It’s that time of year – when we think “hey, let’s take the kids camping!”
I am not a stellar camper – I’ve probably camped a total of five times in my life. But I have this great urge to take my children camping this year. I have visions of a family focused adventure; hot dogs and s’mores by the fire, fishing and swimming in a lake, slow hikes through a beautiful wooded park. No electronics, no distractions. And I just know that my 7, 4, and 2 year old are going to love it too. Once they stop complaining about no video games, movies, and having to walk more than five feet, that is.
In preparation for this adventure, I interviewed a group of mothers who have years of “camping with kids” experience. I have collected their best advice and suggestions on how to reduce the stress and have a good time while camping with the kids. I now feel confident about our upcoming adventure.
1. Do a Trial Run
One thing all the moms agreed on was that it’s important to test the waters before you take the plunge. Pitch a tent in your back yard for an overnight camping trip. Or find a park that is close enough to home that if you really had to pack it all up in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning, you could do so.
2. Borrow as Much Gear as You Can
Camping equipment is expensive. Until you know that this is an activity that your family will want to repeat, don’t buy a bunch of gear. Find a friend with camping equipment (start with friends who have a son in Boy Scouts) and see if they have any items you can borrow for your trip.
3. Make Lists
You don’t want to forget the tent poles, bug spray, or swimming suits, so be sure to have a list and check it twice when packing. Love the Outdoors offers a comprehensive camping checklist.
4. Make Food Simple
Faith C., mom to two tweens who have been camping since they were toddlers, says this is a big part of not being overwhelmed while camping with little ones. Faith’s favorite easy camping recipe is “eggs in a bag.” She explained, “Eggs in a bag are a super simple way to have breakfast. You get good quality Ziploc bags, crack open the number of eggs you want into the bag, add cheese, bacon, sausage, peppers, onions etc. Boil in a pot. It turns out like an omelet!”
Other simple food ideas – hot dogs, taco salad in sandwich bags, and tinfoil meals. Stacey M., mother of seven and writer at Stacey’s Mothering Moments, says “S’mores may seem like a good idea until placed in the hands of children. Then they are just an ooey, gooey nightmare. And don’t EVER buy the gigantic roasting marshmallows. They may be great for grownups, but they are not so great for kiddos.” An alternative to that mess – graham crackers with Nutella and some mini marshmallows.
5. Air Mattress!
This was stressed by several of the mothers. Who cares if you feel wimpy, it will be difficult to enjoy your trip if no one sleeps. An air mattress or camping pad will make a world of difference in how much sleep you get.
6. Fight Off the Inevitable “I’m Bored” with Some Preplanned Activities
A few ideas of some ideas are: nature walks and hikes, scavenger hunt, start a collection of leaves or rocks, sing songs around the campfire, play with bubbles, tell stories, make an outdoor craft, I Spy, Bean Bag toss, horse shoes, etc. Make easy bird feeders with peanut butter and pine cones, and bird seed. Play tic-tac-toe in the dirt. The options are endless.
Stacey M., mother of seven, who actually takes all of her kids camping and has lived to tell about it, pointed out that extra socks are something no one thinks to bring until they realize they need them. Also, be sure to have plenty of wet wipes, hand sanitizers, bottled water, etc. Bring lots of gallon sized Ziploc bags. They are good for so many uses – food items you don’t want wet in a cooler, storing utensils and other items you want to keep away from flies, collecting items on nature walks, storing toiletries and more. It may get cold at night, so be sure to have sweatshirts and other warm gear.
8. Keep it Simple and Have Low Expectations
Just try to relax and enjoy yourselves. If the kids would rather play in the lake all day than take a nature hike, don’t fight it. If you’d rather eat hotdogs all weekend than do anything fancier, eat hot dogs! Go with the flow and enjoy your trip.
With the right attitude and a little bit of preparation, camping with children is not only do-able, but can actually be enjoyable. Fill your kids’ memory makers with fun and laughter, and everyone will have a great time. Unplug and enjoy each other with no distractions.
Do you have any additional suggestions for helping make a camping trip with small children a success?