My partner and I spend some of our Christmases on the road. When the kids were little, we’d drag them to some remote Queensland destination to camp by a waterhole, with a promise that Santa had an off-road sleigh and would figure it out. Now, it’s just us and we’re sharing the campgrounds with a new generation of families Christmas camping with kids.
But it’s not the same. Like us, they’re towing a comfy off-road camper (this old back isn’t built for tent life anymore) and they’ve got a full and fabulous Christmas dinner planned. But it wasn’t always like this. Our kids learned real life skills when we camped, but the modern lifestyle means that the next generation are at risk of missing out like so many other skills that have disappeared.
Here’s the top five skills you can teach your child this Christmas camping period.
How to build an open fire
If you’re in an area that permits it, teach your children how to safely build an open fire. Ideally, using flint, friction, or stones to generate a spark. Keeping warm is a fundamental life skill. While it’s not likely they’ll ever need to create a fire from a spark, if they do, it’s a life saver. Even if you’re using a lighter, teach kids how to construct a fire that will keep burning (airflow, materials etc) and how to contain a fire properly.
How to put up a tent
While your five-berth, luxury hybrid off road camper with kitchenette and ensuite is a perfectly suitable sleeping arrangement, teaching your kids to erect a tent is a skill that everyone should have. Not all tents are created equally and some of the more luxe versions these days require an engineering degree just to get them to stand. Teach them, step by step, how to choose good ground, how to lay out a tent, the order in which the poles should be placed, and how to secure it. Then, let them sleep in it. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, teach them how to build a shelter from scratch!
How to eat from the land
While it’s not recommended you let them chug down those random mushrooms they found, teaching them a little about what is edible in nature does more than give them survival skills. Learn how to spot a tasty Burdekin plum, Midyim berries (native white blueberries) or native raspberries – Australia’s got some amazing fruit that will ruin supermarket fruit for you forever. There’s no greater experience than catching your own fish, cleaning it yourself and putting it straight on the grill. The pride your child will feel at ‘feeding their family’ is a feeling that every child should experience.
How to perform basic first aid
It wouldn’t be a camping holiday without a minor injury. It’s all part of the experience. When your ten-year-old cuts open their foot after NOT listening to a word you said about wearing shoes, take the opportunity to explain exactly how to treat a cut to avoid infection. Teach them how to bandage a sprained ankle. You’re not just teaching them to use a bit of Dettol, you’re teaching them to keep a cool head in an emergency, to think through the risks and take swift and correct actions. This is something that older generations dealt with very well, as they lived in more dangerous times.
How to “do without”
One of the greatest meals of my life was a can of soup. Not even a particularly good one. Homestyle beef if I recall correctly. It was after a six-hour hike on Stradbroke Island, and I was ravenously hungry. I sat, eating my incredibly delicious soup, overlooking some of the most spectacular scenery Australia has to offer. Doing without should extend beyond screen time. Use your Christmas camping experience to teach them what’s important and what is not. Teach them to prioritise experience over creature comfort. It will change their outlook for life.
The actual life skills you’re sharing
While it’s unlikely your child will ever be in a situation where they must construct a shelter from branches, or light a fire with two rocks, the personal attributes that come from learning those skills are what makes all the difference. Sleeping in a tent makes you brave. Knowing what to do in an emergency makes you confident. Providing food for your family gives you pride. Being able to tolerate a little discomfort makes you resilient. And building a fire, well, that’s just heaps of fun.