“Sophia, what did you learn in school today?”
“Nothing, Dad,” answered my then-8-year old daughter. “It was school testing.”
There was something about the idea of kids stuck inside filling out Scantrons on a beautiful spring day that was horribly out of sync with my environmentalist-Eagle-Scout-nature-loving ethos.
The next day I called the school and took my daughter camping. Off we went to Montana de Oro State Park, where we had a great time hiking and camping for the rest of testing week.
Every year thereafter when school testing came around, we’d opt out and camp out instead. We went to different state parks each year. Some of our favorites were near San Diego: San Elijo State and South Carlsbad State beaches; and in the Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu Creek State Park, Leo Carrillo State Park, and Point Mugu State Park. We liked overnighting in Borrego Palm Canyon Campground in sprawling Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and in San Simeon State Park, located close to the colonies of elephant seals that so delight children.
When my son Daniel reached standardized testing age, he joined us; the kids particularly loved camping in the redwoods, even though it always seemed to be foggy or rainy. I continued to camp with Daniel after Sophia entered high school and it was no longer possible to extricate her from the exams.
I annually took my kids camping for 10 years during the testing period. They learned camp cookery, how to use a knife and hatchet, how to tie knots, and the names of lots of bugs, birds, plants, and animals. By day, we went hiking, cycling, and kayaking. At night, we talked around the campfire, sipped hot chocolate, and looked up at the twinkling stars.
It’s possible we might have had an equally good time camping out during official school holidays, but there was something extra special—and I suppose slightly subversive—about ditching the classroom for the great outdoors at that particular time. My advice to parents is to camp with your kids as often as possible and, if you choose to do so during school testing, your kids will love you and the experience all the more.
You certainly don’t need to bring children along to enjoy the camping experience; in fact, taking the time to overnight outdoors might just bring out the kid in you. In these crazy busy days, unplugging is a great way to get more connected—with yourself, friends and family, and the big, beautiful world not so far away.
When it comes to camping, I’m with Henry David Thoreau. “Simplify, simplify,” he wrote. Camping gives you the chance to slow down and focus on the simplest pleasures of life: sleeping in the most basic of shelters, making a fire, walking a trail, singing corny camp songs, and, of course, eating with a spork.
For more information about California hiking and author John McKinney, visit TheTrailmaster.com