Families everywhere agree that camping is a wonderful way to spend time together. Spending time outside in a different environment is a great way to reset, both physically and emotionally. Additionally, camping requires teamwork, which is a healthy skill for kids to learn. It can be a challenge to set up a tent, carry all the water you need, and cook over a fire, but those challenges are opportunities for confidence-building. Being together outdoors is a way to have healthy, creative fun as a family. Ready to get started? Check out these sanity-saving ways to have fun and keep kids safe!
Maintaining Sanity When Camping With Kids
Like any family outing, camping requires flexibility and a willingness to adapt to the situation. With a little planning, it is easy to reduce some of the stress kids might feel when trying something new.
- Keep your camping trips short, especially if it is your first time camping with kids, and remember that it is okay to leave early!
- Talk with your kids about what will be the same and what will be different.
- What will be the same? We will be together; we will still eat breakfast, lunch and dinner; we will still brush our teeth and put on pajamas.
- What will be different? We will sleep in a tent; we will cook our food outside; we will have to walk from our tent to use the bathroom.
- Lots of reassurance from you and a positive attitude will help kids feel safe, which makes for a calmer experience.
- Choose kid-friendly campgrounds. Does it have a playground? Is there a swimming beach? Are the hiking trails level, or do they have big hills and steep cliffs? When selecting your campsite, take into consideration the location of the restrooms and showers. Will you have to walk a long distance with a child in the middle of the night? Avoiding a very long walk to the bathroom with a young child will help everyone feel calm and happy.
- Give kids opportunities to help, and occupy them when they can’t. Setting up the tent and packing up to go home are two of the most stressful times when camping. During these times, try handing over your phone and challenging kids to take photos of as many different leaves, flowers, or rocks as they can find. You can also assign kids simple chores, like filling water bottles or gathering kindling for the fire. Make a game of seeing who can pick up the most pieces of tiny garbage (like gum wrappers, twist ties, or food wrappers) around the campsite. Jobs like these give kids a sense of accomplishment, but they also make less work for you. As kids get older, they can help carry gear, set up their own tent, and even build the fire with adult supervision.
- Put interlocking foam squares on the floor of the tent. Interlocking foam squares are a durable, easy-to-clean way to protect the floor of your tent. They make the floor of the tent softer for everyone, and any spills that happen are a snap to clean up. Place a few squares outside the tent to act as a doormat, and encourage kids to leave their muddy shoes on the colored square of their choice. If shoes have their own ‘parking color,’ the inside of the tent stays cleaner!
- Try to keep kids on their regular sleep schedules to keep everyone happier. Bedtime and naptime can be a struggle when camping, since a tent during the day never gets very dark, and camping is so exciting that it can be hard to sleep! A long, scenic drive during the day might be the best way to help a child nap. Listening to an audiobook in the tent before bed is a comforting way to block out the noise of the campground, since kids’ bedtimes often occur before quiet hours begin. (Audiobooks are also a great way to occupy a child who wakes up early.)
- Bring more clothes than you think your child will need. With the dirt of outdoors, the sticky marshmallows, and the smoke of the campfire, camping is a messy business, and you will never regret having a few extra changes of clothes. A package of wet wipes will help to alleviate sticky hands, which is helpful when using the sink means taking a walk.
- Organize your packing. Packing cubes keep clothes organized, so when your child needs a clean shirt, you do not have to dig through the entire bag. If each family member has their own color packing cube, that makes for a tidy tent!
Keeping Kids Healthy and Safe at the Campground
Of course, kids are not just small adults; they have different needs. Make sure you are prepared to meet those needs when you are at the campground.
- Bring lots of snacks. Kids have smaller stomachs and need to eat more frequently than adults. Being outside also increases appetites! Low blood sugar is the enemy of families everywhere, since it causes kids to be irritable. Good choices include turkey sticks, string cheese, granola bars, yogurt tubes, or dried fruit.
- Bring a water bottle for each child, and keep it filled. Kids get dehydrated faster than adults, and being extra active and outdoors means they need to drink lots of water.
- Pack for the weather, and remember layers! Kids get chilled more easily than adults. A waterproof jacket will keep your child dry if it rains, but it can also provide warmth around the campfire at night, and it helps keep the bugs away when hiking. Kids can also wear pajamas under their clothes during the day for an extra layer of warmth.
- Kid-safe insect repellent is very important, especially in places with tick-borne illness. Make sure to use it according to the directions on the label.
- An above-ground fire ring is safer for kids, since young children can trip and fall into a fire at the ground level. Help kids make safe choices around the fire by modeling careful behavior when lighting and tending the fire. Letting kids roast their own food on a stick is a good way for them to experience the excitement of a fire in a safe way, and kids love the sense of accomplishment that comes from cooking their own food.
- Kids also have more sensitive skin than adults, and their skin needs protection from the sun. If applying sunscreen is a battle with your child, try this fun roll-on applicator. You can fill it with the sunscreen of your choice and let kids have fun applying it themselves.
Helping Kids Have Fun When Camping
Kids are naturally curious and love to explore new places. However, it is possible to hear those two terrible words – I’m bored! – in any environment. Here are some ideas for ways to help kids have fun when camping:
- An inexpensive plastic magnifying glass is one of the most interesting toys that a child can use outside. Encourage them to look at the veins of a leaf, the texture of the sand, or the petals of a flower. Ants and other insects are especially fascinating to watch! A small plastic container of pond water is also wonderful to observe with a magnifying glass.
- Hammocks are a cozy and fun place for kids to rest while camping. If you hang a hammock from a tree, make sure to use hammock straps to avoid damage to the bark of the tree.
- A butterfly net and a small bug cage can provide endless entertainment for kids. Have a contest to see who can catch the largest, smallest, loudest, or most unusual-looking insect!
- Have a nature scavenger hunt while hiking. How many colors of wildflowers can you find? Can you find a rock that is bigger than a car? Animal footprints? Find an acorn, a pinecone, or a branch that looks like a letter.
- If you sit very still, you are more likely to see wildlife. How many different bird songs can you hear? A pair of binoculars makes bird-watching and nature-spotting much more fun!
- It is always wise to plan for rainy weather. If packing up and going home is not an option, you will have to spend a lot of time inside the tent. A notebook and a box of crayons take up very little space in the bag, but can quickly become a camping journal, a guess-the-drawing game, or space for tic-tac-toe or dots and boxes.
- The One Word Game is very popular with young children. It helps to develop language and creativity, and it requires nothing more than your attention. Choose a person to begin and ask them to say a word. Take turns with everyone, each person adding one word to the story. This usually ends with laughter, and is a good activity for hiking, long car rides, or winding down in the tent at night.
- Kids love having their own headlamp to wear in the tent after dark, and it is also helpful for nighttime trips to the bathroom. You can also use it to make hand shadows in the tent at night before you go to sleep!
Camping With Kids is Challenging and Rewarding
Yes, it might rain, kids will get dirty, you might have some moments where you regret making a particular decision. However, the rewards of having family adventures far outweigh the challenges. Living outdoors for a day or two is exciting, and camping exposes kids to new sights, sounds, smells, and experiences.
Camping as a family creates amazing shared experiences. Sitting around a campfire together and telling jokes, taking a long hike through the quiet forest, and waking up to the sounds of birds singing in the trees above you are all great memories for kids to have. With just a little planning, the benefits of packing up and sharing a tent with your kids will far outweigh anything else that happens. Happy family camping!
Do you have a favorite memory of camping as a child? What is something you wish you brought with you when you went on your first camping trip with a child? Let us know!