For many adults, introducing the next generation to a love of the outdoors brings even greater satisfaction than experiencing it themselves. Seeing a child’s face light up with excitement at seeing a real fox, or their awe at being sprayed by a towering waterfall, or their pride when they tell you the name of a flower they just identified reunites adults with the joy of when they first experienced the outdoors. It’s a magical thing.
With the right preparation, bringing kids on your next camping trip will mean a far more special experience. Yes, bringing along tiny campers requires more preparation, but follow these steps prior to setting out, and you’ll be guaranteed to have a wonder and memory-filled getaway.
The old idiom, “Those who fail to plan plan to fail,” is absolutely applicable when it comes to kids and camping. When going into the brand-new world of the outdoors, where bathrooms are different, beds are different, everything is different, an ounce of emotional preparation and knowledge is worth a pound of fun. To ensure that your kids aren’t overwhelmed by the newness of everything, talk them through or practice as much of the trip as you can before even leaving home.
Outhouses and “squatting where??” can be a surprising concept for kids, so a casual, fun attitude will help them know it’s okay. Even if campground outhouses make you queasy, try to keep things light so your little one won’t dread their inevitably frequent visits there, and remember to bring a big bottle of hand cleaner!
Find out what wildlife lives in the area you’ll be visiting and talk with your child about what to do in case you come across specific animals on the trip. For example, in mountain lion country, it’s important that children don’t run away and stay close to adults when confronted by the animal. In bear country, everyone at camp needs to safely store scented food and toiletries before bed so as not to attract unwanted nighttime visitors. Role-playing these scenarios can be fun and take the scariness out of the situation. Moreover, it’s important that all children understand that animals in the wild, predator or not, are not for interacting with, are meant to be observed from a distance, and should never be given food.
Camping Trial Run
If you’re concerned that your child might struggle with sleeping in the strange, synthetic structure that is a tent, feel free to do a trial camping night in the living room, in the backyard, or in an approved nearby open-space where he can get used to the idea with the option of easy retreat if it doesn’t go well.
Get Them Involved
A great way to get kids excited about this new adventure is by giving them responsibilities for the trip’s success. Involve them in prepping the campfire by having them gather dry grass or small sticks for kindling – this will keep them busy for a while! Setting up a tent really is a two-person job, so ask them to help you hold poles in place, or snap or velcro things. Additionally, during the campfire, charge them with finding everyone a good marshmallow-roasting stick or carrying around the box of graham crackers for whoever needs one.
Tent – If you’re tent camping, be sure to select a tent that is big enough to accommodate the whole family, with extra space to spare. A good rule of thumb is to choose a tent that is big enough for one or two more people than will actually be sleeping in the tent. So, if you have a family of four, consider a six man or large family sized tent.
Sleeping Bags – Be sure that everyone has their own sleeping bag. Check the ratings to ensure that the sleeping bags are rated for the season you are camping in. Summer camping won’t require as heavy a bag, but if you are camping in spring or fall, consider a winter-rated bag in case the temperature drops.
Backpacks – Everyone should have their own backpack. Be sure to have kids try on the backpacks before you buy them to ensure the proper fit. For outdoor and camping adventures, consider backpacks that are waterproof and lightweight.
Cookware – Cooking for yourself is easy. Cooking for kids can sometimes require a little more finesse – and supplies. Bring along cookware and a camp stove to ensure that you can prepare easy to heat meals for the kids when they get hungry.
Extra Layers – Regardless of the weather, consider fluctuations in temperature and bring extra layers so that everyone can bundle up if the temperature drops at night, or if the weather changes. Also, you always want to plan for at least two extra changes of clothes for kids since they get dirty and wet when they are outside exploring.
Kid Stuff – There’s a lot of kid’s camping gear on the market that makes camping more fun for kids. From sleeping bags to lanterns, consider getting them something of their own that will make the camping trip extra special. Camping with a baby? See our Essential Baby Camping Gear Guide.
Fun, interactive foods can easily become a kid’s camping highlight. Try one of these easy, kid-friendly recipes for which your child will be begging for weeks to come – but they’ll just have to wait until the next camping trip!
You can’t go camping with kids without s’mores – I’m pretty sure it’s a rule somewhere. Roast a marshmallow, sandwich it between two graham crackers and a piece of chocolate bar, and voila! – the world’s most delicious dessert.
These delectable tin-foil wrapped banana and chocolate chip creations, cooked in the embers of the fire, allow you to add any sweet addition you can dream of (shredded coconut, mini marshmallows, maraschino cherries… you name it!). Kids will want seconds and thirds, so be sure to bring a big batch of bananas!
Hot dogs are officially camping’s easiest and tastiest dinner. Put a beef, turkey, or soy dog on the end of a stick, roast it over the fire, and put it in a bun with ketchup and mustard. De-lish, and lots of fun.
Pie Iron Pizza
This fun, homemade pizza allows kids to be creative without much mess! A few easy ingredients, a pie iron, and a campfire are all you need for kids’ favorite food with an outdoor flair.
Just like at home, camping kids will likely need a few different options for entertainment to keep them busy. Consider preparing for a few of these activities to ensure that your child has enough to do so on their own that you get to take a minute to yourself to enjoy the views and the peace of nature.
To help your child appreciate the beauty of the nature all around her, bring along a notebook, pencils, and perhaps a few nature guides. Encourage your child to study her surroundings, ask questions or look for answers in a guide about trees, birds, or animal tracks, and then record her findings through notes or a drawing in the notebook. Perhaps your child finding out that there are whole books devoted to identifying whose scat is whose (“you mean, we actually get to talk about poop!”) will instigate an enthusiastic scavenger hunt of sorts on the hike or life-like drawings of chipmunk pellets.
Why not take your child’s newfound biologist skills onto the trail? A walk in the woods is a great way to expel energy, expose your child to lots of new and interesting sights to explore, and perhaps even get an amazing view like the ones that made you fall in love with the outdoors years ago.
Many states do not require children under a certain age to carry a fishing license. Bring a cheap fishing pole and some bait from home. Find a small creek or pond, and let your child try out their luck! Often, casting and reeling are entertainment enough, even if he gets nary a bite.
Ball or Bike
For around the campsite, it’s nice to have a few easy past times available. A couple baseball mitts and a ball, a soft football, some jump ropes, or even bikes from home are fun ways for kids to enjoy the outdoors without needing to wander far.
Now that you and your little ones are ready for a great time outdoors, all you need to worry about is convincing them to come home! Enjoy the heartwarming experience of seeing the outdoors through a child’s eyes and count on adding camping to your family’s list of new favorite activities.