12 Reasons Why You Should Take Your Kids RVing While They Are Young!

The RV Atlas Podcast
12 Reasons Why You Should Take Your Kids RVing While They Are Young!

We are big believers in taking your kids RVing while they are young–and we mean very young! Our 14 year old boys, Max and Theo, went on their first RV trip when they were right around 1 years old. Our youngest, Wes, who is 11 now, went on his first camping trip when he was 4 weeks old. Those trips were challenging. But they were also magical–and formative for our children.  Ten years ago we did a podcast called “The Family Road Trip, What’s in it for the Kids?” that really resonated with our audience at that time. That podcast eventually become a chapter in our book Where Should We Camp Next? Camping 101–which is excerpted in this blog post–just below.  We revisit that podcast in the podcast in the media player just above–and we add four more reasons whey we think you should take your young kids camping without waiting until they are older and more able.

The following excerpt was originally published in Where Should We Camp Next? Camping 101 in a chapter entitled “What’s in it for the Kids.”

We started camping when our oldest kids were 11 months old because of our dreams for the future. I can honestly say it wasn’t because we had some parenting vision that involved raising our boys in the woods. We loved travel. We loved road trips. And we wanted to keep having fun in spite of the drastic changes that happened as soon as our twin babies entered the picture. 

In hindsight, though, I feel so incredibly lucky that we bought that pop up camper. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was exactly the right decision to help us raise our kids according to values that have become very important to us as parents. 

Anyone that has kids knows that the early years can be like a fog. You emerge from those baby years a bit confused and disoriented, wondering what just happened. Well, as we left that baby stage behind us, we started to realize that our efforts were truly paying off. Even though it wasn’t entirely by design, we had managed to create a life that was encouraging our boys to grow in many areas that were very important to us, like patience, creativity, and curiosity. 

At the time, we felt that many of these traits were limited to our actually camping experience. I would see them engage in imaginative play at the campsite in ways that wouldn’t necessarily translate to our backyard. But over the years, I have been amazed to watch these traits translate to every area of their life, including academics and organized sports. 

So, yes, I am thankful that I have taken my children to Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, where the sun first strikes the eastern shores of the United States each morning. And I’m also grateful that they have stood next to some of the largest Redwood trees in the world on the California coast. But I am more grateful that we stumbled into this whole camping lifestyle when they were itty bitty babies, because their lives will be forever better because of it. 

I can now see that we have been giving our children the gifts of camping and I look forward to watching as they benefit for years to come. 

1. The Gift of Flexibility

As a new parent, I can admit that I was completely addicted to structure and routine. I don’t think that was a bad thing. I firmly believe it helped us avoid major breakdowns at key points in our journey. In fact, our commitment to the routine even while traveling probably made our trips much more enjoyable, even when the boys were babies. We would keep the same bedtime, nap time, and meal habits. That gave the boys a sense of familiarity and kept them from being overwhelmed by all the unknown factors that come along with travel.

Nevertheless, we were constantly introducing them to new environments. On one of our earliest family camping trips, we stayed at four different campgrounds over the course of 16 days. They had many familiar surroundings to help them feel secure (we actually traveled with their mini cribs in the pop up camper…crazy, we know), but they had to adapt their expectations for each new place. Some of the campgrounds had pools and playgrounds, and some didn’t. Over the years we have seen that they are now masters at getting the lay of the land in a new location. They don’t expect every place to be the same. They don’t need a pool to have fun. Camping has taught them how to find the best things about any new environment and embrace the fun, whether we are in the mountains or a lake or a beachside resort. 

I’ll never forget the time we traveled from a Jellystone Campground in Sioux Falls, North Dakota to Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park. Our kids went from swimming in a heated pool to scrambling up clay and volcanic rock formations in the space of 24 hours and didn’t even blink. I love that they know how to have a blast in a remarkable range of environments. 

2. The Gift of Sociability

Many people talk about how the American neighborhood has changed over the last few decades, and we personally found that to be true as young parents. Our friends and family were scattered across different cities and states, and we barely knew the people that lived on our block. 

When we started camping, we found that a lot of those traditional social interactions were alive and well at the campground. Folks sat out in their camp chairs waving to complete strangers who were walking by. It wasn’t unusual to start up a conversation with a couple and wind up enjoying a potluck dinner together the next night. Camping introduced us to a culture where people are open to meeting new folks and starting new friendships. In fact, we now camp throughout the year with at least 10 families that we met at various campgrounds. 

This has been great for us, but more importantly we now realize that it’s had a profound impact on our kids. Our boys will make new friends at a campground within hours of us pulling in. They have no problem striking up a conversation with some kids at the playground. I’ve seen them independently introduce themselves and ask where the other kids are from. They know how to organize a pick up game of tag in a split second. 

A couple of years ago these experiences ended up having a profound impact on our neighborhood at home. I had gotten sucked into the playdate culture, organizing social interactions for my kids throughout their childhood. But they had reached the age where I wanted them to develop some social independence. I told the boys that I was done being their social secretary. If they wanted to play, they were going to have to go to their friends’ houses, knock on the door, and ask if little Johnny could play. 

At first they resisted, but soon enough they mustered the courage to walk a couple of houses down and see if their friends could play. Two years later, I cannot believe the impact this has had on our neighborhood. I regularly have 12 or more kids playing in my backyard after school or riding bikes together around our loop of houses. They play manhunt across each other’s yard and race scooters down the hill. 

Max and Theo tell me that their friends at school, from the same town, think it’s crazy that all the kids in our neighborhood knock on each other’s doors every day after school and find out who can play. Apparently they all think that we live in a super fun area of town. I believe in my heart of hearts that we brought the campground back to our little slice of suburbia, and in a way transformed our kids’ childhood experience. 

3. The Gift of Imaginative Play

We know unscheduled, creative playtime is at risk for our kids. As much as we try to resist that, we get sucked into the busyness just like most other families out there. When we are at home, our boys are constantly asking us what the next exciting event is. Even when we attempt to have lazy, laid back Saturdays, the kids are asking for the schedule of activities by midmorning. 

Camping puts us in a different environment and helps our children shift modes. They intuitively head into the woods and find sticks for sword fights. They swing each other in the hammock. They build sand castles when we are beach camping and try to catch crayfish when we are near a stream.  Sticks, rocks, pickup games with kids at the campground. Even when there is a bounce pillow at the campground, they are having seat drop contest or playing Mother May I with other kids. 

Campsites with interesting natural features tend to really bring out our kids’ creativity. I’ll never forget one campsite in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. There was a giant rock to the side of the site, and our boys did nothing by play on that rock for four days straight. From that moment on I understood how camping could inspire my boys to be more creative people. 

4. The Gift of Physical Activity

Jeremy and I are naturally active people. Before the boys were born we were never the type to be bored on a day off from work. Between surfing, yoga, gardening, biking, and a million other hobbies, we kept ourselves busy. When kids came along, getting out of the house became more complicated, and we noticed that our activity level went way down. Even now that they are older, we still struggle to spend as much time outside as we should. Going for a walk on our local boardwalk sometimes feels like more work than it’s worth.  

There is no doubt that we have a more active lifestyle when we are camping and traveling. The boys wake up in the morning and are on their bikes before breakfast is even ready. I even notice that I walk the dog more when we are camping, since it’s so easy to just stroll around the campground. We’re more likely to look for nearby hiking spots or find a beautiful lake to launch the kayaks. The best part of this is that by the end of the day, the kids are completely worn out and fall asleep before their heads hit the pillow. 

5. The Gift of Patience

I didn’t grow up fishing, so when we started camping it was not part of our usual routine at the campground when the boys were babies. But campgrounds often have small catch and release ponds, so as they got older, the kids would regularly ask to fish. I’ll never forget the first time I watched my three year old sit for almost an hour, trying to catch a little sunfish. This was a kid who never stopped moving, yet he was willing to wait quietly for a fish to find his bait. 

The same thing happens on long car rides or challenging hikes. My boys are normally balls of energy that bounce from one thing to the next. So many parts of our camping life encourage them to wait patiently for the pay off.  

6. The Gift of Curiosity

As someone who loves learning new things, I’ve always wanted my kids to be curious people. I wanted them to know that there is a big, beautiful world outside and it’s worth exploring. I believe our camping trips helped establish that same curiosity in my children from a very young age. They know that the world outside of their own home is diverse. They know that different places will offer different types of adventures. I love that they are always excited to disover something new on our upcoming camping trips. 

We’ve heard this feedback from teachers over and over again throughout the years. The boys’ teachers always seem shocked at how diverse their knowledge is and how interested they are in thematic learning. I’m confident that’s a direct result of us teaching them about the Civil War while touring Charleston or about the lobster industry on a boat in Maine. 

7. The Gift of a Love for Nature 

A little while ago we were driving along the Wildlife loop in Badlands National Park, and we pulled the truck over to check out the prairie dog town. My boys were shocked and scandalized to find another family feeding pretzels to the animals. They went on and on about it for days. Didn’t they know it’s wrong to do that? Don’t they realize it harms the prairie dogs? 

Their regular exposure to nature and wildlife at state and national parks over the last decade has given the boys such a wealth of appreciation for the world around them. We never could have taught those same lessons from books or other media. They don’t just know the rules of the Leave No Trace philosophy. They also understand the purpose behind it. They know how overfishing affected the ocean waters of New England and how the natural world recovered from the eruption of Mount St. Helens. I’m so grateful that my kids are in awe of nature.

8. The Gift of a Family Narrative 

We had a lot of adventures when the boys were very young that we assumed they would never remember. That wasn’t the point at all. First of all, we wanted to have fun ourselves. Plus, we figured we were training them up as our little adventure buddies for the future. 

Well, it’s shocking to us how much our kids do actually remember about our adventures. Apparently a lot of these exciting moments have stuck. Of course we are always retelling the highlights of trips again and again throughout the years, but it’s also become a part of their identity. They think of themselves as explorers and travelers. They expect us to take them to epic destinations. And we are happy to deliver on that year after year.

To find out four more reasons why you should take your kids RVing while they are young–please click on the media player above–or subscribe to The RV Atlas wherever you get your favorite shows!


The RV Atlas Podcast
12 Reasons Why You Should Take Your Kids RVing While They Are Young!

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