When it comes to doing anything out of the ordinary and unfamiliar, like survival backpacking (even just practice), as an older, more experienced person it is definitely easiest to do the work yourself , and occupy the children with something unimportant. This however is not what family is all about. As members of a family, we have a responsibility to one another. And as parents or older siblings that responsibility goes beyond helping and providing for their needs, it also includes training.
When I think back to when we began our backpacks, I remember being quite excited over all the new equipment and the potential adventure involved. Dad and Mom made sure to incorporate us all into the plans and preparation. They worked with us to set up our packs, entrusted us with preparation, (like waterproofing those 10lb. tents!), and encouraged us to read and learn about such things as would be important in survival situations. All in all we felt important and necessary to the plans, and we were eager to try out "our" equipment. We knew that we wouldn't be left out of the fun.
As each pack was assembled (and as we continue to upgrade), it was necessary to keep in mind the abilities of the individual. Many tools are important under certain circumstances but little children who don't know how to use them will gain no advantage from them regardless of their importance. A sheath knife, though essential for survival and carried by a number of us, would be not only dangerous but also impractical for Ammi who would be unable to handle one. By only packing items that the individual is able and knowledgeable in using, no unnecessary weight is carried. What they can't use others will have to provide for them. As skill improves, the items that go along with the skill are added to the pack. Thus very little children carry little packs with little more than their own clothes and adults carry more important and specialized equipment for themselves and the family.
Trial campouts are great opportunities to teach the younger ones new skills. Undoubtedly, it takes more time to get the job done if you are teaching the younger ones, but it not only gives them a sense of being needed but also prepares them to survive better and eventually be of help themselves. The best way to teach is always in real life situations, so when we teach fire building, we are making the fire to cook dinner. Together we gather wood, showing them how to find the dry pieces, together we break it into lengths and so on. They catch on fast and soon can take charge of the simpler tasks themselves. By working together, the environment is controlled and safe, the children are productive and out of trouble and they are learning important and useful skills. As their skill grows they get new tools for their pack.
Keeping the children occupied on these trips is extremely important. Fires, sticks, knives and the other things involved in camping can be dangerous to bored children who are trying to help but aren't haveing their excess energies channeled and supervised properly. Camping out takes a lot of time and doesn't leave much time for the children unless they are involved in the work all along.
When we were younger Dad and Mom had more difficulty, I'm sure, in supervising us all. Our campouts, up until recently, were more reliant on a vehicle and we didn't do so much "survival work". This cut back on the time required doing the necessary things because we could bring along luxury items like a portable stove if we wanted to and pre-made meals. So we could then spend more time playing games of Frisbee and the like. Our camp sites were of course near the road and were open areas so we could play near the campsite and not be underfoot or out of sight. Dad could make the meals with as much help as he could incorporate and still keep an eye on the rest of us.
As more of us became interested in backpacking, we started hiking to campsites, packing it all in and learning new skills. With a greater number of older children we can accomplish this successfully and involve the littler ones in all the new activities.
As life changes, so does our camping. Personal interests, age and skill levels modify our family's plans and camp activities but we always strive to incorporate everyone, making it fun for all. It's a big job but it's not really any different from that of normal life. It's just being family. Everyone is important, everyone has a job, and everyone knows what is expected of them. We all have fun together: using our equipment, sing around the campfire, sleeping in the crisp cool air, seeing new ground. Just breaking away from the regularity of our lives to do something different for a few days is enough to make camping out a time in our family's year to which we look forward.
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