How To Make Camping With Kids Easy
Camping With Kids Checklist
Kids need everything adults need - plus a few extras - to make the camping experience go off well.
- a junior tent (if old enough to be alone or enough siblings are sharing)
- their own flashlight
- their own bathroom bag
- their own sleeping pad and sleeping bag (borrowed is okay for the novice camper)
- a favorite item (a favorite toy or blanket for added security)
- a favorite food (marshmallows or hot dogs add to the fun!)
- a favorite game (keep it simple, like frisbee or jumprope)
Turn That Frown Upside Down!
What Makes Camping With Kids Hard?
When children aren't familiar with something, it can be a challenge for them - or for parents. It can be much easier for children to become familiar with camping and camp gear by allowing them to play with it ahead of time - at home! Children can set up the tent in the living room or back yard or even a spacious balcony and put their sleeping bag in it and have a good time. When kids get familiar with their gear, they feel more comfortable with it and will develop positive associations with it.
When kids don't feel comfortable, are nervous or anxious about an experience or the gear related to it, don't have time to get used to an idea that is new, this can lead to problems at the campground. The campsite is not the place for a kiddie meltdown. Avoid this potential nightmare by having the child become familiar with the gear and the experience.
The way I feel about camping with kids...
How To Make Kids Feel Good About Camping
- Set up a tent at home for kids to enjoy and develop positive feelings for.
- Borrow library books or buy e-books on camping (age appropriate books are best).
- Talk about what camping will include (mostly hanging out at the campsite, hiking, swimming or fishing, etc.)
- Talk about your own experiences as a child or adult camping in the past (if you have any) or watch a funny movie about camping.
- Have some positive time "shopping" for camping together - even if it's only to pick up the child's new flashlight for the trip.
- If the kids are teenagers, let them practice setting up the tent a few times at home (they can really save you the trouble at camp by being in charge of tent set up, while feeling like they are contributing in a more adult-like manner to the experience).
Find Things The Kids Will Enjoy
Keep Food Choices Simple
Choose foods the kids can help prepare or parents can prepare quickly. Here are a few ideas for quick at-camp meals:
- peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
- hot dogs
- chips and dip
- baby carrots and dip
- fresh fruit that won't go bad or bruise quickly (apples, oranges, banana, mellons)
- ready made snack-packs
- juice boxes
- milk boxes (ask a grocer if these are sold at your grocery store)
- canned pre-cooked foods (vienna sausages, ravioli, baked beans, etc.)
If boiling water isn't a problem, consider purchasing foods that only require boiled water to be added. Specialty food packages that are pre-cooked but dehydrated and need added water to reconstitute are sold in camping departments and outdoor stores. These range from scrambled eggs to ice cream!
Have a Job For Everyone In The Family
Even small children can help out at camp and it takes a group effort for camp to be set up quickly and without problems. Designate who sets up the tent, who hauls the wood to the fire ring, who brings food bags or boxes to the table and who puts the sleeping pads and sleeping bags in the tent once it is set up.
In our family, we have a dog, two teenagers (a boy, a girl), and one eight year old child (a girl) and one adult (me!). This is our normal breakdown for camp set up:
- Adult: food to the table and setting up the dog space and food/water
- Teens: set up tent and haul wood to the fire ring
- Child: sleeping pads and bags to the tent and crumbled paper for the base of the fire into the fire ring
- Dog: guard duty against mountain lions or thieving racoons
When we are done, we have food available, a happy dog, our beds and fire ring ready and all we have to do after that is have fun. We can set up our camp in 5-10 minutes. However, the first time took us 45 minutes of arguing and fighting with the tent. Like all things, practice makes perfect!
Some Campgrounds Have Child-Friendly Learning Centers
When Kids Resist, Make Sure There's Something In It For Them
When choosing a campsite, choose one that works for the kids. Some campgrounds have a few or even all of these choices:
- a playground
- a museum
- a learning center
- ranger led youth-centered activities
- short, flat hiking trails
- lakes, rivers, streams for swimming or fishing
- a group fire ring to hang out with other camping kids and make friends
- water spigots at each campsite (plug in water play sprinklers)
- weekend events (pow-wows, shows, or even movie nights)
- a huge amount of bird life (hand a child a camera so they can "catch" the birds!)
- paved roads for bike riding exploration
- volley ball areas
- on-site hot showers (everyone feels better when they're clean!)
Need a Checklist for Family Camping?
Camping Has No Age Range
I have camped with my newborns and breastfed. I have camped with teenagers who thought they couldn't live "unplugged." I have seen senior citizens twenty miles in the back-country (that's the wild - not a campsite) introduce their grandchildren to the great outdoors. Anyone can camp. There is no age range. The only requirement is to have fun!
Camping With Children Doesn't Have To Be Hard
The experience should be positive. If it's a first time, consider taking a one to two night trip to "get the feet wet." If it feels right, plan another longer trip for the next time. Some parents or grandparents prefer to camp at KOA for a first-time camping experience with children. Although KOA campsites are private run and charge nearly the same as a modest hotel would, there are amenities at them such as laundry facilities, an on-site store (for forgotten items), and a pool. This isn't considered "real" camping by most folks but it is a good way to get started for a newbie.