really, really well.” Richards, too, has a smaller camp, with just 20 kids and 5 staff members per session. “We try to develop a relationship with each kid, one-on-one,” he says. “Our motto is: Don’t treat them as a group. Treat them as individuals.”
Maturity of the staff is important too, says Tempkin. Half of his staff members are adults, not college or high school students. “The maturity of the staff is reassuring for families who have never done camp before,” he says. Younger staffers can serve as great role models or mentors, but there must be enough adults available to deal with larger concerns and keep campers on track.
It’s also a good sign if some staffers are former campers, since they will know the culture, and they obviously enjoyed their stay when they were kids. Tempkin says that most of his staff grew up attending his camp, and he has known them since they were 8 or 10 years old. “They act as mature mentors who can be a positive factor in the kid’s life,” he says. “Kids need adults in their lives who are not their parents, especially as they become teens. A good camp can provide those mentors.”
Last, ask how long staffers have been with the camp. A low turnover rate means staffers know what they’re doing — and they enjoy it enough to return summer after summer.
Talk About How Kids Can Share Their Experiences With You
Kids love to teach their parents, and attending a summer camp offers them a chance to learn new things and then pass them on. Your child can do this by keeping a journal. Kids at Camp Chrysalis write in a “Bear Book.” In fact, Tempkin says that this can also help dispel some homesickness because kids know they can always write a letter to home and share it later. They also send a postcard to parents midway through the trip. This is fun for kids, most of whom have never written out a postcard before, and for parents who feel better when they receive even a brief communication.
Another option might be to revisit the locations your child explored and ask them to serve as your tour guide. Richards says that one mom and her son spent a few days in Hawaii after his camp ended, and she phoned a few days later to share how much her son enjoyed showing her around the island. Richards adds, “It gave that boy an opportunity to take what he had learned and teach it to his mother. And as we know, when we teach something, that’s when we really learn it.” Tempkin has similar stories of campers who became “great tour guides of the areas they’ve learned about.”
As for parents, knowing that our children have surpassed us, even in a small area of expertise, is tremendously rewarding. So when they share, listen closely and ask questions.
In the meantime, go ahead and start making your own list of what you want to do — or where you’d like to go — when your kids are at sleepaway camp. Who knows? Their getaway might be a transformative experience for you, too.
Overnight camp can be an exciting adventure; however, going for the first time can cause some jitters for parents and kids alike. Soothe the nerves of your camper by sharing these interesting camp experiences — some completely silly, some true to life. In the media choices below, we explore nontraditional camps like spy camp and roller derby camp, as well as the more common sleepaway camp in the woods. Share them with your soon-to-be campers and see their excitement grow!
Books for Kids Going to Overnight Camp
This terrific graphic novel tells the story of a young teen learning to work hard and become a good teammate at roller derby camp one summer. Her ideas of friendship are tested outside of camp, but she comes through strong and inspired to do her best.
This sequel to Spy School reports on spy summer camp. A thrilling adventure awaits the main character as he heads to camp for high-stakes survival training camp, but encounters much more. Please note that while there is violence in this book, it is cartoon violence.
Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy
Supernatural creatures run the show in the wacky summer camp portrayed in this comic book series. Five girlfriends band together and have a great time dealing with strange critters and a tough camp counselor. Ultimately, they empower each other to have a summer full of adventure.
Bless the Beasts & Children
This classic novel tells the difficult but poignant story of boys sent away to camp because of challenging home lives. Set in the West, it shares how the boys unite and defy authority to do what is right. Beautifully written, this story will be best for enthusiastic teen readers.
The Parent Trap (1961)
Whether you prefer the 1961 original or the remake, the story is funny and engaging. Twins are separated by their parent’s divorce and raised as singletons. They rediscover each other at summer camp, scheme to reunite their warring parents, and chaos ensues. Quaint and old-fashioned, the actors in the original will charm you.
Girl power is the message in this documentary set at the Rock and Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Oregon. Several girls from differing backgrounds are featured as they learn to play an instrument and build confidence through their performances. These girls share their feelings and their creativity. It’s an empowering movie, at times infuriating and sad, but with a powerhouse of a message.
This movie shows a stylized world like no other. It’s a quirky movie with laughter, sadness, and hilarity. The pair of runaway tweens are decent and devoted. Not your usual camp experience, but entertaining and lovely.
Great love for the theater supersedes any differences that this group of campers discovers about each other. Every two weeks, campers put on a Broadway show. Personalities are strong but, always, the show must go on! Be aware that there is strong language and situations in this PG-13 rated movie.
A spin-off from the popular Disney series Jessie, this fictitious camp experience is full of pranks, silliness, and friends.
Completely imaginary, this camp is run by monsters, with very few rules and regulations for the campers. Bathroom humor is popular and frequent. Obviously, this is not what overnight camp will be like, but it’s funny to imagine.
Get the family outside for some fun and fresh air with these hiking tips from an ActivityHero expert.
By Laura Quaglio
Getting out for a hike is a great way to spend a weekend or evening with your family. According to the National Wildlife Federation, the average American kid spends as little as half an hour in outdoor “free play” each day … and more than seven hours staring at a computer screen. That’s a shame, since playing outside has been linked to a wide array of health and wellness perks for kids, including some surprises such as better in distance vision, improved test performance at school, and healthier social interactions.
ActivityHero provider Kurt Gantert, Founder and Director of Wanderers*, is thrilled that science has proven some of the things that “outdoorsy people” have long known. “My parents took me hiking at an early age, so I grew up just kind of loving it,” says Kurt, who has fond memories of exploring the Adirondacks with his folks, siblings, and friends. Drawing on those early outdoor experiences, Kurt has built a career in the field of outdoor education/adventure travel, working as a wilderness guide and educator for more than 20 years. Today, he likes nothing better than leading kids in Northern California (including his own two children) on outdoor explorations throughout the year. “What I notice is that kids have a sense of freedom outdoors that they don’t often have in our very scheduled world,” adds Kurt. “Nature has a very calming effect.”
Of course, nature also offers plenty of challenges that indoor and at-home activities do not. That’s why Kurt favors being well-prepared before setting out with your brood. (Plus, if kids wind up hungry, hurt, or over-tired, they won’t want to hit the trail ever again.) To help ensure a positive adventure, Kurt offers these tips to consider before hitting the trail.
1. Let Kids Bring a Buddy
“Always try to invite another family along on your hike,” suggests Kurt. Taking some of your kids’ friends on your excursion can prevent them from complaining throughout the trip. When children are around their peers, explains Kurt, they’re distracted and less likely to be bored — and they won’t want to “look bad” in front of their friends, so they’re more likely to grin and bear it when the going gets a little tough.
2. Check the Conditions
Look up what the weather will be in the area you’re planning to hike. It may be very different from the weather at your house, even if you’ll be fairly close by. You can check the websites for The Weather Channel or NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to find out what’s brewing.
Kurt also suggests researching the terrain. Are there any big hills? Is it likely to be muddy? Kids will enjoy themselves more if there aren’t too many obstacles to overcome. If you’re not sure where to go, check American Trails to search more than 1,100 recreation trails in the U.S., or use the Web to search for family-friendly trails in your area. You may also prefer to stick to trails that offer bathroom facilities, guides, and other amenities, especially if you’re not an avid outdoors person or you have little ones in tow. “Sometimes national parks have guide posts and offer special ranger talks,” says Kurt. “These are often volunteers who are trained in certain subjects. For instance, guides at Point Reyes National Seashore just north of San Francisco share interesting information about Tule elk during the rut season. Listening to ranger talks can make the experience more fun for the group,” says Kurt.
3. Don’t Pack Light
When Kurt hikes in national or state parks throughout the country, he often notices how under-prepared people are for hiking. “You should bring a backpack filled with a lot of stuff,” says Kurt. “Don’t feel it’s a burden, as some of the items you bring could be crucial to a more enjoyable hike.” Some of his suggestions include healthy snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, binoculars, a camera, and a simple first-aid kit. “Kids fall down and skin their elbows all the time,” says Kurt. If your children have allergies, also bring their EpiPen and some Benadryl. And, of course, carry plenty of water. “Pack more water than you think you’ll need,” he says. “At least two pretty-good-sized bottles per person for a full-day hike.” For little kids — or if you’ll be near a lake, stream, or pond — bring towels and a change of clothes, too, including fresh socks.
4. Get a Few Guidebooks
Kurt loves to tote a few such books along on his hikes so kids can look up birds, animals, and plants they see along the way. If you’re taking tweens or teens on the hike, consider downloading an app that allows kids to take a photo of a plant or animal and automatically IDs what they see. Kids in these age groups can also serve as the family videographer/photographer, documenting special moments on the trail.
One caveat: Turn off the tech if it starts detracting from the experience instead of enhancing it. Kurt’s camps don’t allow any use of technology by kids because they often will go from taking a photo to checking Instagram. For that reason, Kurt sticks to paper guidebooks for use in Wanderers programs. Two of his favorites: The Sibley Guide to Birds and the National Audubon Society Field Guide to California.
5. Plan Some Play Time
Choose a destination that the kids will really enjoy — such as a beach or a stream where they can splash around. In fact, if your kids are young, Kurt suggests keeping the actual hiking portion of the adventure fairly short, ending up at a kid-friendly spot and spending as long as they like in “free-play” mode. As kids get older (and their legs and attention spans lengthen), you can increase the distance of your family hikes.
Kids seem to instinctively love playing in nature, but if yours aren’t sure what to do, get into the act with them and build with rocks or sticks, skip stones across a pond, search for animal habitats, do rubbings of tree bark with a crayon and paper, and even sketch what you see in a notebook. “Free play is very important for kids, and there’s less and less of it in this day and age,” says Kurt.
6. Dress for Success
Even in the warmer months in California, Kurt doesn’t generally hike in shorts because of ticks and poison oak. He prefers comfortable hiking pants, some “sturdy hiking socks” (not low athletic-style socks), and several layers on top so he can make adjustments when the temperature changes. Regardless of the forecast, Kurt recommends including options that will be appropriate for all types of weather. “In the mountainous regions of the West Coast, you can get snow even in the summertime,” he says. “Always bring an extra warm layer.” He also advises heading out early so you won’t be at a higher elevation later in the day. “In mountain ranges, such as the Sierra Nevada in California, thunderstorms can roll in during the afternoon,” he says. You don’t want to get caught out in one of those.
As for footwear, don’t wear brand-new hiking shoes or boots on a long hike. “That’s a good recipe for a blister,” says Kurt. Break in new hiking boots gradually over time before taking them on a long trek. Usually, he notes, sneakers are fine for a day hike on a well-maintained and not-too-rocky trail.
7. Plan an After-Hike Activity
When you hike with your family, you’re creating lasting memories. To ensure that kids really lock in the things they’ve seen and learned, take some time after the hike to swap stories and reminisce about the experience. For instance, you might want to find a nearby family-friendly restaurant where you can take your hungry hikers for a follow-up chat at the adventure’s end.
Kurt holds such a session at the end of each week of camp at Wanderers. “We get the kids to talk about what was special to them and what they learned,” he says. “It’s interesting. What they say is not always what you’d think of.” The trick here? Don’t just ask, “What was your favorite thing?” Most of the time, after one kid speaks up, everyone agrees that they loved that part of the day, too. Instead, mentally walk your whole family through the journey again. Mention each stop you made or each plant or animal you identified. Ask what each person saw and what surprised them. Share what surprised you, too. You might even want to video what your kids say — and make some notes about whatever you learned from the trip. What items did you wish you’d brought? Which ones should have been left at home? What would you never do again? What would you like to do more of? Keep this list with your hiking gear, so you can reference it before your next family excursion.
Consider Enrolling Kids in an Outdoor Adventure Camp
While hiking as a family offers certain perks, exploring the outdoors with trained professionals provides kids with another level of experience that can be valuable for any child, says Kurt. For one thing, Kurt’s programs focus on “experiential education.” “We’re not just sitting in a classroom learning about where our tap water comes from,” says Kurt. “We hike to the reservoirs and/or watersheds that provide our water, and we have discussions about what they are and the natural and human history behind each one.” Each day begins with an instructor giving a short talk to prep kids for the day, and then they head out and put those concepts and vocab words to use. Each trek is mapped out carefully, with rest stops along the trail where instructors stop to point out special features while giving kids a water break and rest.
If you’d like to find a great outdoor adventure camp in your area, Kurt suggests you ask a few questions about the staff and their safety practices. Find out:
Who is the director and how involved are they in the day-to-day operations?
How long has the camp been around?
What is the camp’s safety record?
What is the staff-to-camper ratio? (Wanderers usually offer a 1:5 ratio, but 1:7 is also very good for hiking or camping, particularly with older kids.)
What training does the staff have? (Wanderers staffers are at least 21 years old and have a minimum of 2 years’ experience leading outdoor activities. They are also certified in wilderness first aid and CPR, and many have their Wilderness First Responder certification. Wanderers also provides staff with a week-long training session and other training as needed.)
Headed off to the woods with a tent and some sleeping bags? Take along these creative ideas to make family camping extra fun.
By Ashley Winters
Nature makes room for your child to explore, learn, and create. It’s easy to transform a regular campsite into the “summer camp” of a lifetime. Oftentimes family campgrounds have activities to keep kids busy, but in case yours is off the beaten path, I have compiled 10 unique and fun activities for family camping that will keep your kid’s imagination inspired. Whether you do something as simple as taking a walk through the woods or as extravagant as creating and overnight adventure, your kids will love outdoor activities like these … and they’ll love spending quality time with you.
Think about what a spy needs: paper, pencil, periscope, magnifying glass, rope, etc. To create the ultimate spy camp, start by making spy gear such as:
A periscope: Using 2 mirrors (2″ by 1″), a piece of cardboard carton (6.5″ by 8″), scissors, glue and paint, you can help your child to create a periscope. Use the periscope to peer over walls and around corners.
A book safe: Using a hardcover book, sharp craft knife, ruler, and pencil, you can help your child create a place to hide his or her secrets in plain view.
Fingerprint Powder: Using starch powder, a candle, two porcelain dishes and a knife, you can show kids how to lift fingerprints and track clues.
Next, give them some detective work. Maybe they have to sneak into another campsite to grab a clue from the fire pit (make sure you talk to other campers first) or swing through an obstacle course to capture the clue. A good old-fashioned game of Capture the Flag is another way to use their sneaky minds creatively. Use real-life activities that you think your child would enjoy to enhance their spy skills.
2. Bring Along Lego Bricks
The great thing about Lego toys is that they can be taken anywhere; even into the campgrounds. Have your child use trees, birds, flowers, and all the nature around them to get ideas for their creations.You could talk to other campers in the area and see if any other children would like to get involved in a Lego competition. Go hiking to find venues of creativity and have your child design them using Lego bricks. Nothing can bring out creativity quite like a campsite.
3. Create All-Natural Fashions
If your child is really into fashion, encourage them to use only their surroundings to create something stylish. Back before sewing machines, TV and Internet, creativity and style came from what was on hand. For instance, flowers and berries would add spice to a plain cowhide dress. Go back to the ways of the land and show your child how to create fashion from what is around such as:
Flower hair accessories
Leaf dresses or outfits
Necklaces woven from stems and wood pieces
Woven purses or baskets
Using the Earth and nature to create fashionable necklaces or adornments is a lot better for the environment, and there are so many different ways to do it. So, encourage your child to be creative and see the beauty not only on TV, but in the Earth as well.
4. Make Family Camping an Adventure
Okay, let’s face it: Camp in and of itself is an adventure. However, you can make it that much more of an adventure for your child just by using some of the following ideas:
Cross a shallow river or creek without a bridge. (Safety first, of course.)
Climb the tallest tree and take pictures together (using safety harnesses).
For older children, take them into the woods and have them use a compass and map to find their way back to camp. You can be their guide. (Be sure you know where you’re going first.)
5. Give Mother Nature a Makeover
In some cultures, people celebrate May Day by weaving a tree with vibrant ribbon. This is usually done at festivals and with music. Encourage your child to learn a new culture and engage in an activity such as weaving ribbons of color around a tree at your campsite. Attach ribbons to the top of the tree and let them hang down. It is important to have an even number. Each person who is participating can grab one strand of ribbon. Partners will face each other and move around the tree going over then under the next person. This dance creates a beautiful weaved display and also teaches children different cultural rituals and history.
6. Whittle Some Magic Wands
Sticks make great wands. Simply use a pocket knife to smooth the stick. Carve in magic symbols or use paint to decorate it. The Earth gives us everything we need to create, explore, and design.
7. Try Tic Tac Toe: The Mother Nature Edition
A game played through the years is always fun, whether drawn in the dirt or made with the nature around us. Gather sticks for your playing board and use acorns or rocks for your playing pieces. Remember: Three in a row wins it.
8. Build a Raft
This generation of kids has probably never made a homemade raft. Just find pieces of wood in the forest and tie them together using twine or vines (make sure they’re not poison ivy!). You could even make miniature rafts and race them on the river. See who can create the fastest raft using the materials they have. Maybe you want to add a flag made of a twig and leaves or a scrap of fabric. Be creative and have fun.
Bring your kids back to the days before GPS, and create a compass using a bowl of water, a magnet, a needle, and a foam circle. They will learn about magnetism, direction, and what to do if…God forbid…the internet ever crashes. Kids won’t realize they’re learning, and parents will enjoy teaching their children a valuable skill. Encourage your kids to figure out how to use the compass to make their way back to camp.
10. Craft Jewelry From Nature
Braid together vines or stems to make “rope” for a bracelet or necklace. To decorate the rope, gather flowers, leaves, or rocks with holes to use as beads. With nature at your doorstep, there is no telling the creativity that can be enjoyed.
What kid doesn’t dream about becoming a pirate and digging up buried treasure to fill their chest? You may not be able to sail the bounding seas on your summer vacation, but you and your kids can enjoy nature while digging for buried treasure across the U.S. From gold and gems to actual dinosaur fossils, if it fascinates your kids, there’s a spot where they can discover it. These top-notch treasure spots are guaranteed to give your kids a great time and might even provide a valuable piece of treasure for a souvenir.
Hiddenite, North Carolina
Nestled in the hills of North Carolina, the Emerald Hollow Mine is the destination for thousands of gems seekers each year. Set in one of the most interesting geological areas in the country, Emerald Hollow Mine has produced dozens of types of gems, including amethyst, topaz, sapphires and valuable green emeralds. Your little treasure hunters might happen upon one of the 63 different types of gems that have been found here and they can turn any of their finds into cut stones or jewelry with the onsite lapidary shop.
In Crater of Diamonds State Park, diamonds can be found literally sitting on top of the soil, ready for treasure hunting kids to pick up. Sitting on top of an ancient volcano field, this diamond field produces already-smoothed stones in white, brown, and yellow colors. There are three different diamond-searching methods used here:
Walk the fields and, using a sharp eye, find stones laying on top of the soil
Dig shallow areas and sift the soil, digging through resulting gravel by hand
Dig deep holes, concentrating the resulting soil into a likely gravel mix
The first method is obviously the simplest, and has actually produced gemstone-sized diamonds for lucky visitors. Bring your own tools or rent them at the park. Rangers are prepared to identify diamonds from your pile of rocks, but leave the valuation up to your local jeweler.
Deming, New Mexico
In the desert lands of Rock Hound State Park, thousands of people have found geodes, also known as thunder eggs. These stones just look like plain rocks when you pick them up, but once you crack them open the insides show off lovely crystals in amethyst, hematite, or rose quartz. Make this treasure hunting outing a part of your camping or RV trip in the Western part of the country. Geodes can be found in washed-out piles of rocks or lying against wind-swept hills. Bring along small hammers to tap the rocks open to discover what’s inside the best of them.
Devil Hills, South Dakota
The Badlands region of South Dakota is prime dinosaur-fossil hunting land. Kids who are dino-lovers will eagerly spend their days sifting through piles of rock and soil just to find a hint of dinosaur history. Gigantic pieces of bone from over 145 million years ago have been discovered here, and young hunters have had as much luck as older, more experienced explorers. If you find fossils in this area you have to report them to the authorities and leave them where you found them, but pictures with the fossil make a great souvenir. Besides, how many kids can brag about personally discovering their own dinosaur and have the pictures to prove it?
Central Florida Coast
Photo by Flickr user David Dawson Photography
11 Spanish galleons sunk off the Florida coast in 1715, dropping tons of gold coins, jewels, and other relics into the sea. The ocean waves have been washing this treasure up for the past 300 years onto the beaches between Cape Canaveral and Stuart. People have been finding treasure almost daily, even today, and the finds are so simple they’re great for kids to work on. Look on the high tide line, especially after a thunderstorm creates big waves and on the sand that’s still damp from the tide going out. Treasure has been found by looking with the naked eye but you may want to invest in a simple metal detector to find treasure buried in the sand. The entire eastern coast of central Florida provides abundant lodging for visitors so pick a small town for your best bet and look for your very own pirate treasure.
When you go treasure hunting with your kids, you’ll build memories and give them experiences none of their friends will ever have.