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10 tips for camping with kids

10 tips for camping with kids

Kids like camping!


At midnight, I heard firecrackers, noise makers and horns honking to ring in 2012 on New Year’s Eve. I rolled over in my sleeping cot and sighed. It was a new year, and I was tent camping with my husband, sons and friends over New Year’s weekend. We went camping last year over New Year’s too. It’s the perfect time to camp where we live in Florida. My husband and I have camped all over the state. After our sons came along, we definitely slowed the pace of our camping trips — but we didn’t stop camping! My 5-year-old’s first camping trip was at 9 months old. Most kids love the novelty of being outdoors and going about the day in a different way. It’s a fun way to do some family bonding, too.


If you haven’t tried camping yet with your kids, think about a time you could go this year. Then look into some campgrounds. (Some campgrounds can be reserved 11 months in advance, so it’s a good idea to check early in your trip planning.) Make a list of items you need. And if you go, definitely prepare your kids — and yourself — for your family adventure.


1. Debrief the kids. Get kids used to the idea of the camping trip by talking about it a lot in the weeks leading up to your trip. It’s OK if you repeat yourself. Tell them where you’ll be sleeping (tent, RV, cabin, etc.) and for how many nights. Show them where you’ll sleep, if possible, or show a picture of something similar.


2. Let older children help. Ask for their input on an area to go camping. (If you are in or near Florida and need some ideas, you can check out my book, 30 Eco-Trips in Florida: The Best Nature Excursions (and How to Leave Only Your Footprints).) Ask them to look at a map to see what your route to the campground might be, or get them involved in packing and setting up the tent. Let them practice at home first. If kids aren’t expected or encouraged to be involved, they will be bored. And you don’t want them to think camping = boring.


3. Expect changes in sleep patterns. Recognize that younger children might have a hard time going to bed — and staying asleep. For some kids, the fresh air will knock them out. They might even fall asleep early! For my kids, it’s the opposite, though! They get wound up, and then it’s hard for them to sleep. On our recent camping trip, my 2-year-old woke up wailing both nights and had a hard time settling down. I think he got disoriented, waking up in an unusual place.


4. Expect to wake up early. If you tent camp, you might not be able to sleep in — either the sound of birds and other campers will wake you up, or sunshine will. Sound and light pass through most tents pretty well!


Fresh air, sunshine -- and possible changes in sleep patterns

5. Bring some comforts from home. Younger children can’t be without their lovies, and that’s just fine even though you’re going to be outside. Favorite toys, blankets, pillows, books, snacks, etc. can come along. My five-year-old son has a rolling bag that he fills with whatever he wants for any trip we take — even camping. (Bring comforts for yourself too!)


6. Decide what your electronics policy will be. If you really want to get outdoors, you might want to leave technology behind — or you might be excited about the cool factor of being able to check in online. Some parents want to rule out handheld games, phones, portable DVD players, etc., while some think it’s OK in emergencies (if it rains or if you really need to make a call) or in moderation. Let the kids know what they will be allowed to use.


7. Bring and use camping/tailgating chairs. Many campsites include a picnic table, but that might be wet, gross or falling apart. (True story!) Extra seating allows everyone to have a place to sit away from the table, where you might need to dry clothes or prepare a meal. Plus, you can easily arrange the chairs however you want. Let the kids pick out their own camping chair as another way of letting them feel they have a part in the trip.


8. Bring baby equipment. If you have room, that is. A Pack ‘N Play is a safe, familiar place for a baby to sleep, and you can put your baby there while you set up or break down camp. A Bumbo or Bebe Pod is a safe, compact place for babies to sit. I wish we had brought along my son’s Jumperoo on his first camping trip. Our campsite was only dirt and rocks (no grass), and I didn’t want him crawling in that. He was an active baby, but he didn’t get a chance to expend any energy on that trip. Getting him to sleep was almost impossible!


9. Don’t overplan or overschedule. Allow for some down time.


10. Stay close to home. Younger children who don’t like long rides in the car seat will do better on your trip if you pick a place within a few hours of where you live. Camping nearby will also help you get to know the natural environment of your region. If you camp in a state or national park or forest, find out if there are ranger-led programs like interpretive hikes, birdwatching or campfire tales. If you can’t make it to a program, you can ask a ranger or volunteer any questions about the plants, wildlife or geological features you spot.


If you’re not sure about camping with your kids, consider camping in your backyard (or a friend’s or Grandma’s). The Great American Backyard Campout is a campaign by the National Wildlife Federation to get kids and families outdoors and having fun — even if it’s in their backyards. This year, the Campout is set for June 23. But you can camp in your backyard any time. Check the Campout site for more tips and ways to make camping fun and totally doable.

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