Be realistic with your expectations
You might have been dreaming about day trekking in that box canyon and scaling the rim for decades, constantly wondering what you could see from the very best. But if you have 4 and 9 year old kids along, this is very unlikely to happen… at least not in the way you had imagined! There are always rare exceptions, but keep in mind that children of all ages have both physical and psychological limitations to any activity. It’s hardly realistic to expect a 4 year old to possess the physical stamina to increase for 45 minutes, spend 2 hours scrambling up a canyon wall, be excited about looking around up high (for more than two minutes), then reverse the entire process. Most unprepared adults are hard pressed to achieve this adventure and develop a smiley disposition.
To give everybody a satisfactory experience, rather, try hiking into the box canyon and engaging your children natural urge to explore and learn. Whip out the binoculars and see who will find the most birds flying across the canyon wall. Do a little (well supervised) boulder hopping in the bottom of the canyon. See which one of you can find the most animal tracks, or the most interesting bugs, or butterflies (take pics on your smartphone, you can use these later to spark some more conversation). Give them a hypothetical question by asking them how they would climb to the top? Children of all ages love to research and problem solve, especially if it does not involve a pencil and paper, or the capacity for a failing grade. Oh yes, and bring a no cook snacks or lunch along. This approach applies to ALL ACTIVITIES. You will be less likely to come away with a sour taste in your mouth if you start with realistic expectations.
Engage your kids
No matter what the job is, there is some aspect of it that a child over the age of 3 can assist with. It is often easier to do everything yourself than it is to attempt to explain it to someone else… who may not do it how you asked anyway. The only problem with that type of thinking (and I’m guilty of doing it all of the time), is that it’s quite easy to become resentful of those around you. “Why go ___________(insert your favorite action here), I have to do everything myself anyway and don’t get to enjoy myself!” I understand that you’re fully capable of preparing dinner on your own, you have probably done it thousands of times. Rather, try having the children get out the plates and utensils, pouring drinks, root around the dry goods bag to discover the tortilla shells, and if age appropriate, slice up a few of the veggies to the tacos. Heck people, this is swimming, not gourmet dining! It doesn’t matter whether the diced tomatoes end up a uniform size. Your children are fully capable of some of the aforementioned tasks, leaving you to work the stove, smile appreciatively, and wonder why you didn’t think of this setup sooner. If you keep the tasks small enough when you ask for their help (and remember… realistic expectations), they will likely go out of their way to accomplish them.
Downtime… for everyone
I am not talking about graham crackers, hot milk, and everyone face back on the furry rug downtime; but if all that you and your kids are doing is go, Go, GO, no one is going to have a fantastic time camping. Any fond memories you’ve made are likely to be overshadowed by the shear fatigue that you feel when you get home. Yep. Plan in some downtime. Lazy time after lunch (after everybody helped clean up), when you and the children can do their own thing. Play quietly in the tent or camper, take a brief nap, or read a story. Hang out around the campfire, talk about the day, how you will make smores later, who discovered the coolest rock, or why crazy old uncle Mike tied that ridiculously large dead fish to his kayak for no apparent reason! It doesn’t really matter what you are talking about or doing, or NOT doing, so long as it isn’t a regimented, full concentration, I may die if I do not pay attention sort of task. Your kids have much shorter attention spans than you or I do (OK, just you!) , and if you give them a break every so often, you’re more likely to get along better, and also to be able to have a more enjoyable experience.
Downtime + participation + realistic expectations = MORE FUN!
Let’s face it, this is, after all, the point of going out camping in the first location. To have fun, make memories, and simply enjoy nature and each others company. You have seen these families in the movies, always so organized, so on point, so joyful, and they can do no wrong when they go camping. You can’t buy these experiences, nor are any of us likely to join a movie “family” in the not too distant future, but if we subscribe to some basic ideas, maybe we can come somewhat closer to a perfect? Come to think of it, making those memories along with your own children is probably far more satisfying. Skip that movie family… create your own unique memories.