Camping with Kids
When you’re on an all adult camping trip, packing, setting up, and activities are more simplified. You know what to expect from yourself and your own needs, so you can fall into a routine that’s convenient and time-tested. When you add kids into the mixture, all of a sudden you’ve got five times the load to take with you and little rugrats to entertain and keep in line. It’s no easy feat, but it comes with the territory of being a parent in the outdoors, and it can be well-worth the effort.
Having a game plan is key to a successful trip to the wilderness with kids. You need to know what to pack—which is contingent on a lot of ‘what if’ scenarios, how to keep them occupied, and where to include them in the preparations and routine. Here’s a few tips on how to camp with kids, so you don’t get blindsided by the ‘what ifs.’
The ‘what ifs’ include all sorts of categories to your camping trip, such as first aid, extra clothing and what types, cleanliness and hygiene, food and drinks, and even campsite activities. You’ll want to write down a checklist of what you’ll need, from raincoats and wet wipes to coloring books and flashlights. It’s going to be a long list, so don’t panic when you start collecting multiple pages. When you’ve got your list checked off, large plastic storage tubs are great for packing your gear and marking them into categories. You can have a tub for first aid, another for clothes, one for food and drinks, cooking, washing and cleaning—the list goes on. Organizing your items will make them a lot easier to find and put away when you’re out in the woods.
Another important thing to remember is to include your kids in the planning and packing. You’ll have ultimate control over the checklist, but let your kids figure out items they want or need to take. They might have a favorite toy that they can’t sleep without, or snacks they would enjoy. Older kids can be more responsible for their individual packing and contribute more to the master checklist. It’s important to let your kids get a say in the packing, so they feel included and can gain some appreciation for the work that goes into it.
Setting Up the Campsite:
Once again, including your kids in the responsibilities is a great way to teach them the how’s and why’s, and they’ll enjoy being part of the progress. Younger kids can check flashlights and put small things away, while bigger kids can set up tents, tables, and chairs and build up the wood pile. This also gives you a chance to establish parameters, or better yet perimeters, around the campsite for where the kids can wonder while keeping in sight. You can use markers like tree stumps as borders, and warn kids of more dangerous areas to avoid, such as a wasp’s nest or a patch of poison ivy.
Another feature to include in setup is a washing station. Kids at whatever age are going to get dirty and sweaty. Keep containers ready with soap and water for muddy hands and feet, streaked faces, and if you’re out for more than a day trip, a body washing station is a good idea. Wet wipes are good short-term solutions, but they won’t cover everything. Some campsites offer shower stations and bathroom facilities, but many leave you to doing things the old-fashioned way. You can use a large tub as a bath for little kids, and keep washcloths and towels at the ready for scrubbing and drying. Keep a mat down on the ground, so that they don’t have to place their just-cleaned wet feet right in the dirt before drying them.
Splitting up chores is a great way to give kids something to do. Older kids can even wash dishes, gather firewood, and help with the cooking. But chores aren’t going to keep them happy or occupied for long, and that’s not the primary reason you’re out camping. Plan on hikes friendly for little legs, and be prepared to carry them at times. Swimming, spotting woodland creatures, and learning about nature with a field guide can all be fun and educational for the whole family. You can also bring a frisbee or football with you and get a game going for everyone by the campsite or in an open field.
Downtime is important with little kids. They can’t run around all day, so activities at the campsite are necessary for when they need to slow down. Board games and card games are great, while story books and activity books will keep them subdued, as well. Let’s not forget things you can do around the campfire, such as making s’mores—always a classic, and telling stories. If you’ve got a musical streak running in the family, you can throw some singalongs into the mix.
Sleeping in the Tent:
A good way to prepare your kids for sleeping out in the wilderness is to start at home. Set up your tent in the family room and let them sleep in it before going camping, so they can get used to the environment. To grow accustomed to night sounds, take them on an overnight trip in your own backyard. Kids will be less spooked by the nocturnal noises if you give them a chance to adjust. It also gives them the fun opportunity to use their sleeping bags and flashlights in advance, which adds to the appeal of camping for them.
When you’re settling in for the night on your camping trip, you might need to bring extra comforts for your kids, such as a source of light so it’s not pitch dark in the tent. Using a flashlight all night will wear down the batteries. Try using glow sticks in the pockets of the tent. Just crack them and they’ll give you hours of soft light so your kids can relax and not worry as much about the nighttime nature sounds. You can also use glow sticks and glow necklaces on your kids at night to help keep track of them. Glow devices come in an assortment of colors, and you can assign a different color to each child.
Your number one goal for a family campout is to have fun. Being prepared for the ‘what ifs’ and keeping your kids involved will make it a safer and more enjoyable experience for everyone, and it gives you the time to fit in all your memorable moments and activities. Your children can learn about the plants and animals and how to appreciate nature, and everyone gets to take in a great weekend of growing and bonding.