Even when you're out in the woods with your grown-up friends, camping can be challenging, so throwing a child into that mix might seem like crazy talk. If you're an avid camper and are worried that having a kid means nothing but trouble on the trail, don't despair! With some preparation, you don't have to sacrifice the fun to bring your little one along.
When you take your kids camping, they get to appreciate nature in a whole new way. A camping trip is a great opportunity to teach your kiddos about wildlife and conservation. They can encounter animals at close range, enjoy the serenity of a clear blue lake or perhaps see constellations in the sky for the first time. Not to mention, they'll enjoy some one-on-one time with mom and dad.
Your child might not be excited about camping at first. To get her jazzed about the experience, pick a location with interesting sights. Let her in on some of the planning, and show her how excited you are. Take her to the store when you're shopping for gear, and talk about all the cool wildlife you'll see on your camping trip.
Camping with kids is going to be a bit different from your usual camping trips, of course. Kids need supervision, especially when you're out in the woods, and they might not be as enthusiastic about camping as you are. Let's look at some ways you can keep them entertained and safe on your trip.
What to Bring When Camping with the Kids
Taking your kid on a camping trip is sort of like getting him ready for the first day of school. It's up to you to get him excited and make sure he has the tools he needs to succeed. In fact, he can use some of the same supplies for a camping trip as for the first day of school like a comfortable backpack, crayons, and snacks.
You don't want to overload your kid's backpack, since children already tire more easily on the trail than adults do, but let him pack a few activities, like binoculars and a nature coloring book. Bring one or two of his favorite toys to help him feel more comfortable at the campsite and keep him from getting bored.
Younger children require a bit more planning. If you're camping with an infant or toddler, bring a very comfortable baby backpack, since you'll be carrying him when you go on day hikes and a baby seat so he'll have somewhere comfortable to hang out when you're busy pitching the tent and making food [source: GORP].
For a child still in diapers, bring extra trash bags, since not all camp sites have bins. Don't forget to throw some spare diapers and plastic bags into your pack when you head away from the campsite for a day hike or afternoon by the lake.
You'll also need a comfortable tent that's easy to set up. When you have kids in tow you'll be glad to have the extra space and something that you can set up quickly. Kids are more sensitive to cold, so you need either a child-sized sleeping bag that's rated for below-freezing temperatures or a pair of sleeping bags that zip together, if you plan on co-sleeping on your camping trip [source: Oregonian].
Tips for Camping with Kids
Even if your child isn't afraid of the dark, a night light is a good idea. The woods are such a new experience, and she might get scared outdoors at night. Companies like Moon Jar make solar night lights that charge in the sun all day and give a soft light to your tent at night [source: Oregonian].
Keep an eye on your little one at all times, especially if she can walk, and don't let your child wander unattended even a short distance. Try investing in a pair of walkie-talkies for the trip. Not only will that give you more peace of mind, but you'll both have fun playing with it! What kid doesn't like saying "over and out?" Or, give your child a nice, loud whistle, just in case she wanders off and needs to help you locate her.
Just like any other outing, your kids might get cranky on a camping trip, but you can head them off at the pass! Bring a few big boxes of cereal, crackers, or their favorite snacks for when they get hungry between meals, and make sure you throw some snacks in your pack when you head out for day hikes. Be prepared to carry your kids, if you've planned a long hike. Their little legs get tired faster than ours do!
Keep kids entertained while you're camping with activities like a camera, supplies to make s'mores, and nature-themed coloring books. Bring books on bird-watching, woodland creatures, or even edible plants. Plan hikes and nature walks to cool destinations like waterfalls or landmarks.
At national parks, the park rangers sometimes organize activities like nature walks or presentations that can help your kid learn about the plants and wildlife in the area where you're camping. Check out the park's Web site to see what programs they offer.
The best way to make sure your kids don't get bored on a camping trip is to just plain stay busy. Wear them out with daytime fun, and they'll sleep like logs all night!
My husband and I recently began fostering a very sweet but very fearful dog named Jenna. Training a dog, especially a fearful one, is all about repetition, reward, and leading by example. When I was researching ways to get kids into camping, I couldn't help but notice that many of the tips for engaging and encouraging kids had a lot in common with tricks we were using to train Jenna!
Just like with Jenna, you want kids to be comfortable in this new environment. You can reward them with a treat or their favorite toy. Give them lots of praise, and let them take their cues from you. Of course, kids and pets are different but they both respond to love.
- Berkeley Parents Network. "High-altitude camping with an infant." October 26, 2010. (February 7, 2012) http://parents.berkeley.edu/advice/going/camping.html
- Brinson, Linda C. "5 Tips for Buying Family Camping Tents." TLC Family. (February 16, 2012) https://tlc.howstuffworks.com/family/5-tips-for-buying-family-camping-tents.htm
- GORP. "Outdoors with Kids." Foghorn Press. September 15, 2010. (February 7, 2012) http://www.gorp.com/hiking-guide/travel-ta-camping-hiking-fishing-paddling-sidwcmdev_055239.html
- The Oregonian. "Babes in the woods: Planning camping with kids." August 2, 2010. (February 7, 2012) http://www.oregonlive.com/outdoors/index.ssf/2010/07/babes_in_the_woods_planning_ca.html
- Peterson, Doug. "Camping with kids." REI. (February 7, 2012) http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/camping+kids.html
- Stephens, Brooke. "Parenting Tip: How young can babies go camping?" Adventure Parents. July 6, 2009. (February 7, 2012) http://www.adventureparents.com/blog/mom-chronicles/59-how-young-can-babies-go-camping.html