June is Great Outdoors Month. And what a perfect month it is to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer! The weather is nice, school is out or coming to a close in most areas, and the outdoors beckons us like never before. Plus, the Great American Campout is this Saturday, June 23. So it’s exactly the right time to join in on the fun!
Camping, one of many outdoor activities, always brings back fond memories for me. Every summer without fail, my parents loaded up the van with food and drinks, along with my brothers and sisters and me, and we went to my grandparents’ cabin in Fall River, Kansas, at least once, if not several times throughout the summer. At the cabin, being outdoors was the name of the game. We went fishing, swimming, and boating at Fall River Lake; shot off fireworks in the large, open area behind the cabin; and spent most of the days and evenings outside playing with cousins and listening to the grown-ups relax and enjoy each other as well.
As we got older, we traded the cabin for tents – or other cabins – and enjoyed camping on our own at Fall River Lake, El Dorado State Park, and La Cygne Lake. Most recently, I enjoyed a peaceful solo trip to Glacier Lodge in Estes Park, Colorado, just a few miles from Rocky Mountain National Park. If you have never been to Colorado, I strongly encourage you to visit. It’s one of the best ways imaginable to embrace the beauty and serenity of the outside world.
So, let’s get to it. There’s more to learn in the outdoors.
Get to Know Your Surroundings
Whether you camp out in a tent, a camper, or a cabin or in your backyard, at the local lake, or in another state or country, camping holds a variety of learning opportunities. You can start simple by learning about the surrounding area: the terrain, the animals, the plants, and so forth. And your campsite doesn’t have to be an exotic location; you can find new things to learn right at home.
- What types of wildlife are present in the area? What do they eat? Are there any safety concerns?
- How many different birds are in the area? What are their migratory patterns?
- What types of native flora are present?
- What’s the weather like – temperature, forecast, and so on?
The Logistics of Camping
The act of planning the trip also affords learning opportunities. The logistics can make or break the experience. Plus, learning to think through a project or task from start to finish is a valuable skill.
Things to consider:
- How far is the campsite and how much fuel will it take to reach it?
- Tents take math. How many do you need? And how many people will a two- or four-man tent really hold? Do the numbers change if you add personal belongings and comforts such as air mattresses? How far out do the ropes need to be – and how many pounds of pressure do the stakes need – to ensure your tent won’t fly away with a breeze?
- Camp food is definitely part of the fun. So, how many meals are needed? At what rate does ice melt in a cooler and what does that mean for the food safety of your perishables? What’s the best (and safest) way to build a campfire? What is the perfect graham cracker-to-chocolate-to-marshmallow ratio for s’mores?
The Physics of Fishing
As a kid, one of my favorite camping pastimes was fishing. My dad taught my siblings and me to fish, and while some of us enjoyed it more than others, it was always a great way for us to communicate and just sit and enjoy the scenery.
Bait fishing isn’t quite as active as fly fishing. Still, bait fishing does involve physics to some degree. You have to know how far to cast (a talent I still don’t possess); how much weight, if any, to add to your line, depending on what type of fish you want; how much line to give a biting fish before you set the hook; and how much pressure to apply as you reel in your big catch.
On the other hand, fly fishing involves a skill I have yet to tap into. (To be fair, I haven’t tried yet either.) Those who fly fish use artificial “flies” instead of bait, and they constantly cast and recast, trying to make their fly appear real, hoping to lure fish to bite. The perfect fly fishing technique “is akin to pitching a cotton ball at major-league speeds” and “requires deft control of the body’s ability to impart momentum – the product of an object’s mass and velocity – to the rod and line” (“The Whip-Like Physics of Fly Fishing”). Fly fishing sounds a bit intimidating to me, but I am intrigued enough to try to learn. Perhaps on my next visit to Colorado. . . .
Shoring Up Those Social and Emotional Skills
Camping provides ample, inherent opportunities for learning and practicing those all-important social and emotional skills that serve us so well out in the real world. As one of 12 children, I used these skills on every camping trip we ever took. From learning how to share (space, time, toys, siblings, parents, and so on) to learning how to communicate and negotiate (“I’ll let you use the raft first if you let me use your favorite pole next time we go fishing.”) to knowing when I needed time alone (and how to get it), camping taught me how to navigate the world and people around me so I could fully enjoy both.
Of course, camping is just one of several outdoor activities that offers lots of hands-on, minds-on fun. How are you spending the remainder of Great Outdoors Month? For ideas, visit www.nps.gov. Then tell us what you did in the comments below!
Fall River Lake, KS
Kansas Wildlife, Parks & Tourism website
Glacier Lodge website
Estes Park website
“Feel Like You’re On Top of the World!”
“The Whip-Like Physics of Fly Fishing”
“Great Outdoors Month”