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The Homefront: Camping with kids isn’t ‘1-2-3 easy’ — but it is worth it

By D. Louise Brown - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Aug 9, 2022

D. Louise Brown

Several years ago, we decided we needed a backyard shed when we realized dried-up grass from the lawn mower would be tracked into the house no matter where we stored the mower in the garage. So we studied the classifieds for a nonexistent used shed that wasn’t full of holes and eventually found ourselves standing in the parking lot at the local big box store staring at new sheds for sale. The most intriguing selling point of the one we could afford was the claim that assembling it would be “Easy as 1-2-3!”

To this day, we still use that phrase, “Easy as 1-2-3!” when something turns out to be waaaay more difficult than promised. We had assumed that in three easy steps, a shed would appear. After three days of nonstop assembly, a shed began to take shape.

So when I recently received an email from Recreation.gov that touted “Camping Trips as Easy as 1-2-3!” I had to read more, not just because of our shed experience but also because of our own family camping experiences. In all the years we’ve gone camping with our kids, I would never, ever make such a claim.

To their credit, Recreation.gov broke the process into three “easy” steps: 1. Choose a destination and reserve a campsite; 2. Prepare and pack; and 3. Make it special and find teachable moments.

Right.

No. 1, “Choose a destination and reserve a campsite,” can be achieved mathematically. Factor in how many days you’ll be gone including travel time; add the available space in your vehicle for tents, tarps, sleeping bags and pads, cooking gear, coolers, camp chairs and enough clothing plus back-up clothing; subtract going to a water site since there’s not enough space left to bring any watercraft; and divide the vehicle’s seats among the number of children you have to transport. Your final total of camping site options will be manageably reduced.

The Recreation.gov list lacks the disclaimer that No. 2, “Prepare and pack,” will need to be broken down into multiple steps and lists. To their credit, they provide a sub-list from which a real list can begin to be created. Honestly, though, the best camping lists are the ones jotted down with a stubby pencil on the back of a discarded food box at camp. Keeping a list of everything that’s missing each time you go camping will eventually result in the best camping list ever. Laminate it, attach it to your Coleman stove, and you’ll finally be prepared. Just hope this occurs before the kids are all grown.

The Recreation.gov site also suggests first setting up everything in your back yard including tents, sleeping bags and pads, flashlights and camp chairs to get a feel for the experience. In the odd chance that the kids think that’s awesome enough, they’ll sleep on the ground that night and you’ll sleep in your bed. Is this coincidence or brilliance on Recreation.gov’s part?

No. 3, “Make it special and find teachable moments,” generated some guilt. In the 30-plus years we’ve taken our kids camping, we never intentionally set up “special, teachable moments.” I figured if we got them there, got an adequate camp site set up for them (including stuff to make s’mores), kept them from falling into the river or setting their clothes on fire, saved them from wandering off into the woods, fed them hearty meals, hauled them along on hikes, made sure they were warm enough in their sleeping bags and pointed their attention to the star-studded night sky, then their time was special enough. As a matter of fact, I still believe this.

In the flurry of this August month of “Summer’s almost over and we still haven’t gone camping!” Recreation.gov’s camping post is a good starting place for ideas.

Just ignore that “Easy as 1-2-3” part.

D. Louise Brown lives in Layton. She writes a biweekly column for the Standard-Examiner.

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