Running around camp with new friends. Building sand castles on the beach. Roasting marshmallows over the campfire.
Some of our best childhood memories are created in parks.
Before you pack your little ones into the car for your next family vacation, here are five conversations to make sure your trip is as safe as it is fun.
1. If you don’t know what it is, don’t touch it
Our goal is to explore the outdoors.
There are so many wonderful and mysterious things to discover: a furry caterpillar slowly climbing a tree, a shadowy snake slithering through the grass, colorful wildflowers nodding in the breeze.
Many of these creatures have their own defenses, some that are obvious and some that are not.
Teach your child to treat nature with respect. Pack an exploration kit to allow them to safely discover the world around them.
A basic nature exploration kit may include:
- to jar to keep specimens for observation
- tweezers or a brush to pick up tiny insects
- to net to catch things like toads or frogs
- to magnifying glass to take a closer look.
Remember to discuss the importance of placing all your discoveries where you found them so they can continue to play a role in the park’s ecosystems.
2. Don’t eat that!
Just as some wild animals have dangerous defenses, plants do too!
Teach your children that while berries and mushrooms growing in the park can look Like those found at your local supermarket, many are poisonous to humans and should not be eaten.
Some plants, such as Poison Ivy, can irritate our skin just by touching it.
You can learn about what plants to look for by talking to staff members or contacting the park before your trip. The easiest way to avoid any possible contact is to stay on marked trails and in campsites.
3. Where are you?
Once you’ve planned your trip, periodically ask the kids (and other adults) about their campsite number, the name of the campground, or even the name of the trail you plan to hike.
These details can help staff quickly reunite lost visitors with their families.
4. What to do if you get lost
One of the most important things you can teach your child before entering any natural area is to “hug a tree” if they get lost.
While children’s first instinct will be to try to find their way back, reassure them that people will start looking for them. It is important that they stay in one place so that they are easier to find.
A giant tree friend can make being alone a little less scary.
Practice choosing a “friend tree” and sitting under it when hiking on trails.
An inexpensive, easy-to-carry trail safety kit can be made by attaching a whistle with a swivel zip tie to a rolled-up orange trash bag with slits for head and arm holes.
Blow the whistle to call for help, while the garbage bag can keep them dry and serve as a colorful signal for searchers.
Remind children that the whistle should only be used in emergencies, such as calling 911.
5. Get to know the park staff.
One of our greatest resources at our parks is our dedicated staff! Take the time to show your children photos of uniformed staff, either on the Ontario Parks website or in person, and identify them as someone safe to turn to for help.
When you are at the park, stop by a staff member to introduce your child.
We’re always happy to meet young campers and exchange high fives!
Remind children that some staff members, such as maintenance staff or guards, may wear a different uniform, but they are always ready to help.