Three years ago we started doing overnight camping and backpacking trips with campers ages nine and up.
One of my counselors remarked after one overnight: “I want to be involved in all the campouts, as that is when the big learning happens.” It’s true. Having been a part of dozens of campouts with kids, I am always amazed at home many ‘firsts’ we have in each group, and how rich the whole experience is with learning and growth.
Two summers ago, we were camping out in survival shelters that the kids had made during our Wilderness skills week (this year called Forts & Forests). For one of our campers, it was her first time camping. Ever. She was so excited and nervous, arriving that afternoon with a giant smile, and an air mattress to match. We managed to wedge the air mattress into the shelter, and find just enough space for the other girls to create their nests too. We chatted and told silly stories at bedtime, bonding in a way that one only bonds through new and boundary pushing experiences. She slept like a baby through the night, and woke up with a deep love of camping and the outdoors. (She is returning to Santa Fe this summer to do the same camp this year!)
On our two-night backpacking trip last summer, we hiked from Santa Barbara campground, hauling heavy packs and enduring rain and weary muscles, some kids hoping all the work would be “worth it.”
I witnessed the layers of civilization peel away the farther we hiked. After a few miles, the chatter of video games disappeared as the kids attuned to the real world in front of them: birds chattering, the rushing river below, trees spiraling impossibly tall above us, and mountain weather shifting from sun to rain.
The rain was steady for the last hour of our hike. We donned our rain gear, checked in, and forged ahead. We worked together to cross a river and set up tarps to keep the rain off of us while we waited out the storm.
Sure enough, the clouds lifted shortly after our arrival and we were left with a glorious evening surrounded by tall peaks, misty clouds clinging to their flank.
These are the experiences our kids will remember from their childhood. The hardship of wet clothes and heavy packs followed by a beautiful sunset and an evening around the fire turns into a life experience that builds confidence and a belief in their ability to overcome challenges anywhere in life.
At the end of the trip we asked the kids, “What is the ideal amount of time spent in nature for you and your family?” Every single person expressed a desire to spend MORE time in nature. Here’s to more time in nature!!
And yes, the verdict was unanimous that the challenge of hauling heavy packs up the mountain trail was definitely “worth it.”