WWOOFing Meets Camping Solo With Kids
By Ginny Figlar, KEEN Editorial Director
When I was a kid, I camped in the backyard with my sister in our New York City suburb. Despite being a stone’s throw from our bedroom, it still felt so magical, exciting, and a little spooky. Those nights are etched in my childhood memories of summer.
Now that I’m a mom, and I’ve since car camped and backpacked through Colorado mountains and New Zealand coastlines, I love the idea of sharing the magic of sleeping under the stars with my family — in the backyard and beyond. My husband doesn’t share this love, however, so it means camping solo with my kids.
Enter the best idea ever: combining camping with volunteering on a farm.
At KEEN, we get 40 hours of service leave every year to give back through volunteering. Last summer, I discovered how to turn this into a win-win-win for the community, me, and my kids: I used my volunteer hours to help out a youth education non-profit located on an organic farm in Ashland, Oregon. While I helped the Crest at Willow-Witt with marketing material and manual labor, my kids cared for baby goats, collected chicken eggs, and learned about life on an organic ranch, all while camping in a meadow within the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to WWOOFing (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms), even though the farm isn’t affiliated with the program and we paid for our campsite.
Thanks to KEEN, I’m now making this an annual volunteering trip. After my 8-year-old son begged to go back for 12 months straight, we brought our tent and KEEN masks for a socially distant camping/farming adventure this summer. We were the only ones at the remote campground the first two nights — a fact that did not sit well with my city kid. That first night, we watched a family of foxes leap across the meadow at dusk, and heard a “what was that?!” screech from an unknown creature (bigfoot?) in the middle of the night. Camping magic in full effect.
During my volunteer hours, I hiked to the middle of the wetland and removed the noxious weed Teasel, which takes over and crowds out native species. It was brought to the U.S. from Europe because the dried seed head was good for combing sheep’s wool. Meanwhile, my son milked goats, helped dig a ditch to fix a water leak from the natural spring, and enjoyed the hustle and bustle of farm chores. On my time off, I enjoyed yoga outside in the meadow with the camp host, Melanie (a much-needed COVID release!).
By the end of our four days, my son looked like a wild child, I felt zero stress and much healthier (my Polar watch tracked 30,000+ steps one day!), and the wetland looked noticeably less weedy. After thanking me numerous times for bringing him to this special place, my son cried for a good 30-60 minutes as we drove back to the city.
Solo camping definitely took both of us a little outside our comfort zones. But, just like those nights in the backyard, it also made our COVID summer a little more magical.
Tips for Camping Solo with Kids
Have a tent nightlight on hand. My son doesn’t like sleeping in the total dark. We picked up an inflatable solar lantern for the trip, which gave off the perfect amount of light on the lowest setting.
Consider glamping. All the joy of camping with less stuff to haul. Our first summer we camped in the farm’s wall tents with beds. This year we took the next step and brought our own tent and sleeping bags. Tipis, yurts, and camper vans all make for memorable adventures.
Do a practice run in the backyard. Not only does this give you a chance to get tent set-up down, and make sure you can do it on your own with help from little hands, it’ll also give you an idea of what could go wrong when you are farther from home (ie. I learned that nightlights are a must for us).
Let kids help pack the gear. When they know what bag or bin the flashlight or fleece sweater is in, it will help them feel more independent and confident.
Have a plan B. Outside is unpredictable, and so are kids. Think through the what-ifs and have some back-up plans. For example, research “emergency” lodging in the area or figure out a way to sleep in your vehicle with the windows cracked if needed. On that first night when my son was apprehensive, I told him we could always sleep in the car if he became too scared. I think knowing that he had an option made him feel more comfortable.
Happy Camper/Farmer Shoes