Whether you’re thinking of going on your first trip, or you’re a veteran camping family, these 7 tips for camping with kids will come in handy!
Jay and I both grew up camping with our families and loved it, so when we started a family of our own, we knew we wanted to share with them the joys of sleeping in a tent, eating s’mores over a campfire and playing together more simply.
Our oldest was only 6 months old when we introduced her to camping life. We even braved a trip across the Pacific Ocean to spend a month of tent camping in Hawaii. Our kids were just 3, almost 2 and 8 months old. Best campsite on earth to breastfeed from. Most people said we were crazy and that it couldn’t be done. But we thought we’d be crazy not to.
Camping has now become a favourite holiday for our entire family and one we all look forward to every year.
In fact I just got back from a camping trip at Rathtrevor Campground with the three kids and just myself for 5 nights. If I can go camping with kids solo, you can do it too!
Here are six things we’ve learned along the way to help you out as you plan your tent camping holiday with young kids:
1. The whole family needs to role up their sleeves and chip in.
Whether it’s setting up the tent, cooking a meal or helping with the dishes, each child should have responsibilities while out in nature. There is always something they can do to be a part of the experience. I often say “we are all a team and working together so no one person will have all the work to do by themselves.” We share the load and have fun doing it.
Even when we camped with a 4 year old, he helped with the dishes and the 5 year old learned how to properly sweep out the tent. My 9 year old loves setting up everyone’s sleeping bags and pillows and everyone enjoys getting the poles ready for putting up the tent.
Find some jobs each child can have for each day or have a rotation of helping tasks. We rotate whose turn it is to wash dishes and feed the dog and everyone is responsible for keeping the campsite tidy.
2. Give “1st and 2nd breakfast” just like the Hobbits.
Green Point Campground, Pacific Rim, Vancouver Island (Tofino area)
This is especially useful for toddlers and preschoolers who find it harder to wait for a cooked breakfast of pancakes, bacon and eggs on a small coleman stove.
A small bowl of cereal first thing when they get out of the tent helps tie them over for the next 45 minutes it may take to make a proper breakfast.
3. Be prepared to be dirty. This really is part of the wonder of camping.
For some it takes a couple days to unwind from making sure everything is spotless and clean. Once you let go, you’ll see how freeing it truly is. For just this week, relax on the whole, “my kid needs to be germ-free” thing. Besides, it makes for some great pictures.
Don’t think you can afford a Hawaiian vacation? Think differently. Think camping.
I recently camped with a friend who brought just one sweatshirt for 11 days of tent camping. She commented on about the 5th day that her once dirty garment seemed to be cleaning itself as the toothpaste spill seemed to have disappeared on its own! HA!
4. On extended camping trips with kids, plan an afternoon siesta.
Whether the kids still nap or not, everyone of all ages will need some down time. We are past the napping age now, so we checkout a new chapter book from the library before our trip and spend about an hour laying on our sleeping bags reading. On our last trip, even the 6 year old fell asleep a couple of the days!
If reading a book isn’t your thing, play a quiet game, put together a puzzle or even sit on a picnic blanket in the woods with some quieter toys.
5. Roll back the clock at bedtime
We tend to push back bedtime an hour or even two when we’re sleeping in a tent. There are no blackout curtains while sleeping outside, so making sure everyone is good and tired before attempting blissful sleep will help immensely. I pull out our trusty chapter book once again to help further calm everyone down as I read by the light of my headlamp.
6. Choose a family friendly campground
I know it’s a no brainer, but it must be said. This truly can make or break your experience.
Every campground has its own feel to it and some will stand out as more catering to young families than others. No one wants to be laying in bed, trying to sleep with a rowdy group camping next to them at midnight drinking the night away. A few of the things we look for in family friendly campgrounds are a good playground, enforced quiet hours, staff who are friendly to kids, nature programs, clean bathrooms and bike friendly.
Rathtrevor Beach Campground, Vancouver Island (Parksville)
Recently we were at a family friendly campground and there was an unusual occurrence of a group of drunk campers carrying on into the night echoing over the whole campground. I was SO impressed when the next day they were given their eviction notice and gone mid-morning. Now that’s a committed Vancouver Island family friendly campground.
Do your homework and find a campground that truly caters to families and you won’t regret it.
7. Pack a tote of special activities for the kids.
Paints for rock and shell painting, cars for making trails in the dirt, books and stickers, you name it. Bring these activities for the afternoon downtime or in case of a rainy day, or for when you need to keep the kids busy while dinner is being made.
This list is not comprehensive by any means, but is meant to give you a good start.
A little extra planning and preparation on the front end when camping with kids will make for a more enjoyable experience for everyone. Family camping with kids provides those life long memories that they will cherish for a very long time. Have fun and happy camping!