Special Q&A with Helen Olsson, Author of The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids

Camping-with-kids-ophobes take heart – there’s a new book out to help make things easier. Travel writer Helen Olsson has just released The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids: How to Plan Memorable Family Adventures & Connect Kids to Nature (Roost Books, April 2012), sharing the lessons she’s learned over the years with camping with her family. Recreatingwithkids.com catches up with her for her thoughts on the project…


Camping in the great outdoors still remains one of the best ways for parents to teach their children about nature and have a great family vacations. In The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids, Olsson (www.maddogmom.com) — a contributor to the New York Times — guides parents to the different camping activities they can do with their children, from infants to teenagers, in an authoritative, humorous style. The book features everything from great camp recipes and outdoor arts and crafts, to nature-based activities, games and tips for motivating young hikers on the trail.
From planning your trip to choosing the right campground, Olsson’s offers first time campers a variety of fun ways to reconnect with nature and make a memorable family trip.

US $17.95 CAN $19.95, www.RoostBooks.com


What inspired you to write the book?
My inspiration was twofold. I’ve always loved to camp. My fondest memories are camping with my brothers and sisters as a kid and backpacking with my husband (pre-kids). I’ll never forget the time a family of skunks circumnavigated our campfire, walking literally under our feet. Now that I have kids of my own, I’ve become even more passionate about camping. We just love to get out in the woods, hike, smell the pines, roast marshmallows over a campfire, and fall asleep to the sound of crickets. It’s heaven for us.

I think it’s incredibly important—imperative, really—to get our kids unplugged from all the digital devices at their fingertips: smart phones, I-pads, and that infernal Wii. It scares me how engaged my kids are by screen time. I feel like it’s our duty to get them outside, in nature, and engaged in unstructured play. (I’m borrowing a page here from Richard Louv, whose message really resonates with me.) When we do get out there, the kids are happy, my husband and I get rejuvenated, and (sorry, this will sound clichéd, but it’s true) we really bond as a family unit. For us, camping is the best way to get outside with our kids.

What do you hope parents take away from it?
My book is filled with personal anecdotes that serve as cautionary tales. Like the time I brought a bag of dry black beans for a backpacking dinner. I hope other parents will be entertained, informed, and inspired at the same time. Camping with kids is a whole different ball of wax than stuffing a few necessities in a pack and heading off on a camping weekend with a pal. Kids make everything more complicated! So I’m hoping that my book will open the door for parents who feel a little overwhelmed by it all. At the same time, seasoned family campers will find lots of tips, tactics, and ideas. The book includes a chapter on nature-based camp arts & crafts and a recipe section (great ideas for new school s’mores, like the Chocolate Cherry Bomb).

What one thing will make the process easier for newbies?
Checklists! In my experience, you just can’t wing it on your gear pile when you’re camping with kids. If you do, you’ll forget something critical—like ketchup or diapers. Every chapter in the book has a checklist and there’s a complete packing checklist at the back of the book. (The List is also at my blog, www.maddogmom.com.)

Why is camping with kids so important?
Our kids get plenty of outdoor time with soccer, lacrosse, ski racing, and swimming, but what they really need is down time in nature. Unstructured, imaginative, outside playtime. They need to invent a paint brush out of a stick and a feathery bit of grass, to build fairy houses, or to hurl bombs at monsters (i.e., pine cones at boulders).

Do your kids actually like it?
We once planned a five-day canoe camping trip in Nebraska. When the kids found out we’d be away from our big screen TV that long, they freaked out. They started strategizing ways to bring the TV. (A really really long extension cord was the main feature of the plan.) When we got back, they called the trip “The Most Awesomest Adventure Ever). For a while, Nebraska was their favorite state. So, yes, my kids love to camp.

Have a few key pieces of advice to share?
Bring Earplugs. When you’re in the tent with the whole brood in such close quarters, there’s a whole lot of snuffling, snoring, gersmuzzling, and talking in the sleep that goes on. Not to mention the darn coyotes.

Pre-Crack Your Eggs: If you’re planning scrambled eggs, crack them into a wide-mouthed Nalgene at home, add milk and salt and pepper, give it a shake, and put it in the cooler. Then your egg carton won’t get all soggy from the cooler water.

Shake Your Tent: To get the dirt and dust out of your tent when you’re packing up, forget the whisk broom and dustpan. Instead, remove the rainfly, zip open the doors, and lift the whole enchilada overhead. Then shake the dirt right out the door.

Posted in: Camping, Hiking, How To, News

3 Responses
Special Q&A with Helen Olsson, Author of The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids

  1. jenna c. says:

    sounds like a great book! we love camping – but could always use some more tips to make it more fun.

  2. Pingback:Ten Tips for Hiking with Kids by Helen Olsson · Playful Learning

  3. Sounds like a great book. We take our six-year-old daughter to parks all the time – but we either do a day trip or stay in a cabin or hotel. Would love to try tent camping but we’ve avoided it so far because it seemed more complicated. We could use some tips. Love the pre-cracking eggs idea and long extension cord anecdote (funny:)

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