Call of the Wild: 9 Valuable Tips for Camping with Kids

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Make your child’s first summer camping trip a revelatory one.

For city dwellers, this is the time of year when some campfire and starlight is an irresistible prospect.  Who doesn’t love the anticipation of packing the car with gear and food to set out on an adventure?  Well, if you have toddlers or a new baby, there is a right way and a wrong way to go camping.

We want our kids to get that epic dose of nature, be comfortable, and feel alive without the constant drum of traffic and stimulation of the screens.  So starting early is a good idea, but there are some things you might want to try as preparation for your family’s upcoming camping trip if they are new to the process.

  1. Try a dry run. Kids often love this prospect and it’s a good way to see if they will manage with being outside in a tent.  You can set one up in the backyard and let them hang out in it, set up their own sleeping bags, and give them flashlights for nighttime.  If we are talking about small children, you obviously want to stay in the tent with them.
  2. Put them in charge of their personal effects.  By giving your children a little task and a personal duffel, you help them contain their things and give them a job.  It makes them feel important and gets them in the habit of returning their things to the proper place. 
  3. Get them in on the preparation and explain what it’s going to be like to camp out.  Not only should the kids help, it’s also an easy way to inspire excitement.  Consider writing up a list of basic things everyone should pack for themselves that includes stuff like socks, extra shoes, underwear, toothbrush, etc.  Before you start to pack the car, just read off the list and everyone can check off the items.  It’s kind of like the army, but more fun.
  4. Do your homework and choose wisely.  For best results, assure your camping spot is kid-friendly.  Sometimes it can be hard to tell and your new “neighbors” might be up all night drinking beer and playing heavy metal.  The best way to ensure you find a park that is suitable is to call the on-site manager.  These folks usually live on the property and they can tell you what the expectations are. 
  5. Always look up the fire conditions and educate your family about the rules.  This is so crucial in hazard areas; often people don’t realize that their little bonfire is a potential forest fire.  Look up your location with the fire service and follow their guidelines.  Instruct your children about adult-only tools like lighters, coal, and lighter fluid.  Your dream vacation can quickly turn into a trip to the ER if the kids don’t understand about hot barbeque pits, hot lanterns, and other dangers.
  6. Bring friends.  One great strategy for taking your kids on their first camping trip is to go with another family.  It doubles the excitement and means there are more adult eyes on the kids.  This way, the grownups can take turns supervising, and everyone actually has a chance to relax. 
  7. Talk to everyone about the wildlife.  Depending on where you go, there may be all manner of fauna and flora, some of them dangerous, some of them harmless.  Don’t be that Yosemite tourist who painted honey on her husband’s face so a bear could lick it off.  True story!  Explain to everyone that the animals are in their habitat and all of you are visiting.  That means don’t feed, don’t approach, and don’t leave food or garbage around as an open invitation for raccoons. 
  8. Some essentials: Flashlights, DEET-free bug repellant, sunscreen, aloe, first aid kit, books or magazines, frisbees or paddleball, and heck, why not bring some glow sticks too?
  9. Remember to chill.  The best part of camping is…the nothing.  Don’t hyper-schedule, or the kids will miss the point about relaxing and being schedule-free.  Lounge by the water, read a good book, take a hike, and really revel in your leisure time.  Keep meals really basic; everything tastes better in the fresh air, and again, the kids can help with the food prep and the clean up.

It’s work, but if everyone does their part, no matter how small, your children will take to camping like fish to water.  Remember that the prep and organization is part of the fun, and remind everyone that they have to help out on the return as well.  These summer excursions are the ones kids remember throughout their lives, so do your best to make those memory glorious.