Camp Kids

As you well know by now, we go camping. A lot. One of the elements of our adventures that helps things chug along is that I put my kids to work. I put them to work at home too, but that’s another post.

At any rate, we just rounded out a 5-week camping adventure covering 18 states, one Canadian Province, and over 6,000 miles as we journeyed from Geowoodstock to TBEX and back to Georgia. While I obviously have a ton to share about that, I thought I’d start with how Fred and George help out…or how I attempt to empower and engage my little campers-in-training. (Cue granola-mom cheer with pom-poms…)

Laying the groundwork…

To be frank, if I let them, they would totally slack off and not help at all…which they have been known to do when I’ve not enforced camp chores. I’ve pretty much always had them help in age-appropriate ways even if it’s something small or even if it’s just taking care of their own belongings. It just sets the precedent that they need to help. Of course when they were littler, their duties were shorter and simpler but as they’ve grown and their capabilities have improved, I’ve slowly upped the ante.

Why do they need to help?

Oh so many reasons but let’s hit the big ones:

They’re not whistling while they work but they are helping.

  • Pressure relief: If I’m doing every task, not only am I not going to enjoy the trip, I’m not going to have time to take them anywhere beyond camp. Might as well not even leave home.
  • Engagement: Working on projects together engages them and makes them pay attention to what’s going on around them. Eventually they even develop a sense of what their role is which leads to a grounded sense of self-worth.
  • Empowerment: All the “grown-up” jobs Fred and George are doing? Well, those are some mad skills they’re developing. Each new one they master let’s them build to the next step and eventually they’ll be self-reliant adults. I’m not interested in raising Boomerang Kids and these activities are life skills they can translate into all sorts of other arenas.
  • Paycheck: I buy my kids very little at this point in their young lives beyond the basics of food and clothing. They help out, they get paid, they get money to buy stuff. Pretty simple formula. And yes, attitude and quality of service effect their income.

Getting down to business…

So now that we’ve got the nebulous, why-making-my-kids-work-is-so-great stuff out of the way (and made myself sound like a total task-master of a mom!) let me put my pom-poms down and get real. (‘Cause you know that’s what we do here at Val in Real Life.)

In camp life, there’s always the initial entry surge of camp setup. If you’re rolling in late or hurrying to set up before bad weather hits you, time is of the essence so that’s when it’s particularly important to have a well-trained camping “pit crew.” This is also crucial if you’re the only adult which was almost the entirety of our last trip. Juggling camp duties, kids, dog…and still being able to enjoy yourself pretty much hinges on the worker bees pulling their weight.

The first order of business when entering camp is always getting the tent pitched and bedding in order. Shelter is king right? After we’ve settled on where to pitch the tent, that’s when Fred and George get to kick into high gear as helpers. They get to switch to low-gear once we’ve got our Home Sweet Home constructed.

In spite of his sourpuss face, George reports that helping with the poles is one of his preferred camp jobs.

Here’s just a short laundry list of camp chores we have just to give you an idea of the possibilities:

  1. Fetch little Gofers!: Fred is now tall enough (as tall as me in fact) to unload the roof box where we keep the tent, mats, and bags in transit. Before he was tall enough I would just toss everything down and let him take it from there. And by take it from there, I mean turning them into little “Go-Fers” and having them tote gear from car to tent. Sleeping bags and mats are light enough for even very little campers to handle. Fortunately my minions can now handle even our monster-sized tent, heavier chairs, etc. as well as unpack and repack them.
  2. Washing dishes: I still do the actual washing since their idea of “camp clean” is still well below mine. (Trust me, not pretty. We’re working on it.) They can however, rinse, set things out to dry, tote buckets, and help put things away.
  3. More Go-Fering: There is basically always something that can be fetched during the trip. Make use of your little helpers…it saves you more time and hassle than you can imagine. They eventually learn where things are kept so you don’t have to go through the painstaking instructions of where to find the item in question each time.
  4. Cooking: I haven’t set Fred and George loose on the camp stove or campfire just yet but trust me it’s coming. For now, they’re just my little assistants, honing their Gofer talents.
  5. Helping themselves: At the very least, I push them to take care of their own belongings and basic needs. The important part here is to set them up for success. They can’t get their own drinks or snacks if the food is inaccessible. So once we’re at camp, I keep the cooler and bins set up so they can manage it themselves.
  6. Give them a niche: I’m a fan of giving kid’s their own special job. Fred is typically the “Chair Dude” and George has become quite and expert bag and mat arranger. Once they find their niche, make it their job every time. Let them be the expert at their task. The caveat is that they will probably want to change things up at some point. Great time to train them on their next niche. George has now migrated into helping install tent poles.

But Val, my kids are toddlers…

Perfect! This is absolutely the best time to to get them started…when they actually get excited about helping and beam with pride at their accomplishments. Again, gauge your requests and expectations based on your kid’s abilities. Keep in mind, they might do it slowly (particularly the littler they are) and they might not do it exactly how you would do it, but give them the chance and don’t nit-pick. Give them a little help the first couple of tries to show them the ropes but after that, unless there’s a glaring problem, let them do it their way.

And yes, at any age, it is a process to establish a camp helper rhythm. That process requires time, patience, and consistency…the parenting trifecta if you can reach it.

Now for the rest of the story…

If I’ve portrayed our camp life as a paradise complete with kids whistling while they work, so sorry to mislead you. I’ve laid out the premise but I’m going to get even more real now.

Fred in action, helping roll up Big Agnes.

In truth, sometimes Fred and George blow me away with their cooperation. Fred even asked several times on our last trip if there was anything he could do to help. The fact that my jaw landed on my boots should tell you that’s not a regular occurrence. My thoughts range of course from “Is he feeling ok?” to “Whoa, I’ve got this parenting thing going on!”

More often though, they form The Resistance and I have to drag tasks out of them. They even like to vary the level of attitude so I never know what to expect. It’s a pre-teen conspiracy designed to test my sanity. If I can channel the depths of my granola mom self, we can usually work through it without too much gnashing of teeth. If I can’t, our trip doesn’t get off to a great start. The good news is that after the push to get camp set up, the bulk of the pressure is off and we can get to the funnest parts of camping.

The world according to Fred and George…

In the midst of writing this post, I asked them their thoughts on camp chores. They let loose with all sorts of disparaging comments on the horrors of my tyranny. Big surprise. (Side note: the teenage years are going to be a blast…)

What they don’t know is that their behavior is giving them away. They may protest but I see the sense of satisfaction and growing maturity that comes with being challenged. I see their abilities growing and the confidence that comes with it. I see that they don’t act as spoiled and self-centered when they’ve been a part of the process. So that’s the private little conspiracy I have to combat The Resistance! And as long as I don’t let on, all is good.

So what do you think? Do your kids help out at camp?

And now for your moment of green…

More help = less time setting up camp. Less time setting up camp = more time for what you came for… THIS.

Life is good. Free shipping and returns


  1. This is great–thanks for the list! Ours are 7 and 5 and are expert campers, but not expert helpers. The attitude and resistance is coming through now and we need to put them to work and have them own part of our camping. Especially since we camp A LOT. Thanks!!

    1. There’s definitely no status-quo with growing, changing kids around is there? Each age presents all sorts of new challenges… just to keep us on our toes no doubt! 😀

  2. I enjoy reading about your camping experiences with “Fred” and “George”. Thanks for posting….

    1. Well after all this camping, they are primed for some pool/video game/cousin time at Gma’s! They’re a little “camped” out…

      Oh, and don’t be too easy on them. I don’t want to have to retrain them when they get back. ;-D

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