CAMPING ON WHEELS: How a Vehicle Can Help Connect Your Kids with Nature

About the Author

Joe Laing is a California based travel expert who has been on the road working within the travel industry for more than 20 years. Joe has camped across the United States. He works with El Monte RV and is a regular contributor to RV Travel, KOA The Great Outdoors blog and National Parks Trail Talk blog, as well as a number of regional blogs.

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Whenever I encounter parents and caregivers who want to connect kids to nature, I have one piece of advice— go camping. Actually, I tell them to go RV camping. Let me explain why.

First of all, camping connects my kids to nature through their senses. The scents, sounds, and sights they discover while camping can be wildly different from those we’re surrounded by every day. You may live by a lake, but have your kids heard the crash of water over falls during the rainy season? Kids who live in the mountains have experienced alpine beauty, but they may not know the colors of desert wildflowers, the feel of granite smoothed by the ocean waves or the cry of hawks wheeling high above a prairie.

Scrambling up a mountain trail, discovering a bird’s nest or naming the creatures in a tide pool aren’t things most kids get to do every day. The freedom of camping close to nature, and throwing daily schedules out the window, is a gift every child should be given.

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The diversity of nature never fails to amaze my children when we camp outside their normal habitat. Letting their senses run wild through seeing, smelling, touching and sometimes even tasting their new environment has created a love for natural places. Recording those experiences with photographs and their own private travel journals can spark a lifetime of treasured memories.

Organized activities also pass an appreciation of natural places to our kids. Ranger-led programs at state and national parks often open the door to the secrets of nature that may escape a casual glance. Taking a night hike to discover constellations in skies unpolluted by light, learning about the forces that formed red rock canyons and hiking a mountainside in search of bighorn sheep are all free for national park visitors.

Junior Ranger programs specifically designed for young explorers let kids earn prizes for learning more about nature. Most state park websites also have a special page with interesting children activities. Check what’s available for youngsters where you camp; you might want to tag along!

But why RV camping? When I tell folks I’m connecting my kids to nature with RV camping, the responses range from “really?” to “tell me more.” For some, the idea of camping in anything other than a tent negates the chance to introduce children to nature. But a recreational vehicle—be it a pop-up camper, Class A motor home or something in between—is just that: a vehicle used to travel to the beautiful places while offering some of the comforts of home.

What we do once the RV is in place determines whether children learn the joys of nature or simply do what they always do but in a different place.

Sometimes it’s as simple as stepping out of the motor home and watching the sun rise over nearby peaks as we share breakfast. Other times it takes more work—striking out to find a trailhead or a windswept beach beyond the campground. But the point is that whatever we do, we are searching for nature and the ways it can engage our children for a lifetime.

With RV camping, my children also gain a sense of freedom that allows them to experience nature beyond their normal routines. Waking up in the forest, on a lakeshore or surrounded by ancient boulders is inspiring. Mix in a more relaxed schedule and adults who encourage them to explore and who knows what they will discover?

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Our kids develop a love of nature through us. When I’m eager to explore and experience the natural beauty of a place, it helps my children see that nature is something to be treasured, and not just from a distance. Planning and sharing RV camping trips to new environments is part of my legacy, a way to pass down my own love of nature in a way that engages the whole family.

Camping by RV can be the first step to opening a child’s eyes to the joys of nature. Before you take your next camping vacation, take the time to learn what outdoor experiences you can share together. It’s never too early to start building a legacy of loving natural places.

Photo(s) credit: El Monte RV


Additional Reading on the Benefits of Camping 

Our Family Camping Adventure: Do Families Get Closer Through Outdoor Experiences?

Survey Finds that More Minorities are Hiking and Camping

What Happened When We Took Homeless Youth On Their First Camping Trip

A PRIVILEGED WALK: A Natural Leader Takes on the Pacific Coast Trail

SPRING FORWARD! 12 Ways to Make Sure Your Kids (and You) Get the Right Dose of VITAMIN N this Spring — and Summer, Too

365 DAYS OF PARKS: A Family Trip to Every National Park, and a Discovery About Fairness

CHOOSE NATURE, TOGETHER: And Know When to Press Pause

Tips on Lowering the Carbon Footprint of RV Camping

USA Today: RVs With the Best Gas Mileage

How to Increase Fuel Mileage on RVs

Study Shows RV Vacations Leave Smaller Carbon Footprint than Fly/Drive/Hotel Vacations

Can an RV Be Green or Eco-Friendly?

Commentaries here and elsewhere on the C&NN website are offered
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  1. I love this! We have camped with our kids in a Trailmanor, a pop up that is totally hard-sided since they were infants. It isn’t luxurious glamping but it does allow us to travel to lots of great places! My kids also can and love to sleep in tents. But the camper has made it easier for us to spend nearly every weekend and every summer vacation in the woods, near a beach, or in another country. We love it and our kids crave it!

  2. The literal bottom line is that tent camping is the most affordable vacation option for my family. Actually this year, I had to forego our usual 7-10 day summer camping vacation, because I couldn’t afford to budget the gas for our regular vehicle (a Toyota 4Runner). Instead, we’re doing smaller local getaways to the beach and local hiking (we’re blessed to live in the mountains of San Diego County). Over the years, my kids (who are now teenagers) have grown to love tent camping–they’re now pros at helping set up our whole site, and sometimes help neighboring newbies. They love sitting next to the fire and cooking out, but we also have a super-awesome, stand-alone Coleman propane stove that they love to help cook on too. When we travelled up the coast of California last year and came back down through the Central Valley and Sequoia, we didn’t even set up a tent for half the nights. We were on the move daily exploring Hearst Castle, Big Sur, San Francisco, the Sacramento River Delta and stopping to preview colleges along the way. AND the weather was just so beautiful that it was perfect sleeping on a tarp with our sleeping pads under the stars!

  3. Joe,
    Thanks for a great article.
    To me any way we can get children and families out exploring nature is a big plus. It’s a continuum from just being outdoors in nature down to staying in a hotel in a great natural setting. The range being from no isolation from nature to lots of isolation. The wonderful news is though that all the way all the spectrum you are still experiencing nature
    I’m more of a tent guy myself for a three reasons:
    1. It’s more flexible. There are lots more places to camp that can’t accommodate an RV, even a small one.
    2. It’s much less expensive. You don’t even have to buy the gear, you can borrow from a friend or rent tents and sleeping bags from lots of camping stores including REI.
    I have looked at RVs though. Just last week I was looking online last week at a cool new pop-up called a Cricket. It’s an awesome solution, but at $25-30,000 it’s not in the budget for most of us (Yes you can also rent RVs for the short term, but the cost is still considerably higher.
    3. Most importantly for me personally, I just think in tent you can get closer to nature. I was just camping this past month in Glacier NP in Montana and Yoho NP in British Columbia. In the evenings I saw lots more families inside their RVs playing with gadgets than I did outside. that’s a time when I am out on a walk under the moonlight or roasting marshmallows over a campfire. In my tent on a nice evening there’s no need for a rain fly so I am lying in my sleeping bag looking up at the stars. Hard to beat that!
    All that being said- If an RV is what it takes to get your children out into nature, then by goodness do so.

  4. Thanks for the fantastic article! I’ve been looking up ways to bring more nature-based involvement into our regular routine ever since enrolling my kids at Harmony Learning, which has a nature-based learning location. After noticing the positive effect this style of teaching had on their attitudes and skills, I wanted to do all I could to make sure that they have the same kind of interactions at home. I think we may try regular backyard camping to see how the kids react before springing for an RV, but the point you brought up about introducing them to a foreign place with some of the comforts at home has me itching to try it already.


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