Tent camping with children can be a wonderful experience. My husband and I started when our two boys were toddlers. We had a big canvas cabin tent that weighed a ton. I wish we had access to a family camping tent like Coleman makes now. I have a wonderful picture of the youngest one with his potty chair at the base of a tree and holding his training pants with one hand. When my third came along, it was just too much of a hassle to camp at that time. Much later, when my last child, no.5, was in grade school, we went camping with three little pup tents. That got old pretty soon. Not too much later, we invested in a pop up trailer, and took off for a six week exploration of National Parks in the West. That was the camping trip of my life.
Choose an Appropriate Campground
No matter how old your children are, you can have fun camping. The key to any successful camping trip is preparation. This may seem basic, but choose a campground that has activities that your children enjoy. Other things that might figure in your campground choice could be running water, flush toilets, showers, and a camp store. It’s fine to rough it, but not at first.
Practice at Home
If your children are very young, it’s a good idea to have a practice camping session at home. You could start up putting the tent up in a playroom and then try it again in the backyard. This will get your little ones used to sleeping in a tent with a sleeping bag.
Try to involve your children in the preparation for the trip. Help them to pick out clothes. It’s a good idea to pack each day’s worth of clothes in a zip lock bag. Then they will have a bag for each day. They can put their dirty clothes back in the bag at the end of the day. This is a good idea for the adults too. There’s nothing worse than a tent with clothes strewn all about inside it.
Plan Fun Activities
Plan activities for the children while you are camping. Bring crayons, coloring books, simple games, glue, paper and scissors. Encourage them to collect leaves, flowers, pine cones, shells, etc. They can draw pictures of them or arrange them on a collage. Each child could decorate their special memory box to hold all their treasures.
Teach About Nature
A camping trip is a great way to teach your children about nature. There are many guide books on trees, flowers, stars, the weather and animals. Teach your children to recognize animal tracks. I bought a book for my grandson called “Who Pooped in the Park?”
Keep a Record of Your Trip
Buy disposable cameras for your children and let them take pictures of what interests them. Encourage them to write a diary of what they did. When we went on our western trip, our daughters kept a diary of what we did..written, of course, from their own viewpoints. Those diaries along with accompanying pictures have become a family treasure.
Make sure your children understand fire safety rules. Teach them how to make a safe fire ring and to always have water available to put out the fire. If you are cooking on a portable grill, make sure it is on level ground. No child goes off on their own. Make sure they stay within sight of your campsite. If you are hiking, make sure they don’t run ahead out of sight. Each child could carry a whistle around their neck. The universal signal for help is three blows of the whistle.
Let Your Children Help
Involve the children in camping chores, such as gathering firewood, filling water containers, and cooking and cleaning up. You can make chores into games by having contests, such as, who can get the most firewood, who can clean up fastest or who can keep their tent the neatest.
Make sure each child has their own flashlight. This will greatly add to their comfort at night in their tent or just walking around the campsite after dark. Plus, just think of the hand shadow puppets they can make at night!
Be Prepared for Accidents
Be sure to have a first aid kit. You need the standard band aids, antibiotic cream, ace bandage, fever reducer, anti itch cream and /or benadryl. Don’t forget the sunscreen and the insect repellent. Probably the greatest danger to children is sunburn, especially if there are water sports involved. Most insect repellents contain deet which should be no more than 30% concentration for children.
Your camping trip should be fun. If your children enjoy themselves, they will want to go again. All it takes is a little preparation and foresight and you can guarantee your family will have a terrific time.