Camping For Christmas (And For Mama)

We love Christmas.  For our family it is truly a wonderful time of year.  As soon as Thanksgiving is over all the decorations come out.  The lights go up.  The tree gets decorated.  That Nativity is set up.  It is a fun filled time.  It is also a very busy time.  My wonderful wife who has been so busy with homeschooling the children now has even more on her plate.  She is a busy woman, and Christmas can add an overwhelming load to an already stressful schedule.  Is there something that we homeschool dads can do to help her out this time of year?

A number of years ago, I came up with an idea to get the kids out of the house and let my wife have some time alone to get ready for Christmas.  It is the first gift I give her every December.  My children also look forward to this tradition.  The first week of December means Yogi Bear Park and our annual Christmas campout.  Technically, it is called Jellystone Park, but because the theme is Yogi Bear, that has become what we call it.  Every year in early December, I pack up the van with all the children and we find a Jellystone park and spend several days in a tiny little cabin.  This is typically somewhere in the Texas Hill Country. 

Jumping Pillow at Jellystone – Kerrville, TX

Jellystone Parks are fun places for families.  They typically have a number of fun things to do at them.  There are playgrounds, jumping pillows, an arcade, laser tag and other activities.  You can buy bags of sand and take them to a place where the children can “pan for gold.”  We often find things to do outside the park as well.  Many times, we have visited Natural Bridge Caverns and their drive through safari park where we get to feed exotic animals.  Several times we have also visited Enchanted Rock State Park and hiked up the massive granite rock.  We have a grand old time just the children and me.  We also spend the evening with a campfire, grilling, making smores and playing games. 

Enchanted Rock – Fredericksberg, TX

While we are making memories, my wife is taking care of all those things she can’t get to when the children are home.  I am always thankful she has this time because I can tell when we get home, she is somewhat refreshed.  This is a way I can show love to my wife. 

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

Ephesians 5:28 ESV

It is also a time where I can work on some things with my children.  This year, I tried a new training method of teaching my children to look for ways to encourage one another and avoid being critical or ugly to each other. 

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.

Hebrews 10:24 ESV

I call it the Tic-Tac method.  I attached those little stick-on hooks to the console at the front of the van and hung small zip-lock bags on them.  Each child had their own bag.  I started the day with 3 Tic-Tacs in each bag.  Every time I heard one of them say something kind, or do something nice for their brother or sister, I would add another Tic-Tac to the bag.  If I heard them say or do something that was not very nice, I would take a Tic-Tac out and eat it myself.  When we got to the cabin, I hung the bags in the wall and continued the training.  At the end of each day I would let them eat whatever was in their bag. 

We also continued to do family worship.  We primarily focused on Christmas, singing Christmas hymns and reading the scriptures that pertain to Christmas time.  We had great discussion and prayed for things relating to Christmas. 

Stonehenge II – Kerrville, TX

If you have a lot of children this might sound like a difficult thing to do, but I promise it is worth it.  It can be very challenging managing 7 children it a tiny little cabin.  It is winter, so we don’t always have great weather this time of year.  There have been times where children have gotten sick on the trip and I was up with a sick baby in the night.  This year, our van decided not to start for a while which added a little extra stress to the situation.  However, it is still all worth it.  My children love this time with their Daddy.  It is also a tremendous blessing to my wife to have the time to herself.  We even get so see God work in ways that we might not get to see.  One of my children reminded us to pray about the van and it did eventually start back up. (Weird electrical issue.)  Our children are a gift and one day they will be gone.  This was our first year without our oldest who is in college.  The memories, however, build strong relationships and strengthen our family.  None of them will ever forget their Christmas camp outs with Daddy.  I am so grateful for the times we’ve had.

I hope you as a homeschool dad can find ways to support your wife and build your relationship with your children this time of year.  May you all find much joy in the celebration of our Savior this Christmas. 

Enjoy Your Children

For the last several months my fifteen-year-old son and I have been planning to take an over night canoe trip down the Colorado River in Texas.  Every time we have had a weekend that would work the river has been too high.  We have had a lot of rain.  This past weekend we were planning to go when something else came up.  We were supposed to drive to Oklahoma and pick up a friend.  We decided we could camp a night in the Ouachita Mountains instead.  Unfortunately, that fell through at the last minute.  We thought we could turn back to the canoe trip again, but the weather showed rain on Friday and high winds on Saturday.  That is not the kind of weather that makes a fun canoe trip. 

The view from our hike.

My son and I have been going on camping trips for years.  We both love spending time together around a campfire under the stars.  He was disappointed when everything fell through.  Saying a quick prayer, I asked the Lord for wisdom.  I took a quick look at Texas weather and saw that the rain was going to stay east of Garner State Park.  The only question was, would there be any open sites?  Even in the winter Garner is one of the most popular state parks in Texas, and the weather was looking pretty good.  I jumped on the Texas State Parks website and to my pleasant surprise there were plenty of sites available.  The next morning, we hit the road for the 4-and-a-half-hour drive to our destination west of San Antonio.

Garner State Park lies on the crystal-clear waters of the Frio River.  My son and I spent the afternoon hiking the hills, exploring caves, and skipping rocks across the cold clear waters.  The hymn, This is My Father’s World kept coming to mind as we looked at the beautiful scenery. After a sausage and chili dinner we sat around the camp fire and read a couple chapters in the Bible.  I am so thankful my son has developed a love for the Word of God and is happy to sit and discuss scripture. 

My son and I jumping rocks in the Frio River

To my surprise, the young man suddenly said, “Daddy, I am not a father, and this may not be my place, but there is something I want you to always tell other dads to do.”  This peaked my interest and I asked him to proceed.  My son said, “Remind fathers to enjoy their children.”  He went on to tell me how much spending time doing fun things, like camping, has meant so much to him.  He also pointed out an anecdotal example of another family we know that has 10 children with the youngest being 13.  Most of the children are adults now and all of them are professing Christians with good character.  They are also a joy to be around.  The father is a Godly man that has spent a lot of time with his children, going on fun adventures.  He contrasted this family with another who has had issues, and, in his opinion, he did not see the father spending much time doing things with his children that they enjoy.

I do believe my son’s observation is something important to consider.  While I am not advocating that a father turn his house into a circus of nothing but fun and games, it is very important to cultivate an atmosphere of joy in the home.  There must be a balance of discipline, character training, Biblical discipleship, and fun.  These focus areas are not mutually exclusive.  My son and I were able to have some serious discussion about defending his faith and standing up under trial.  Yet these serious matters go hand in hand with doing things we love to do. 

My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.

Proverbs 23:26 ESV

Children will always remember the fun times that had with their dad.  I believe enjoying time with a child is one of the most important tools in gaining their heart.  When they are enjoying time with their father, they are often more open to listen.  These are great moments when you have a unique opportunity to share the hope that is within you (1 Peter 3:15) with your own children. 

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

1 Peter 3:15 ESV

Dad – enjoy your children.  It won’t be long, and the opportunity will be gone.

I understand camping is not for everyone but consider how you might enjoy spending time with your children.  Here are some ideas.

  1. Family game night
  2. Taking a walk in a park
  3. Building something
  4. Have a tea party (Little girls love tea parties with Daddy) 
  5. Throwing a ball in the yard

Dads, lets enjoy our children and pray for the fruit of tender hearts toward you and toward our God.