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Camping with Children: Tips for Making Your Family Camping Trip Fun and Safe

Updated on May 25, 2015
Pictures taken on several camping trips enjoyed over the years.
Pictures taken on several camping trips enjoyed over the years. | Source

Family camping is an incredible experience

Camping with children adds both thrills and complications to the tenting experience. Seeing nature through our kids' eyes, teaching them about the outdoors, and sharing the excitement of sleeping in a tent are some of the joys we seek from family camping.

What we don't always anticipate is the amount of work and stress involved. Just keeping an eye on younger children while setting up the tent can be a major difficulty!

Parents have the challenge of doing many of the same tasks at the campground that we do at home but under more primitive conditions. There are also a number of chores specific to camping that may feel overwhelming to those with limited camping experience.

Fortunately, some good planning can go a long way in helping to make your family's camping trip enjoyable for everyone.

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Setting up camp while kids play
Setting up camp while kids play

Choose Your Campground Wisely

It is important to consider what kind of camping experience you and your family want. Would you prefer to stay in a tent or a cabin? Are you looking for particular amenities? Just about every campground has at least a small playground, but some also offer swimming pools, miniature golf, weekend entertainment, or indoor game rooms. These extra features can make for a fun vacation.

But if your family would prefer a quieter camping trip with an opportunity to explore nature, then look for a less touristy campground that has access to hiking trails, either on-site or nearby. There are some areas that have boating available at the campground or in the vicinity, where you can either rent or bring your own watercraft.

Before making reservations, verify the size of the tent sites and how close they are to neighboring sites to ensure it is a comfortable arrangement for your family. Prior to your trip, practice setting up the tent, lighting the camp stove, and testing any other equipment as needed. Practicing at home is a good way to check that the equipment is working properly and that you feel confident using it. This, in turn, helps to reduce the stress level and increase the fun when you’re at the campground.

Camping with Children - A few items to keep them occupied and engaged

These are some inexpensive camping "extras" that help connect kids to the outdoor experience in a fun way.

Coghlan's Six-Function Whistle with LED Light
Coghlan's Six-Function Whistle with LED Light

A small gadget that goes a long way. This has 6 functions, including an emergency whistle, compass, and thermometer. None of these are very high-quality features (it's more of a toy), but it's something that helps kids to get excited about camping.

If you want a higher-quality compass -- one that's not a toy -- Suunto has several excellent models at a reasonable price. You can use only the basic function to determine direction, but it's also good for orienteering, geocaching, and other activities. I have a couple of Suunto orienteering compasses, and I've been very happy with them!

 
Fun With Nature: Take Along Guide (Take Along Guides)
Fun With Nature: Take Along Guide (Take Along Guides)

Kid-friendly guide to common outdoor animals and plants. Part of a series of nature books. There are other books that focus on areas such as astronomy or animal tracks.

 
Hiking trails near the campground
Hiking trails near the campground

Toys and Other Supplies for Kids on the Camping Trip

In addition to all of the details involved in any camping trip, traveling with children brings its own set of requirements. The kids need toys and activities to help keep them occupied during quiet times at the campsite and in the tent in the event of rain. Bring along a variety of items that are able to withstand exposure to dirt and moisture.

Some toys that can be fun to take on family camping trips are balls, bubbles, toy cars and trucks (construction vehicles are especially fun at tent sites), shovels and pails, books, card games, Mad Libs, activity books and blank notebooks with pens, markers, and crayons, and board games that don't have too many pieces. Some families like to bring along a small "play tent" where the kids can play with their toys. If excessive dirt finds its way into the play tent, it's doesn't create the problems of having that dirt in the sleeping tent.

The children should each have their own sturdy flashlight when camping. This adds to their excitement and enthusiasm, and the flashlights frequently come in handy. Kids may also enjoy having items like a magnifying glass, compass, binoculars, and other tools to explore the great outdoors. Bring along other things that complement your children's interests, such as books about local plants, wildlife, or astronomy. Have plans in mind for places to go or things to do in the event of excessively wet, hot, or cold weather.

Out of respect for your time spent with nature and with your family, as well as for the experience of other campers, don't use (or overuse) electronic devices!

Sure, you can have a cell phone for necessary calls. And there are some great apps for birdwatching, stargazing, and plant identification. But being distracted by playing games on devices really does take away from the camping experience.

My Flashlight of Choice - Let's shed a little light on the subject!

It is important for each kid to have a flashlight on a camping trip. This increases both safety and excitement for them.

This is the brand of flashlight I have, and the camping model (shown here) is extra-sturdy for the outdoors.

What I really like about it is that it is solar-powered with a battery backup. This basically means that it will not leave you without light due to a dead battery right when you need it most. These are reliable, both for camping and home use.

Hybrid Solar Powered Flashlight with Emergency Battery Backup - Black (2 pack)
Hybrid Solar Powered Flashlight with Emergency Battery Backup - Black (2 pack)

This is the kind of flashlight I have. I love that it's always powered up from the solar panel, so you don't have to worry about running out of juice. (It even has a battery backup, just in case it's left in complete darkness for months on end!)

 
Kayaking on a camping trip
Kayaking on a camping trip

Safety First!

Review safety rules with your kids at the campground

Even more important than bringing all of the toys and supplies you'll need on the camping trip is reviewing rules and safety precautions with your children at the campground. Begin with a walking tour to help everyone get a sense of the area. Show the kids where the bathrooms, playground, campground office, and any other important landmarks are located.

Explain what rules are. Must the kids be with a parent at all times? Are they allowed to go to the playground by themselves? If you are tenting with other families, are your kids permitted to go into another family's tent?

Review typical safety rules from home that apply to life at the campground, particularly never going with a person you don't know and asking permission before going anywhere outside your specified boundaries. If poison ivy, ticks, bodies of water, or other environmental dangers are an issue, educate your kids about these concerns as well.

Have Fun on Your Camping Trip - Great for both home and travel

When we go camping we bring toys and games that are weather resistant, can get dirty, and/or are inexpensive. That way, if they're destroyed or lost on the camping trip, it's not too stressful an ordeal for the kids or me.

These are also the items we tend to bring with us on other traveling adventures!

Vacation Fun Mad Libs
Vacation Fun Mad Libs

You can't go wrong with Mad Libs! Lots of laughs, easy to bring along, inexpensive, and a lesson in grammar to boot!

We also bring a deck of Uno cards.

...And bubbles because wherever there are bubbles, a fun time is to be had!

 
Relaxing at the tentsite
Relaxing at the tentsite

The More, the Merrier!

Camping with other families can increase the fun and decrease the stress

Because of the amount of work involved in a "simple" family camping trip, it can be much more fun - and easier on the parents - to go with another family or a small group of families.

This provides many more options for activities. One parent might take several kids to the playground while another goes on a walk with others, leaving a couple of parents at the tent site to tackle chores while a baby naps.

Having other families on the trip gives kids the opportunity to play with friends and allows a little time and space for parents to re-energize before launching into the next fun activity.

A Word About Tents

There are many, many different family tents on the market, and the models change annually.

When choosing a tent, think carefully about what your family truly needs. Remember that the larger a tent is and the more rooms it has, the more difficult and time-consuming it is to set up and take down. Single-room, dome-style tents are the easiest to manage.

Tent descriptions tell you how many people can sleep in the tent. This number is based on the maximum number of sleeping bags that can be arranged in the tent, with the occupants sleeping very snugly together. If you want to have some gear and supplies with you in the tent, then get a tent that can sleep one or two more people than will actually be in the tent. A tent listed as having a 6-person capacity will fit 4 people very comfortably. If only two people are going, a 3-person tent will fit the campers and some of their supplies.

Good tents keep water out (unless it's a total deluge), allow for air circulation with plenty of mesh on the body of the tent, and have a fly that attaches to the outside of the tent body to protect from rain and provide some privacy.

Coleman Evanston 6 Screened Tent,Green,6-Person
Coleman Evanston 6 Screened Tent,Green,6-Person

A good quality tent that is easy to set up and take down helps the whole camping trip go more smoothly. Practice putting the tent up at home so that you'll know just what to do at the tent site.

 
Reading together on a camping trip
Reading together on a camping trip

A Fulfilling Experience

Camping with children can feel like a labor of love. Though it is quite a lot of work, it is also an amazing experience, sometimes bordering on the magical.

Sharing the love of nature with children, exploring the outdoors with them, and spending time together makes family camping a tremendously rewarding activity for parents and children alike.

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    • Valerie Bloom profile image
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      Valerie Bloom 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @Ruthi: Oh, I love that you have such fond memories! Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      Ruthi 4 years ago

      I enjoyed your family camping tips! You managed to bring back many fond memories of camping as a family when my son was a kid. Our camping was nearly always around water as we lived in south Florida, so safety was indeed a factor, but oh, there was so much fun to be had and plenty of things to do.

    • Valerie Bloom profile image
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      Valerie Bloom 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @PhilVardy: Fantastic! Thanks for stopping by!

    • PhilVardy profile image

      PhilVardy 4 years ago

      We spent several weeks camping with my 1 year old son last summer... we hope to do even more this summer (now that he's 2). If I could live in a campground, I would :)

    • Valerie Bloom profile image
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      Valerie Bloom 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @LacyChenault: There are some great air mattresses designed for camping. You can get ones that use batteries and/or A/C power. Most campgrounds have electricity available at some of their sites, and facilities with running water are common! Good luck!

    • LacyChenault profile image

      Lacy 4 years ago from Chenault

      I want to do this with my son - but I'm going to need an air mattress for sure! I'm more of a "running water" and electricity kind of person - but I want him to at least have the experience. Great lens!

    • Valerie Bloom profile image
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      Valerie Bloom 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @greenmind: Great! I'm glad you stopped by.

    • greenmind profile image

      greenmind 4 years ago

      Hey cool lens. I'm taking my son comparing this summer -- this'll help.

    • stanger66 profile image

      stanger66 4 years ago

      We love camping

    • Valerie Bloom profile image
      Author

      Valerie Bloom 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @victoriuh: On my first camping trip with kids I chose a spot that's not all that far from home (about 1.5 hours). I figured if things got seriously miserable, I could pack up and go home. Fortunately, all went pretty well, but I definitely felt more comfortable knowing I had a good "exit plan." Good luck!

    • victoriuh profile image

      victoriuh 4 years ago

      Lots of great ideas here. I would love to take my kids camping for the first time this summer. If I am brave enough!

    • Valerie Bloom profile image
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      Valerie Bloom 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @anonymous: Your passion and enthusiasm for family camping is wonderful! Thanks for stopping by.

    • Useray LM profile image

      Useray LM 4 years ago

      Camping is always fun and you have done a good job demonstrating that. Well done!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Camping with my family is one of my favorite things to do. I love sitting around the campfire and telling stories. Being away from all of the noise of daily life is great. Thanks for the camping tips. It won't be long before its warm enough to break out the tent!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Children are fun to be around and they learn so much! They're willing to do the work for you, if you make it fun and rewarding.

    • profile image

      MadameJoy 4 years ago

      We live in the Rocky Mountains and now that our kids are a little older - 3 & 6 - I am really hoping we get to do a lot more camping this summer!

    • Valerie Bloom profile image
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      Valerie Bloom 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @Ontoddy: Fantastic! Have fun!

    • Ontoddy profile image

      Ontoddy 4 years ago

      We have 3 kids, we are thinking of taking them on a camping holiday this summer.

    • chocochipchip profile image

      chocochipchip 4 years ago

      I love the feeling of camping but never had the chance to experience it

    • profile image

      Hannah Writes 4 years ago

      I never camped as a child, and as an adult I did not enjoy it. Enjoyable lens!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      What a wonderful experience for kids.

    • Valerie Bloom profile image
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      Valerie Bloom 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @Aunt-Mollie: Absolutely!

    • profile image

      Aunt-Mollie 4 years ago

      Wonderful list for camping. I would add just one thing: Don't forget the toilet paper.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 4 years ago

      Excellent advice! Can't say I've ever gone camping with children, but just in case... Thanks so much for sharing!

    • profile image

      wilsonkht 4 years ago

      Wow nice piece of lens. I am about to organize a camping session for my church. The information here is very helpful for me.

    • Valerie Bloom profile image
      Author

      Valerie Bloom 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @wilsonkht: I'm happy you found this useful! Enjoy your trip!

    • Valerie Bloom profile image
      Author

      Valerie Bloom 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @thesoundman: Thanks! I'm glad you stopped by and enjoyed it!

    • profile image

      thesoundman 4 years ago

      This is a really nicely laid out lens. 49 lenses in a year? wow. I want to go camping with kids! you've inspired me.