Camping is one of the best activities you can do as a family, but I will be the first to admit, it can be challenging. The younger those kids are, the even more challenging it can be.
With twin 4 year old boys, I have my hands full when camping, especially since it is usually just me and them. The wife and the daughter just haven’t caught the camping bug and probably never will. That is okay though, there is nothing wrong with a little guy time.
But how can you keep those youngsters entertained and safe? Here are some tricks that I have learned along the way.
1) Practice Makes Perfect
If this will be the first time that you go camping with your kids, practice , practice, practice. Work out all of the kinks at home, well in advance of your trip. This has a number of benefits for both you and them.
For you, it allows you to practice camp setup and become more proficient at it. Trust me, you do not want to be figuring out how to assemble tent poles while trying to keep an eye on little ones. Practice your campsite setup until you can do it without thinking or looking for directions.
For the kids, a trial run allows them to dip their feet in the camping waters with the security of home. They can get used to sleeping in something other than their bed and that oh so familiar room. If you are like most parents, you have taught your kids to thrive on repetition and routine. Camping takes them out of this world, so it is a good idea to get them used to things slowly.
2) Get Organized in Advance
Before you head off to the campground get organized. Make sure that you have everything that you need and that you know where to find it. Keep camp supplies organized into separate containers for ease of use. Have different containers for things such as cooking gear, first aid, toiletries, etc.
To make things easier on yourself, use clear totes to carry your gear or at least label everything correctly. Keeping your gear organized will give you more time to spend with your kids in the outdoors and it will make sure that you do not forget that one critical tool at home.
3) Bring Normal Kid Food
You might have done a lot of research about tasty and interesting camping meals that you can make or perhaps you have some nostalgic food that you would like the kids to try. If they are new to camping, forget all of that.
Instead, bring snacks and food that you know they will eat. They will already be in a strange place, don’t make things worse by giving them strange foods. Make a menu out of their normal diet and save the traditional camping foods for another time. if this means that your kids will be eating Spaghetti O’s, so be it.
4) Choose Your Location Carefully
In most states, you have a lot of options when it comes to campsites. When picking your destination, choose one that will work best for the kids, not just you. A weekend can seem like a week if you have bored kids on your hand.
For first time camp trips, it is best to stick to places close to home. This will cut down on the agitation of a long car ride so that your kids (and you) are in a much better mood when you arrive. It also gives you the option of aborting the trip if things go really bad.
Besides physical location, look for some activities that the kids will like to do. There are plenty of campsites with playgrounds, nature trails and other amenities that will help you pass the time. Get some input from your children about what they would like to do and plan accordingly.
5) Make Camping Safety A Priority
Camping is a great activity for families and children but there are dangers around. As a parent, it is your job to make your children aware of the dangers and to protect them from them.
First and foremost, you need to have a well stocked first aid kit. Think well beyond the basics, because when out on the woods, you may need more than a few Sesame Street bandaids. Check out this rather complete list of first aid supplies from REI.
Next, you need to make sure that your kids have boundaries to where they can and can not go. It is far too easy to wander off a bit too far and become disoriented. When you get to your campsite immediately identify the boundaries to your children and make sure that they understand. Also, teach them what to do if they do become lost in the woods. Namely, to stay put and call out for you.
Finally, come up with a good list of do’s and don’ts for your child. Things like Do drink plenty of water but Don’t eat anything they find. Do wear your shoes the entire time and Don’t play with adult camp tools. Review these items on the way to camp but don’t overwhelm your kids either. You want to keep the fun in camping.
6) Stay Flexible
You probably have an idea in your head about how things are going to go. There are things that you want to do and you might even have a rough schedule in mind as to what you want to do and when you want to do it.
When camping with kids, especially for the first time, you have to be prepared for the fact that things are not going to go the way you think. Be flexible and roll with the punches in order to keep things fun.
If the kids decide that they do not want to do something or an amenity at the campsite is not available, just let it go and move on to something else. Have some back up activities in mind or just let the kids do what they want to do. The last thing that you need is a rigid schedule.
7) Keep Things Familiar
Young children are creatures of habit and it is often the routine that keeps things going smoothly. If you have a schedule at home, stick to it in the woods. If bed time is at 9PM at home, there is no reason that kids should not go to sleep at 9PM when you are camping. Let the kids stay up as late as they want and everyone will be miserable the next day.
Also, try to bring some things from home to make it all seem familiar. Just bringing their pillows and blankets from home can go a long way to making them feel cozy and secure at night.
8) Layers Are Your Friend
The one thing that a hot kid and a cold kid have in common is that they are both cranky. Layers solves this problem, especially when camping in the Fall.
You really never know exactly what the weather will be like. You can look at the forecast and have a general idea, but it does not always work out.
You might fail to account for the cool breeze coming off or that cold front might stall leaving the area hotter and more humid than expected. The ability to adjust by simply adding or removing a layer could just save the day.