One of our favorite summer activities for families is camping. For those that aren’t sure about camping with kids, here are some tips for making it doable with kids.
Nervous about taking your kids camping?
Here are some tips to ensure you have a great time camping with your kids!
Choosing a Tent to Camp with Kids
Make sure your tent can be set-up easily by mostly one person in case one of you needs to tend to an infant or other children.
As soon as your kids are able to help, give them jobs to help. They will love the responsibility and it will make your job easier (and with less complaining). Kids can help hold the stakes, tie down flaps, carry sleeping bags in the tent, put in poles when they are a little older, and eventually they will be very helpful pros.
Make sure your equipment is good, free of holes. You don’t want to end up getting all wet during a middle of the night rain storm.
Bigger just may be better
We started out camping with a 2-3 person tent. If it was raining the ceiling was so low that we weren’t able to do anything buy lay down. That may work okay when it was just grown-ups, but not with kids.
Since then we purchased a “cabin” style tent. We can all stand up in the tent and move around.
There are two “rooms” that meet in a curtain in the middle. This allows the kids to go to sleep in separate rooms (if need be) and for us to have a tiny bit of privacy.
If you are traveling with small child remember it needs to be able to comfortably fit your pack-and-play. Ours has our air mattress in one “room” and the port-a-crib and two sleeping bags in the other “room”.
The porch is very handy. Not only does it provide a screened in area where you can hang out if the bugs are bad, but it is a great place to store your camping chairs at night to avoid all the dew or rain.
Pick a good spot to camp
Now by picking a good spot I mean two things – the physical location (site) you pick within a campsite AND where you choose to head to camp.
Pick a Good Campground
Sure setting up the tent, watching the fire, and eating are great fun. But chances are your family might need something else to do. Pick where you want to camp based on your families interests. We love camping at National Parks because they are usually pretty cheap (around $10-20/night) and have great facilities (including clean bathrooms). But a spot is more than just a clean bathroom and cheap cost. You want somewhere you can fish, hike, play at the beach, wander some dunes, explore the woods, or visit a nearby city.
Our family typically camps while on road trips (at least 3 out of every 4 nights). We also like to camp annually at a national park along the beach for several days so we can truly relax and develop a rhythm there. Not only does it have a beach, it has trails and nearby berry picking too.
Pick your Site Carefully
Sometimes you don’t have a choice which tent site to choose. but at many campgrounds it is first come first serve, so if you have a choice here are some recommendations.
- Don’t tent by a camper (they are noisy and bright at night, hiding the stars). Stick to the tent only area.
- Park close to the bathroom, but not the next 1-2 campsites away as they get a lot of traffic (especially at night).
- Don’t choose a site at the head of a trail. People will be wandering by your tent all day and besides being annoying and at times unsettling, they may wake up sleeping children.
- Remember that shaded/wooded sites my shield you from some rain or wind, but they will also be more buggy, your tent will dry more slowly from morning dew, and you won’t get to see the stars very well.
- Remember that wide open spots may be windy (our site at Dunes State Park above was very windy!) and hot during the day, but your tent will dry off quickly. We tend to pick part shaded/part sunny spots.
- The more room in your particular site, the more room you can leave between you and a neighboring camper.
- If you camp somewhere near home that you will go back to, spend a couple minutes to find the “good sites” and make a note before you leave. Most camping locations allow you to choose a site online ahead of time.
Have a Rain & Severe Weather Plan
Without fail the days you pick to camp there is rain or worse – severe weather! First get to know your campground and where to go in the case of tornados (unlikely, but there’s no time to loose in those instances).
If it is raining only (no lightening or thunder) it is so nice to just sit in your tent – it is very relaxing!
If it starts to lightening and thunder you should be in a protected space and your tent is not safe during a thunderstorm. If it is the middle of the night we just move our family inside our fan to sleep for the night. Since we are not driving anywhere kids can lay on the floor or across seats and we simple recline our chairs.
Note: If you think you might drive somewhere (like if you are parked under tall trees that could fall) make sure kids are buckled in to allow you to move quickly without waking them during the night.
We’ve also slept in our car when there was a bear sited nearby and when one campsite in the mountains was to have a low overnight of 20 degrees. It was just warmer to sleep in the car!
If it starts to thunder during the day, you can drive to a nearby Wal-Mart and walk around, see a movie in a theatre, go out to eat (sometimes storms pass as quickly as an hour), or have a family movie night in the van. It’s memorable!
Remember you set the tone. If you are upset and frustrated that your plans have been ruined your kids will be more grumpy about it to. Have a good attitude and see it as an adventure and it just may be your favorite camping memory! By the same token, if there is a storm, be calm and decisive in moving your family to safety. The kids don’t need to be worried.
Plan Fun Camping Meals
I didn’t grow up camping and neither did my husband, so it took us a while before we ventured away from hotdogs as the main staple when camping. Here are some ideas for meals while camping:
Simple Camping Meals using only a stick
- hot dogs & chips with fruit
- Baked Potatoes (set foil wrapped potatoes directly on the grey coals for 30-45 minutes) – serve with cheese and sour cream
- Cinnamon roll on a stick (just bring a cinnamon tube and wrap a cinnamon roll around the edge of stick and hold over the fire until done, rotating as you cook)
- Baked Goods from home (muffins, coffee cakes, cookies, brownies, etc.)
- Corn on the Cob (just wrap husked corn in foil and set on coals or raised surface for 20 minutes or so)
Don’t forget to bring marshmallows, graham crackers, and Hershey chocolate bars to make smores! This classic camping treat is just as fun for kids to help make as it is to eat. Your kids will LOVE this delicious, classic treat.
Raised Cooking Surface or one Pan Meals While Camping
- Eggs (with or without bacon)
- Pancakes (get the just add water containers for easy mixing & clean-up)
- Doritos Bags (see complete directions)
- Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with chips & fruit
- Steak (the best steak we ever cooked was over a campfire. You’ll need a raised surface which some campgrounds provide. Serve with baked potatoes – Yum!
- Tin Foil Pouches (throw in some veggies and meat and seasoning if you like and cook over campfire for 20-30 minutes) – like a camping casserole
- Campfire Quesadillas
- Campfire Cones (dessert – Yum!)
- Campfire Mac & Cheese
- Soup (canned or premade and brought in cooler)
- Kabobs (just put meat and veggies on skewers and put on raised cooking surface until cooked through (about 20 minutes)
- Pie Iron – tacos, sandwiches, or pie
- Nachos (just put nacho ingredients in a pan to warm enough to melt the cheese)
What to Bring with you Camping
- Tent (including steaks and mallet)
- Tarp (helpful for covering chairs from morning dew, wrapping a wet tent in, around firewood you didn’t use, cover a leaky tent, etc.)
- Sleeping Bags (even if it is hot during the day, it can get chilly at night) & pillows
- Air mattress (if you like to be comfy like we do) – bring a battery operated pump or one that plugs into the outlet in your car
- Chairs – to sit around the campfire (Hint: Kids love having their own special chair)
- Coal (for cooking), lighter or matches, and wood (or buy from campsite)
- Cooking pan or sticks
- Cooler (to keep drinks and food cool – a large cooler with 1/5 full of ice can keep food at a refrigerated temperatures for 3 days before needing to add more ice. HINT: Bring meat frozen if you are going to camp for a week)
- Food (plan your menu ahead at home and do as much of the cutting, preparing, and storing in Ziploc bags as possible)
- Blanket (for kids to sit on the floor of campsite or beach)
- Paper plates, cups (with sharpie to write names), silverware
- Toys (books, balls, drawing boards, etc.) – just don’t bring too many!
- Towels (if you are planning on showering or going to the beach)
- Bug Spray & Sunscreen (you may also want some citronella candles for the campsite)
- Flashlights (and larger lantern for campsite)
- Cell phone or weather radio (to know if there is a storm coming)
- Clothes – remember to pack sweatshirts and comfy clothes for sleeping in
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Tips for your Families 1st Camping Trip
Prepare your kids by watching shows or reading books about camping – then they will know what to expect (Example: Curious George goes Camping)
Make it Short and Sweet – make your first trip for 1 night only, serve classic hotdogs and smores.
Camp close to home – although 99% of the time camping is great, what if you (or your child) really don’t like it.
When our oldest was 3 we took him camping for the first time. It was a terrible campsite with lots of tents packed together, very noisy neighbors, and we were on the corner and had a steady stream of traffic (and headlights) shinning in our tent. It was also before we learned to bring the pack-in-play which gave our kids a feeling of safety. At about 11:30 at night, with the noise/lights still going strong, we packed it up and headed home. Luckily we’d thought to only go about 30 minutes from home. The next time, Goofy did GREAT and he loves camping now.
Go with the flow – not everything may work out just right, but go with it and enjoy the moment!
Bring warm clothes and bug spray
Don’t forget to have a campfire – it is the best part of camping! And typically, kids favorite memory of camping
Take lots of pictures to remember this trip. Even the “it’s raining and we are going to have to feed baby on our bed even though she is making a huge mess” are memorable when you look back. Trust me – I’ve been there and all those moments are priceless memories now!
Make it Memorable
Camping is lots of fun and is something your kids will remember their whole life. Make it memorable by slowing down and enjoying the quiet, carefree moment! Instead of busying yourself (as we often tend to do) just be.
Sit. Watch. Listen. Engage.
Spend extra time cuddling around the campfire or in your tent. Let them crawl into bed with you in the morning when they’re cold. Go on some fun family hikes and teach them about nature. Listen to their thoughts, dreams, ideas. Let them stay up late to enjoy the beauty of a campfire and the immense night sky.
Sing songs or tell silly stories around the campfire. Use this time to recall your family stories – keep the stories of the fun you’ve had together fresh! “Remember the time……” or “My favorite vacation has been……”
Our family has been camping from coast to coast and it is still our favorite summer activity. We the love the simplicity, quiet, and the chance to reconnect without life’s distractions.