How to Go Camping With Little Kids
Will the wad of burnt marshmallow get stuck in your kid's hair? Will he faceplant in the dirt in the middle-of-the-night trudge to the bathroom? Will she beg to go home for the first two hours after arrival because she wants to watch PAW Patrol? It's highly likely. And you should do it anyway.
Camping offers children opportunities for risky play, lets them learn new skills and, best of all, gives them a rare chance in their overly-scheduled lives to connect with the magnificence of nature. Not sure where to begin? Here are some tips from members of the Offspring Facebook group and other parents who've gone camping with young kids and lived to tell about it.
What to bring
Note: This isn't a comprehensive packing list, but rather a roundup of helpful items you might not have thought of.
A storage container that does double duty. A big Rubbermaid tub is great for keeping food and supplies organized, but even better when your kid desperately needs a bathtub in the wilderness.
Pool noodles. These things are incredibly versatile on camping trips. You can use them to mark your tent lines or prevent toddlers from falling off their air mattress or hold your kids' playing cards.
Foam floor tiles. Like the ones you probably have in your kids'playroom. Place them in your tent for some extra padding—no one wants their bottom stuck a pebbly surface.
A bag of "quiet toys." If you have early risers with zero volume control, occupy them with some dirt-proof toys before you find yourself with a campsite full of groggy, grumpy grownups.
Group members Michael, who's going on his first family camping trip next weekend, tells us he's packing his kid reflective vest.
An audio baby monitor. It'll give you the freedom to roam around the campground after your kids go to bed.
More baby wipes than you think you need. Everyone will use them—trust us.
A white noise machine. Campgrounds can get noisy, so even if your kids are typically good sleepers, a portable white noise machine can help them settle down for the night.
Glow sticks. Not just for after-dark tent parties (though definitely for after-dark tent parties), glow sticks are great for making DIY lanterns, lighting up drink coolers and spotting your child at night.
Starbursts. For roasting at the campfire. Really.
A play tent. It's nice to give kids their own space during the daytime. You can set up a small tent on its own, or place it inside your large family tent. It can be their sleeping space as well.
A training potty. Even if your kids are potty trained, you'll be glad to have a potty in or next to your tent for those middle-of-the-night wake-ups.
Headlamps for the whole family. Kids love them—they make camping feel like even more of an adventure. And if your child is in diapers, you can change them in the night without getting out your flashlight.
ID bracelets. If you know your campsite number ahead of time, it's a good idea to include it. When group member Rhiannon goes camping, she gets cat ID charms from Petco for each of her kids.
A first-aid kit. Do not forget the first-aid kit.
And now for some camping tips:
Stick to your usual routine
If your kid goes to bed at 7 PM, try your best to stick to that routine, even if you don't have your blackout curtains and the people at the next campsite are singing the Cats album. Your child will be calmer and less likely to have an exhaustion-induced meltdown the next day.
Give your kids a job (or several)
"Kids love to have a role in completing a task, something as adults we might be annoyed at, like having to help gather firewood or clear the campsite," he writes. "Tell them They're chief fire marshal and they're less likely to stick their hand in it or run around and fall in." You might put them in charge or skewering the fruit kabobs or pumping up the sleeping pads or filling up the water bottles. To help them feel even more important, give them an "official" camp title.
Stay close-ish to home
If you're a camping novice, you probably want to start at a local site less than two hours away from your home. That way, if things start spiraling downhill, you can cut your losses and exit back to your warm beds. If this happens, don't feel bad about it. Soon enough, someone in your family will suddenly say once again, "Hey, you know what we should do? Go camping."