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Making Camping Cool for Kids!

How to Make Camping Fun for the Whole Family

Thousands of families will hit the road this year in search of the perfect vacation that entices children away from TV and video games and encourages them to participate in outdoor activities.

Most children spend two to six hours watching TV each day, and for many, watching television and using other entertainment media eclipses the hours spent in school. Nearly all researchers agree that time spent with TV is directly proportional to a host of undesirable effects, such as childhood obesity and aggressive behavior.

A camping trip away from the couch is one way families can spend time together, foster an appreciation of the outdoors, experience history and teach valuable skills. But making a camping road trip enjoyable for adults and children alike can be quite a challenge.

Nature Bike Riding for Kids
Trail Rides are a great activity for kids.

To help families enjoy the outdoors, KOA Kampground owners throughout North America make it their daily mission to come up with entertaining and engaging programs. At some KOA destination campgrounds, the activities have proven so popular that they become treasured family traditions year after year. From pancake breakfasts to pool parties, nature walks to trail rides, KOA helps families experience the outdoors in a safe, friendly environment.

"We make sure to have a range of fun activities, like hayrides and ice cream socials, that children can partake in," said Jim Lawrence, who has owned and operated KOA at Manchester Beach, CA, for 10 years. "Most kids don't want their parents looking over them all the time. If you give children activities they can experience safely and on their own terms, then parents get some time to relax. It's a hit with everyone."

Families are discovering the amenities and convenience of campgrounds. More than half of visitors to campgrounds in North America last year brought children under 18, according to KOA's comprehensive study of camping trends. That amounts to more than 50 million overnight stays with kids - and a lot of S'mores served! Add that to the number of RVs on the road - 7.2 million and rising - and the statistics illustrate just how many families look to campgrounds as their "home base" for vacations, from family reunions to spontaneous weekend getaways.

Drawing on decades of experience, here are some pearls of wisdom from the KOA family:

Involve children in planning the family's vacation.
Once the family has decided on a destination campground, teach children how to read maps and ask them to plan the most efficient, or the most scenic, driving routes. Let children explore the area online and in guidebooks, such as KOA's annual directory, which is full of colorful road maps.

Amy Raposo, owner of the Barrie KOA in Ontario, offers parents this advice from her own experience as a mother of three: "Kids love checklists. That's what I used to do with my kids when we packed for a camping trip. The older ones can phone ahead and find out what activities are available at the campground, then decide what should be on their checklists, like bicycles or outdoor equipment."

Give everyone space for individual experiences.
Once you've arrived, give older children time to explore their environments on their own.

Ask KOA campground owners, often parents and grandparents themselves, what activities would be appropriate for children of varying ages.

Maureen Quintal, owner of the Yosemite-Mariposa KOA, always advises guests on fun day trips that offer a taste of local history, like California Gold Rush sites: "Then we tell folks there's always the day that you can relax at the campground and play games. While they're here, kids are always just a minute's walk away from mom and dad, yet everyone gets some time on their own."

Plan family time too.

Family Campfire Recipes
S'mores are one of many favorite family campfire recipes.

Identify focal points for family time during the day and at night around the campfire. Focal points could include fishing as a group, taking a nature walk, bicycling, trail riding, making crafts or experimenting with new recipes at the campfire.

After 13 seasons of hosting KOA guests at Petoskey, MI., Kirk Rose has seen a lot of creativity. "This year a family brought some new cooking skills to their campfire. Everyone made hobo pies out of slices of bread and their choice of fillings, like pizza or apple pie."

Don't forget the simple pleasures.
When sharing outdoor activities with the family, simple experiences are often the most memorable.

"Parents need to remember that something just as simple as sitting around a campfire in the evening with the kids is so powerful," said Jim Lawrence of Manchester Beach, CA. "If you walk through my KOA at night, every single site has a campfire. Quite frankly, that's one of the best entertainments that parents and kids can have together. Even after 10 years, I think that's pretty special."

Put kids in charge of commemorating the family's experience.
Ask children to record the trip in a device of their own choosing. Start a KOA journal or scrapbook. Bring video camera appropriate for a child's use.

Quintal and her husband swear by their foolproof method of ensuring that guests catch their first fish in the Yosemite-Mariposa KOA pond, which is stocked with catfish and bass. To record the experience, guests take home photos of their catches. "The big kids are just as funny as the little ones, and I'm talking 30- and 40-year-olds!" Quintal said.

As the most trusted name in family camping today, KOA Kampgrounds of America have hosted more than 250 million guests since the company was founded in Billings, MT, in 1962. KOA operates nearly 500 campgrounds in the United States, Canada and Japan. These campgrounds offer a range of options, from full RV hookups to KOA Kabins, Kottages, Lodges and tent sites.

In keeping with the family spirit, nearly all KOA Kampgrounds are owned by the people who operate them. All KOA Kampgrounds offer a store, laundry room and pool, among other amenities. Most sites now feature WiFi high-speed Internet access. For more information, visit KOA.

KOA's Top Ten Family Camping Activities

Family camping trips can be a welcome break from routines and less active pastimes like watching TV or playing video games. When planning activities for kids, focus on the senses. Children crave new experiences and always want to see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Here are the top 10 suggestions from KOA experts:

1. Play flashlight games. Bring your favorite board or card game and play a flashlight version outdoors, in a cabin or tent.

2. Depending on age, host a shadow puppet contest. Transform everyday objects and camping supplies, like cooking utensils or branches, into animated stories illuminated by flashlight on cabin or tent walls.

3. Make nature bracelets. Attach a circle of masking tape around children's wrists, sticky side out. Add colorful leaves, seeds and shells found on nature walks.

4. Get some exercise. Rent or bring a bicycle, consider a trail ride or nature walk. Take a hayride or play miniature golf as a group. Join other families for a game in the pool.

5. Surpass S'mores. Get creative at the campfire. Ask children to dream up a new combination of favorite foods, like hobo pies made from slices of bread and apple pie filling.

6. Sing a song. Compose a new song about the family's camping adventures and set it to a familiar tune, like "Oh Susannah."

7. Learn the directions. For younger children, teach the directions of sunrise, sunset, north and south. Get more complex for older kids who would enjoy using a compass.

8. Stargaze. Wind down after a fun-filled day by finding a quiet spot away from lights for looking at the stars. Find and name your own constellations.

9. Bring the family pet. Take the family dog for a nature walk instead of the customary turn around the block!

10. Start a family photo contest. After the trip is over, look at photos as a group. Take a vote and award a grand prize for the winning image.

These ideas may sound old school to many adults today but that's the point of reconnecting with your family on a camping trip. If you don't pass these skills and traditions down to your kids, then they won't be able to pass them down to theirs. Share the history and the love.

Amy Raposo, owner of the Barrie KOA in Ontario, offers parents this advice from her own experience as a mother of three: "Kids love checklists. That's what I used to do with my kids when we packed for a camping trip. The older ones can phone ahead and find out what activities are available at the campground, then decide what should be on their checklists, like bicycles or outdoor equipment."

Source: KOA