Last weekend I took my 7-year-old daughter on a weekend camping trip in the mountains. Up until then, we had only “camped” in our backyard ~ pitching our tent, cuddling up in our sleeping bags and watching a movie on the portable DVD player as we fell asleep to the neighborhood sounds of traffic, airplanes and people mingling in their own backyards.
I had been hesitant to take my daughter on a “real” camping trip because I was worried that she would be too freaked out to sleep in a tent in the wilderness, struggle with not having immediate access to a bathroom and just feel generally displaced and anxious. So, I avoided the prospect of mountain camping… until this summer.
Something changed in me. I suppose part of it is the fact that my daughter seems old enough now to really understand what it means to go camping. For-real camping, out in the wilderness. She seemed excited by the idea, so we planned our trip and I educated her about the necessary gear we would need to take with us.
Something else changed in me too, though. My decision to plan this camping trip stemmed from a genuine need to reconnect with nature and disengage from “modern society.” I was noticing how the ins and outs of my daily life in an overpopulated suburban sprawl were taking a serious toll on me. I needed a break.
So we packed up the car and headed out. We did take along modern conveniences and indulgences like a cooking stove, marshmallows and camping chairs. I wanted to give my daughter a fun impression of camping, not just force her to learn about roughing it and nature survival skills.
What I found when we arrived at our campsite, however, was that my daughter was far more interested in learning about survival skills as opposed to the novelties of modern camping. She wanted me to show her how to build and start a fire. She wanted to learn the proper way to store food so bears would not wander into our campsite at night. She wanted to discuss the change in environment around us, the weather, the local wildlife and our relationship to the earth.
After our tent was pitched and we had all of our gear organized, my daughter spent about four hours simply wandering around the campground (within sight), gathering objects from nature, creating rock, stick, pine cone and acorn designs and sculptures and drawing patterns in the dirt with a stick. Watching her engage in this type of play filled my heart with so much gratitude and beauty. She also discovered that the tree trunks smelled like maple syrup! So we walked around to every tree in the vicinity and sniffed the trunks. It was such a therapeutic experience.
When we were packing for our trip, I had considered bringing along our portable DVD player, my daughter’s Leap Pad and other activities like workbooks, games, etc. I decided at the last minute to leave all of these things behind. I am so glad I made this decision. Why did I think that my daughter would need technological stimulation while surrounded by nature? Why was I afraid that she would feel too far removed from her “normal” life without a movie to watch, a computerized game to play, or a workbook to occupy her time?
This experience helped me realize how incredibly conditioned we have become to our technological and educational stimuli. We have become so engrossed in the modern society that surrounds us that I actually thought my daughter would need or miss having a “device” at her immediate disposal. How wrong I was. And how thankful I am that I was, indeed, wrong.
We roasted marshmallows and made s’mores both nights of our camping adventure. My daughter mastered the skill of roasting the perfect marshmallow and wanted to keep roasting them all evening – not to eat them, but for the simple pleasure of practicing a basic skill and getting better at it with each new attempt.
When we departed on our weekend trip, part of me thought that I was not going to want to come back. And I was right, I didn’t want to come back. But… I am a mom to two young girls. I am a partner to a wonderful, caring husband. I have a role to fulfill in the society where we live, even though it eats away at parts of my soul every day. It is my responsibility to find ways to refuel the aspects of my soul that are eaten away by the environment in which I live… at least until we can make a change for the better regarding our living situation.
What I want to share now – more than anything – is how this camping experience solidified in me the belief that children need nature. They need a connection to the natural world. They need time to just BE and to interact at will with a natural environment free from the influence of human civilization. As parents and teachers, we must protect our children’s experience of human life by reserving time and space for them in which they can roam freely, be immersed in the outdoors and not have to follow an agenda. Helping our kids create and develop a bond with the natural world is paramount to a healthy and holistic upbringing. And, it is also vital to our own well-being as caregivers. Let’s get outside, let’s forget about our hectic schedules, let’s allow our children and ourselves to reconnect with our source – as often as we possible can.