Camping: Becoming an Outdoors Family
Camping is something we’ve wanted to try with the boys for a few years now. We’ve gone a few times (to a campground, nothing hard core) and thought it would be an inexpensive getaway that our family could enjoy during the summer. We like swimming and hiking and who doesn’t love a good s’more? (Side note: have you ever tried a s’more made with a peanut butter cup instead of a chocolate bar? Ah.ma.zing.) So when I heard about the family camping program that the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation was sponsoring a few weekends throughout the summer, I knew we had to try it.
For $30, we registered our family for the campground closest to our home. We already had a tent, extendable s’more forks and adult sleeping bags, so most of our gear was already taken care of. The DCR provided us with a camp stove and a very thorough packing list, including recipes and a food list so nothing would be forgotten.
Upon arrival, we participated in a Camping 101 session with official outdoor guides and the Park Interpreter (which is basically the same as a park ranger). This included how to set up your tent, how to start a camp fire, a nature craft and how to avoid things like ticks and mosquitoes. They even showed us a campfire baked apple recipe. The great thing was they included the recipe on the packing list in case you wanted to be able to recreate it on your own. These were hands-on, live demonstrations that took place in an actual campsite so we could actively participate. The great thing is, it was very casual so you could kind of come and go as you wanted. People left to get snacks etc. and when our kids were a bit disruptive, we left the session.
We headed to our camp site and the boys (my husband, son and nephew) got to work on setting up our tent while I unpacked and made lunch. We planned a no-cook lunch of sandwiches and had prepped some of the items at home the night before. I recommend doing this for your first meal in case you run into any issues getting set up. Hungry bellies make for grumpy campers.
After lunch and checking out the bathrooms (which were really clean and close by), we embarked on what ended up being the boys’ favorite part of the trip – fishing! The organization ran intro to fishing workshops where they showed us how to bait the hook and cast into the lake. While we didn’t catch anything, we all really enjoyed the process and I was especially impressed with the two four-year-old boys and their ability to not get frustrated. This was a really nice part of the weekend and fishing isn’t something we would have tried on our own.
The afternoon was filled with swimming, card games and exploring the woods around our campsite. The only thing I would have done differently for the weekend is bring a few more toys and/or games. These two boys are CONSTANTLY collecting sticks and rocks and exploring their surroundings, so I thought nature’s playground would be be enough. But as they began to get tired, they wanted other things. Mostly they were anxious to get the campfire going so they could roast marshmallows. After a dinner of hot dogs and beans cooked over the fire (and salad we made at home), marshmallow and s’more time was finally here.
Later that evening, the DCR hosted a wonderful storyteller. There is something really peaceful about sitting near the beach during sunset, listening to a dynamic storyteller by the campfire. After that there was a sing-along and star-gazing session, bur our boys were beat and anxious to get into their tent. Bedtime took a bit longer than usual on account of all the “ghost stories” that had to be told but soon all was quiet and my husband and I enjoyed a quiet evening by the campfire.
The next morning consisted of different varieties of pancakes cooked on the provided camp stove (thank goodness for add water only pancake mix), more finding sticks in the woods and breaking down the campsite. The boys fully participated in it all, helping pack up the tent and taking one last look around for any litter we have have left behind. The final session from the DCR was a live animal demonstration and weekend wrap-up, where we filled out a survey and received another free gift to add to our camp gear.
For $30 we walked away with a new lantern, a new camp stove and the knowledge that camping with small children isn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. Dare I say it was fun and nice to just be outside for an extended amount of time. Camping creates a sense of community. We saw this when one family helped another set up their tent and when all of the other kids who were part of this program (and several years older than mine) instantly connected and spent the rest of the weekend sharing meals with each other and playing games of tag or cards. It was a really great weekend and one we hope to repeat soon.
NOTE: I was not compensated at all by the Mass Department of Conservation and Recreation for this post. I simply wanted to share this great program with you. They are hoping to run it again next year, and a simple Google search showed there are similar programs in other states as well.