We’re a camping kind of family, it’s our preferred way to spend time outdoors.
We would go camping here and there just for family events for the first few years of our kid’s lives, but just last year we got really into it. We invested in a camper, good camping supplies, etc., and now it’s easy to get on the road and go when we want to!
Our camping supply list with kids was simple. It included (but was not limited to):
Good sleeping gear
Lots of water
Kid-sized camping chairs
Life jackets + water toys (if we ended up near water)
And what felt like the most crucial part of our packing at first? All of the tablets, TVs, cellphones, and extra electronics were left at home or in the truck for the duration of our camping trip. We were going camping as a family to spend time together and enjoy the outdoors, there was no room for electronics!
The first few camping trips were met with, “Can we watch a movie tonight?!” to which we replied, “No! We are camping! There is no Wi-Fi here, go play in the dirt and rocks!”
During the next few camping trips, they caught on that movies were not an option, but we found that right before bed they were wild, crazy, and overstimulated. Putting them to bed was a nightmare even though they were SO tired from the day.
At some point, I came across an Instagram Reel from @thegamereducator and it completely changed my outlook on why my kids were asking about screen time while camping. Watch it here:
The script is as follows:
“If you’re having a super fun day or outing or vacation with your kid and they look at you and say this, “Can I watch TV/ play video games later?”, remember what they really mean is this, “Can I rely on our routine today?”
The caption of the Instagram Reel has a whole slew of more information that I would strongly suggest reading and looking into if you’re curious for more information, as well as the Instagram account as a whole.
But after learning more from Ash, it made me realize that my kids are simply asking for a movie before bedtime while camping because a movie before bedtime is our routine at home. They’ve just had a really fun day packed full of entertainment and new experiences and what they are craving after a day like that is any sense of normalcy.
And upon further inspection of my kid’s behaviors, I realized after a long day of camping they were showing signs of overstimulation. But wait! We don’t have any screens while we’re camping, how can they be overstimulated?! The outdoors is supposed to be the fix-all of parenting! If we hike enough and spend all of our waking hours outside, our kids will have everything they need!
Spoiler alert: screens are not the only things causing overstimulation.
The sun is bright, the river water is cold, camping clothes feel different than our regular at-home relaxing clothes, food can taste different cooked over a campfire, and sand and dirt are in every nook and cranny. These are all different sensory inputs that can cause overstimulation when surrounded by them for extended periods when we’re not always used to them around us constantly.
The excitement of catching fish can be overstimulating.
The movement of the camper while walking around or the swishing of the tent in the wind can be overstimulating.
The unknown of what fun activity or game we’ll come up with for the day can be overstimulating.
The constant sound of the river running can be overstimulating.
Screens are not the only overstimulating device out there.
And after a long day of excitement, adventure, and exploring, my kids are looking for something to ground them, something they can count on, something to help them not feel so overstimulated. And do you know what that something is for them? A show before bed.
On our most recent camping trip, we packed along fully charged tablets and Nintendo Switch. The first evening we were there we ran around, rode bikes, explored the campground, and did some swimming. Before bed, we grabbed the tablet and watched a movie together. When it was time to sleep, all three kids went down easily, no complaints! I was in awe, but also thought it may have been a fluke.
On the second day, we had mandated quiet time after lunch for everyone and pulled out a tablet to watch a movie. After quiet time was over it gave us more energy to head outside and enjoy our time again. That evening we lasted outside much longer than normal.
Later in the evening, we had plans for one parent to take older kids swimming and one parent to stay back to put the baby to bed. I gave my 3-year-old the option, do you want to head back to the camper and play the Nintendo Switch or do you want to come swimming? His initial reaction was to head back and play the Switch! But upon more contemplation, he changed his mind and decided to go swimming. I think he realized that he only had one more evening of swimming but he knew he would have more time with the Switch at home because it’s part of our normal routine.
After a fun evening of swimming, we went back to camp and everyone joined in on a Mario Kart race on the Switch before bed. Everyone fell asleep without any fighting, yet again. The overstimulation seemed to be at a minimum.
Our camping trip was full of the outdoors, exploration, swimming, and taking in all that nature has to offer, and it was full of movies, TV shows, and video games.
And it was the best camping trip we’ve ever had, hands down.
So now in our camper, electronics are not banned. They have their own shelf space and their own place and time. We enjoy our time in the outdoors and we bring our electronics along. Believe it or not, our world hasn’t imploded yet by mixing the two! It really is beautiful how they don’t have to exist exclusively, but instead, they can coexist.
Do you bring your electronics on your outdoor adventures? What does it look like for you?