Camping with Your Child Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

My hope is your family is able to unwind this summer on holiday. If you’re feeling unsettled about staying in a hotel during a pandemic, or you’re seeking the serenity of nature, perhaps this is the summer for a camping adventure!  

I will never forget our first camping experience as a family. We bundled up our only child (at the time), packed anything we thought would make our trip a tad easier with a baby, and off we went. It couldn’t be too bad, right? It could. She cried almost all night. Looking back, it’s likely because I over-bundled her—to this day she is no fan of the constricting feeling of multiple layers—and because she didn’t know where she was. Regardless, I felt terrible that her every wail was heard by our temporary, tent-dwelling neighbors. It was ten years before we camped again.  

So, why would I recommend camping?! 

Because, as Emily states in Outdoor Education for Kids Who Are Blind, “The public lands in our country are meant to be used by all of us, and there are no exceptions. As parents of kids who are blind and may have additional disabilities, we need to give our kids opportunities to access natural resources too.”  

And, as current avid campers, I’ve learned a bit since the first epic failure (and, let’s face it, because of it). As a TVI, an O&M specialist, and a mom, here’s what I’ve got: 

  • Start in the backyard. It’s wise to set up camp on your own land (or hey, in your living room) before using your equipment elsewhere. Your family can get used to the space and novel sleeping arrangement—and if it isn’t working, head back to bed! Camping in your yard also gives you the opportunity to ensure you have adequate gear for the climate. The next time you camp, venture farther, and your child who is blind or visually impaired will be familiar with the accommodations.   
  • Give your child the opportunity to explore your camping tools and gear. Before leaving town, invite your son or daughter to tactually investigate any new-to-them concepts/items: the gas stove and fire pit (while supervised and heat is off—of course), wood to be burned, tent poles, tarps, etc. You can encourage an older child to practice cooking using your camping equipment—providing an opportunity for your child to transfer safe cooking techniques in preparation for the big day. 
  • Enlist your child’s help in packing. Let them have a say in food, bedding, clothing (appropriate for weather), and activities. Depending on your child’s developmental stage, they can significantly contribute to the packing (taking responsibility for their belongings and planning/prepping for one meal) or simply making a few choices (between two bathing suit options and two snack options). The camping experience will feel less like it’s being done for or to your child, and more like an experience in which they’re participating. *Little note: Allow them to make mistakes. I direct my elementary age children to pack their backpacks with clothing and activities. Items were forgotten the first few occasions, but this has taught them the value of creating lists and double-checking important items before leaving.  
  • Organize personal effects and supplies. Organization and labeling are key to your child who is blind or visually impaired having independence in their daily life, whether at home or on vacation. Each item should have a designated storage space. Consider storage tools such as bins and totes, packing cubes in suitcases, toiletry bags with a variety of compartments, seat organizers for the car, etc. 
  • Orient your child to the campsite. Walk your plot and its border together and notice any landmarks or clues that will help them orient to the space (grass meeting gravel, a row of bushes along the back, the location of any electrical hookup, the sound of a nearby fountain, etc.). Locate the bathroom facility and become oriented to it as well. [Or bring your own “facility” with the use of a portable toilet (many types are available for camping) and a â€śpotty tent” It isn’t necessary, but its familiarity and proximity to your sleeping space may enable your children to use the toilet independently.] 
  • Set up your space. Your child who is blind or visually impaired can help set up their sleeping space, arrange belongings and equipment (such as folding table and chairs), and can help you decide where to keep cooking equipment and place a fire pit. A well-thought-out camping setup will help your child orient more easily, and the structure can be duplicated on further camping excursions.  
  • Consider any accommodations which will increase your child’s independence. Yes, there’s the cane, magnifier, flashlight (I suggest a headlamp, as it’s hands-free), talking compass, or other assistive technology, but you can also research additional camping-specific gear which may be beneficial to your family. You may find a privacy wind-blocker (here’s an example) surrounding a portion of your campsite a helpful tool for a young child; it will tactually mark where they can play. 

There sure is a lot to consider and pack for a camping trip! It may not be the easiest family getaway, but this COVID-friendly holiday can provide your family with unique memories and a (literal) breath of fresh air. Hence, ten years and much trial-and error-later, we love it. 

The following resources are valuable for planning outdoor fun: 

Outdoor Play Tips for Toddlers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired   

5 Reasons Why Recreation Is Important for Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired 

Three Things Parents Should Know About Recreation and Leisure   

9 Ways to Unwind This Summer as a Family with a Child Who Is Blind