Growing up as a Camping Kid

Kath Heiman — 19 September 2019
Key milestones mark the development of any child, but for families that spend a lot of their time camping, these milestones take on a unique shape.

i wonder how other parents track their child’s development from infancy to the essence of the person that they will be for life. I expect that many of us share similar milestones. First words. First day at school. First time eating without fingers. First time wiping own back-side. 

And then, for those of us that spend time on the road, I reckon we probably share a range of additional developmental markers that draw directly from our chosen lifestyle.  

Consider these highlights, for example. First time helping set-up camp. First time lighting the campfire. First time roasting own marshmallow. First bush pee. First time helping daddy dig the rig off a sand dune. For our family unit, at least, other landmarks have been evident through the progression of our car games. 

‘I spy’ has been a stalwart of road trips since our daughter was a tiny tacker. When we started, these sessions were necessarily limited to those things that could be identified by colour. Not yet having an alphabet to draw from, our daughter picked out the things around her as “something that is…” blue, orange, red, and so on. We returned in kind.

During trips into the vast interior, many of the things spied were either blue or brown.  Rock, sand, sky, bushes, dune, sky, road, ute, sky…  Then, within the space of a single four-week road trip, letters started to form. Admittedly there was some frustration to start with — occasional missteps in spelling leaving everyone in the rig a bit confused. But competence and confidence soon grew. And, before long, letters replaced colours for all ‘I Spy’ games, and the range of possible things to ‘spy’ increased exponentially.

More recently, we’ve found ourselves in a perpetual game of onboard ‘Car Bingo’ or ‘Spotto’. You remember. That’s the game that requires you to spot vehicles of a pre-designated colour or model as you travel the highways and byways. Some may remember ‘Punch Buggy’ as a slightly violent variation on the game. 

In our family, we prefer to call this pastime ‘Car Dingo’ in homage to our Australian context — and also for the fact that our games require identification of yellow vehicles followed by the word ‘Dingo!’ exclaimed with gusto (Get it? Yellow car. Yellow dog). 

A yellow sedan: one point. A yellow motorcycle: two points. A yellow boat, kayak or dinghy: five points. Other obscure motorised things: whatever points our daughter’s largesse will permit. A yellow submarine: game over – you win.

The great thing about this game is the way it engages our young daughter’s numerical skills, judgement and memory. Addition is a constant feature of her gameplay as — undistracted by the demands of driving — our backseat operator cranks up the numbers in quick succession. Meanwhile subtraction is rife as we parents are denied vehicles on the basis of them being not yellow, but actually gold, tan, slime-toned or multi-coloured. 

It’s great to think that simple pastimes like ‘I Spy’, ‘Dingo’, ‘20 Questions’, and licence plate games can anchor such significant developmental milestones. And when you think about it, lots of things that we do in the outdoors are ripe for our kids’ achievement of key developmental areas essential to their healthy growth. Like: cognition, social and emotional development, speech and language development, fine motor skills and gross motor skills. 

Add-in a boost of endorphins from knocking around a campsite or careening around a beach, and a dose of self-confidence that kids get from being responsible for tasks on the road (like setting a fireplace). With so much potential, it’s not hard to see why initiatives like ‘Outdoor Classroom Day’ spring up globally in an effort to get more kids outdoors and to ensure that we adults put some much-needed priority back into their playtime.

But who needs just one designated day to focus on the benefits? With a sturdy 4WD and a camper trailer, we’re in the driving seat to chart our daughter’s developmental milestones from here to the other side of this Great Brown Land and back. So, what will it be? First overnight bushwalk? First time co-driver? First time flat tyre change? I don’t know yet. But I can’t wait to find out.


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