Going camping with children? Be prepared
Parents who plan to take their children camping have been camped out on my doorstep asking me what they can do to make sure their children stay safe and healthy when going into the woods — so let me see if I can pitch some information on this topic, which is easier for me than pitching a tent.
Plan ahead, especially if it’s your first time camping. A practice run in the yard or a few day trips may be useful to help you get used to issues such as navigating in the woods, dealing with bites and stings, recognizing plants like poison ivy, and how to avoid exposure to heat, cold, wind and water. Park rangers, guidebooks and friends who camp often can be great resources.
Bring proper clothing and equipment for you and your children for day and night, and all types of weather you may encounter. Make sure your children have hats, loose cotton clothing and lots of sunscreen if they are going to be in the sun. Good hiking shoes are essential to prevent blistering.
Teach your children how to recognize landmarks at the campsite and on the trail so they know what to do if they get lost and need to be led back to you by a responsible adult. Children should always be buddied with someone else and never leave the camping area or go hiking alone. The buddy system isn’t only fun — it’s the smart thing to do.
Teach children to remain calm and stay where they get lost. Giving them a whistle can help them identify themselves and make it easier for them to be found in the woods. Carrying a map or compass with you is also a necessity and not an option.
Clear the campsite of debris to make sure that broken glass and hazardous trash is out of reach of children. Make sure appropriate precautions are taken when cooking and in purifying water if necessary.
Bring extra supplies and food just in case. Foraging for berries and food on the trail can result in food poisoning and other illnesses.
Make sure you have a good first-aid kit that will cover common outdoor injuries, insect bites and, of course, poison ivy. Your health care professional can help you figure out what supplies you will need — although taking a first aid and a CPR course would be ideal before you go.
Have a good system of communication with the outside world especially if you are camping with a child. Let others know of your destination and your time of return. If a cellphone works where you are going to be camping, take it with you.
Hopefully, tips like these will blaze a trail of knowing what to do if you want to keep your family safe when camping this summer.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.