How To Have Fun Camping With Kids
When you go camping with kids
Camping with kids can be a lot of fun for the entire family, but only if the needs of the children are kept in mind. Mom and Dad can enjoy the trip, but not if the kids are bored, or scared, or just want to go home.
Camping trips with kids can be a trial the first few times but really can develop into something the entire family looks forward to. There is little to compare it with when it comes to quality family time; there is just the family without all the interruptions and friends of home.
From a long time camper (30 years of camping with kids and grandkids) here are some tips and ideas on how to have family fun when camping with kids.
Camping homes come in many styles
Camping styles and kids
There are many, many styles of camping ranging from a tent (or just a sleeping bag) in the wilderness to a mini - house on wheels in an expensive private "campground" with more amenities than most people have at home.
Most smaller children seem to enjoy simple tent camping the most; it is very different than sleeping in a bed and therefore exciting. Of course, they don't have to worry about cooking or cleaning the sand out of the beds - Mom and Dad do that. This is fortunate as most young families with small children won't own a large motorhome in any case. This is not to say that even small children won't enjoy a weekend out of doors while sleeping in a camping trailer or motorhome, however, and Mom and Dad may well be much more comfortable with such camping gear. About the only thing not recommended for families with small children is a camping adventure under the stars with no shelter at all.
Whatever your home away from home is, make every effort to keep children comfortable and safe. It is one thing to have a 5 year old exploring a trailer in the middle of the night and quite another to have him sneak out of the tent and wander off through the woods. Some sleeping arrangement must be made to prevent this; don't let small children have their own tent! Make sure that adequate sleeping arrangements are made; while children will sleep well on little more than a thick blanket or sleeping bag they need to be warm and feel safe.
It's time to eat!
Meals are important when camping, and perhaps doubly so when camping with kids. Meals must be found that your children will like but can be produced outside the home. A very good option here is a portable gas grill; even if you have a trailer with a stove and microwave it is still nice to cook outdoors and the kids have probably never seen bacon and eggs cooked on a gas grill!
Simple sandwiches can make a good lunch, and even smaller children can help out here making sandwiches; when camping everyone pitches in and helps, even the kids. They will often enjoy helping out and it improves the experience for them.
Snacks are a necessity; running and playing all day long can build quite an appetite. Again, find something that the kids will enjoy - Mom and Dad can have something else if they wish. High energy snacks are probably best as there is a lot of exploring to do!
Dinnertime is perhaps another chance for something new. Little Susie will be thrilled to cook her own hot dog (with a little help) on a stick over the fire. New and different = exciting and fun! Fancy meals are certainly not necessary when camping, but enough to eat is - take extra just in case.
Later on, of course, marshmallows or s'mores (a sandwich of toasted marshmallow, chocolate square and graham cracker "bread") are a necessity around the campfire. Camping kids will love it! A little care here, though, kids have a fascination with fire and can easily get hurt or cause a major forest fire.
Camping activities for kids
Activities are important for kids when camping. Mom and Dad can't expect to sit in the camping chairs all day and watch the kids play - it is a family time and all will be happier when the family plays together at least some of the time.
Leave the gameboys, the TV's, and the cell phones at home - you won't need them. The object is not to have Dad read a book, the teenager text on the phone and the youngster play their electronic games. The object is to do something different; something that you can't or don't do at home.
Take the kids on a hike, perhaps with some binoculars. Look for animal tracks. Collect pine cones or tree leaves for pressing. Carry a bird watching guide with the binoculars; older children may be interested in the avian wildlife. Look for funny twisted trees. Watch the fish swim in the creek. There is much to do on a hike for all ages, just be careful not to overdo it. A 3 year old can't walk far, but she can certainly enjoy the opportunity to walk with Mom and is interested in everything.
A board game might be the ticket later in the day - parents can "rest" while playing with the kids. A game of Laddergolf might be in order; easy to make and play this game is just the ticket for a family camping trip.
Fishing is always a favorite when camping; teach the kids to fish for trout or bass. They may not have the patience necessary at first, but also may learn to love the sport.
If camping in a campground, check out the activities. Even state and federal campgrounds often have a ranger show that kids often find interesting and some go far beyond that. Bruneau Dunes campground in Idaho contains an astronomical observatory that is available to the public on weekends.
If a large group is camping together a game of baseball or volleyball is a great activity that all but the very youngest can participate in.
There a thousand things to do when camping with kids; don't let the opportunity for some truly quality time with your kids pass by.
As night falls
As night falls camping takes on a different tone. Camping with kids in the daytime can be a frenzy of activity as kids want to be busy and entertained constantly, but night brings a more peaceful period.
More family games may be in order, but gathering around a campfire is always a favorite. Perhaps a parent can read from a book that the children enjoy. Quiet conversation will occupy older children while younger ones simply rest and listen. It has been a busy day and the little ones are generally quiet now.
Another snack is likely in order and the toasted marshmallows and s'mores mentioned above will always please the kids. Don't overdo it here; marshmallows are nearly pure sugar and bedtime is fast approaching for the smallest ones.
One word of caution; ghost stories are a stereotype for campfires, but don't! Younger children will likely not sleep and such tales can bother even older teens (although they would never admit such a thing). A good night's sleep is necessary for tomorrow's activities, not laying awake all night listening for the crack of a branch or the hoot of an owl.
Make sure that all use the bathroom before retiring for the night; traipsing through through cold dark woods to find the potty is not much fun at midnight!
Camping is enjoyable to many millions of people, and the truly quality family time that camping with kids can provide is incomparable. Parents can learn from their children as they explore and learn themselves. They can teach the kids both about nature and valuable lifelong lessons on a camping trip. Not every trip will be wonderful - it may rain an entire weekend. A bee sting or a fall into a cold creek may ruin the experience for a day. Overall, though, camping is great fun and a wonderful way to be a family rather than a group of individuals.
It is an activity that all ages, from toddlers barely able to walk to grandparents, can enjoy. If you have never taken your kids camping give it a try.
© 2011 Dan Harmon
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