Camping Vs Electronic Devices

Redshoot Camping Park

A couple of weeks into the school holidays and come on admit it…how many of us have resorted to electronic babysitters?

Well, we have.

Not proud.

In fact, it raises that ever-present guilt that AGAIN we are failing at parenting to the high-level that seems to be required AT ALL TIMES these days. Whether it is the right amount of screen time, sports time, music time, learning time, playing with your friends time, cooking to a gourmet standard time, there is always something to think about and then feel guilty about because they’re not on the right Olympic pathway.

We are, however, passionate about getting the children outside and off electronic devices.

Now, let me just be clear: we are not one of those smug families that say, “Oh no, we don’t even own a TV, we are so wonderfully wholesome!” I mean, life without CBeebies would not be worth living on some days, frankly. We do have an iPad and obviously, the children love it. I mean REALLY love it. They would give their very souls for a whole day of square-eyed gazing at the pad of power. They would literally merge into the couch, oblivious to any other living thing and probably forget even to eat (well, that might be pushing it a bit.) And that is the problem – it just sucks them in and then sucks the very life out of them. They stop communicating other than the odd screech if the other dares to want a turn or if a nasty parent comes to persuade them to do something a little less mind-numbing.

Kids on phones
Why talk to each other when you can look at a screen?

To be honest, it is pretty much banned in our house now as we don’t really like our children when they are on or have been on it – they just become these whinging, whining empty vessels; devoid of imagination and drive. Pretty much like drug addicts which is exactly what they become…addicts! In fact, a study by Sigman looked into the increasing use of the term ‘addiction’ by physicians to describe children engaging with a variety of electronic devices in a “dependent, problematic manner.” They noted that children are more likely to develop a long-term problematic dependency on technology.

It’s that repetition of the word “problematic” that concerns me.

How have we got to the point where these amazing portals that unlock the whole world have become so “problematic?”

It comes back to screen time. Research published by  the Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, tracked the daily habits of 4,500 children who were then asked to carry out detailed cognition tests. They found that those engaging in more than two hours of screen time had worse results for working memory, processing speed, attention levels, language skills and executive function. All pretty fundamental areas really and scary reading for parents.

It leads us to think about the importance of getting the children outside, away from these hypnotic electronic devices, connecting back to nature and real things.

Camping does allow for “cold turkey.” The change of routine and location can allow children (and adults) to think about other things and kick their addiction into touch.

Think about it – in the morning, you awake to the sound of birds singing and breeze blowing rather than the stark electronic shout of your alarm and that sets the tone for the day. Stuart Lea-Swain of FootArt is an avid camper and agrees that, “You can’t beat waking up in the hills or countryside, listening to the sounds of birds singing, the fresh air and optimism of the day ahead.” This immediately connects you to your surroundings and make you want to stay outside and experience the things around you rather than retreating back to the “eyes down” position.

During the day, the children can set about exploring the play area or thrashing dad at tennis, paddling in the stream or tucking into a picnic. But most likely, they will be making new friends. Jo Smith at Stowford Farm Meadows has observed that “Classic camping memories stay with families forever.  At Stowford we love seeing families, couples, groups and pets coming back year after year and enjoying the great outdoors together. Some families are pitched next door to each other and end up keeping in touch for years – like old fashioned penpals!”

Kids enjoying camping at Stowford Farm Meadows
Enjoying life at Stowford Farm Meadows

At night, it’s time for lovely food around the campfire, games and something that might be tricky at first…talking to your family! The team at Bundle Beds are passionate about camping and enabling people to try outdoor living: “One of the reasons that we set up Bundle Beds was to get more people out and about and exploring, whether touring the world or just camping in the back garden.” They love camping for “the fresh air, for the amazing views, and our favourite bit, the campfires… the endless potential of feasts and treats to cook on them, the huddling around them as night draws in, and the simplicity of just being outside as the sun sets.”

Bundle Bed
Cosy in a Bundle Bed

Without the usual electronic devices, everyone is likely to sleep better at night as well. The usual recommendation is no screen time for 30 minutes prior to bedtime. Well, you can totally nail this one!

When you get back from your trip, rather than slipping back into the old routine, use some strategies from your new routine: Try eating your breakfast outside to set the tone for the day, organising a family game of kwik cricket, get the swingball out or try a boardgame when weather drives you back inside. Just try and break your children’s “crack” habit before they become monosyllabic teens, cos let’s face it, you’ve got no chance then!

Why not try one of these fab sites this season?

Stowford Farm Meadows

Petruth Paddocks Free Range Camping

Forest Glade Holiday Park

Red Shoot Camping Park

Haw Wood Farm

Stanley Villa Farm Camping

Deepdale Backpackers & Camping

References

  1. Sigman, A. Virtually addicted: why general practice must now confront screen dependency. British Journal of General Practice 2014; 64 (629): 610-611. DOI:https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp14X682597
  2. Walsh JE, Barnes JD et al. Associations between 24 hour movement behaviours and global cognition in US children: a cross-sectional observational study. The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, 2018, VOLUME 2, ISSUE 11, P783-791, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642(18)30278-5

Camping with Toddlers

Now, if you thought we were crazy to suggest camping with babies, you’re going to laugh your head off at this one! But before you shut us down, hear us out…camping with toddlers honestly can be done!

So, you’ve got through the baby stage…firstly well done! Maybe you chickened out of taking baby camping but are now thinking let’s give it a go? Or maybe you took baby and are ready for the next stage? Whatever your situation, let’s look at how to make your experience fabulous! (Or at least not a total disaster.)

Crawler/wobbler

The good news about this age is that they’re still very easy to transport hither and thither in carriers and pushchairs. This is important as at this age, they won’t be content to just stay in one place – so plan to take them out to tire them out in the fresh air as this can help that magical thing ‘the nap’ to take place.

They are still easy to contain within the tent when required and there should be considerably fewer things for them to injure themselves on…no electric socket and cables, no sharp edges of furniture, no ornaments to pull down, etc. So, you are less likely to follow them around frantically moving things. I would definitely invest in a carpet for your tent (check out those by Outdoor Revolution) as this would be nice and soft for them to crawl/roll about on. Bring a few of their own toys to play with – indoors and outdoors – the more entertaining for them and the less ‘bleepy’ for you the better.

Talking of outdoors, when they are outside, let them crawl. Don’t be afraid of the dirt. I know we live in a germ-obsessed society and are encouraged to clean up the slightest emission, but it really won’t hurt them. In fact, they need some of it to boost their immune systems. At the end of the day, chuck them in the shower/sink and marvel at the colour of the water that runs off them.

Good washing facilities at Petruth Paddocks Free Range Camping!

As for food, they will be on solids now. They will also probably be self-feeding and therefore onto finger food versions of your own meals. Obviously, this makes it easier for you in terms of packing, preparation and mess. If you are still feeding pureed or mashed food, you could bring some of your own from home (depending on the length of your stay and storage facilities), make some there or be a disgraceful parent and buy a jar. Obviously I’m joking – as long as you feed them, that’s all that really matters!

Running to the hills stage

I’m not talking about you as parents at this point, although you might often feel like doing just that. No, I’m talking about the point when your toddler develops a bit of strength and confidence in their movement and also the ability to make like Usain Bolt. I actually lost a lot of weight when my eldest reached this stage as at the same time he developed what appeared to be a hearing problem, but I later concluded that it was just ‘ignore mummy’ syndrome.

 

 

So, I spent a lot of my time retrieving him from places he shouldn’t be. To be honest, this is just the way it is so be smiley and apologetic to other campers as you fish little precious out from exploring their tent, toys, campfire, toilet but don’t panic too much about what they must think. If people have children they get it; if they haven’t, let’s face it…people that go camping are generally happy and slightly feral anyway!

 

Not my toy so it’s definitely better than mine.
None of these are mine either

To help your situation, take care to choose a campsite that will entertain your kids in the way that best suits them – whether that is wide open spaces, a playground, sandpit, a stream, petting animals, etc. Take what you can to entertain them toy-wise but do remember the small matter of packing! Maybe consider a trailer if it all gets too much! Venter Trailers UK

Now then…the toilet training thing.

If they are around this age, you will need to think carefully about this. If you have a camping trip planned, you will need to plan the timing of toilet training. You do not want to be halfway through as you commence your trip as it is likely to disrupt their progress and leave you in the land of wee and run out of clothes. So, either get your toddler fairly secure about it first or leave it until you get back. And even if they are secure, do pop a nappy on at night as you don’t want to be washing sleeping bags. It’s all about making your trip easier and fun…and wee everywhere is not fun!

 

On the plus side, “jungle wees” can be quite appealing to those mastering the art and camping lends itself to this. However, do be aware of this: our eldest was quite partial to a jungle wee and after we parked up along a busy road at Cheddar Gorge (which is lovely, by the way) for an “emergency” wee, from my vantage point in the Landy, I heard Daddy utter one or two naughty words followed up with “Oh God, we’re in trouble here, you’ve got to help quickly!” It became apparent that the jungle wee had turned into a jungle poo. Thank God for wipes is all I can say!

In summary:

  • Wear the kids out in the day to get the best night’s sleep possible.
  • Do not fear dirt.
  • Find a campsite that suits your children
  • Pack nearly everything you own.
  • Don’t let them do a jungle poo.
  • Remember not to expect perfection – this in itself will help your trip be a “perfect” family memory.