Before we had children, my husband and I enjoyed camping. Falling asleep to the sounds of nature, roasting marshmallows, curling up by the fire with a good book, hiking to exquisite scenery that is only accessible via foot. But there are a lot of things my husband and I enjoyed before having children. Before we had children, my husband and I enjoyed watching non-animated movies. And before we had children, my husband and I enjoyed going to bed at whatever hour we so happened to choose that night. It's easy to get lost in your frustrations and view your child as a hindrance to your past enjoyments, or you can instead look at this beautiful being you have created as a simple change and enhancement to your life. One that can eventually learn to share these enjoyments with you. With that in mind, this seemed like an appropriate time in our family to regain one of those lost enjoyments.
Tip #1: Skip the Trial Run
All the suggestions on the web say to take your kids on a trial run in your backyard before you actually set out to go camping. We did not do that. It sounds like a really good idea though, doesn't it? Here are my thoughts on this, a trial run is an easy out for parents. I mean, your house is within walking distance, and as much fun as camping is, your house bears a few extra luxuries.
Camping is new and exciting. Your kid is sleeping in a new spot, your kid is sleeping in a tent, your kid is sleeping next to you, your kid is sleeping outside. This is an excitement overload, and any parent knows an excitement overload will not lead to a peaceful night's rest. So, unless you are planning on prepping by making sleeping next to you, outside, in a tent the norm for your child, a trial run probably won't do you any good. Just accept that you aren't going to get the best rest, but set a good example, let them know all the same rules from home still apply, and your kids will eventually fall asleep beside you, in a tent, outside.
Tip #2: Make a List and Check it Twice
Imagine the annoyance of arriving at the campgrounds only to realize that you've forgotten your waterproof tarp and have to load up your family to drive half an hour back into town to make that purchase. (I speak from personal experience.) For one it cuts into your family time. Second, it gives your child an opportunity to nap in the car, which will seriously mess up your sleeping plans. Once you start this whole camping thing, you will quickly become a pro. But for your first time out, plan ahead.
That being said, try not to over pack. Too much stuff is overwhelming and a cause of agitation when you are looking for something specific and having to weed through all the junk you brought for no reason. There are thousands of camping checklists on the internet, do a simple Google search to find one that is right for you.
Tip #3: Camp at a Kid-Friendly Campground
Your little ones won't enjoy a park that is known for it's fishing, mountain biking, or strenuous hikes. Read the park descriptions to find one with a river or lake that they can throw rocks into. Also one with short, kid-friendly hikes.
Tip #4: Stay Happy
You've heard the expression, fake it 'til you make it. Your first camping trip is going to be a "fake it 'til you make it" experience. Camping can be overwhelming, even without kids. After all, the tents never just pop up as they should, you will have forgotten an essential, there will be ants or rain or some other nuisance... But these nuisances are all part of the experience. If you want your child to enjoy camping, they need to see you enjoying camping. Make them part of the process. Let them help with the tent, the sleeping bags, collecting the firewood, and all the other chores that accompany camping. They are part of the family, not an accessory, put them to work. Plus, it sets a nice precedent for when you take them camping as teenagers.
Tip #5: Take Camping-Centered Activities for Entertainment
Leave the electronics at home. Camping takes place outside, so help your kids learn how to experience the outdoors. Print out our nature scavenger hunt, purchase an animal scat or footprint book or printable to take on your hikes, take your bikes, magnifying glasses, butterfly nets, and don't forget the marshmallows.
Tip #6: Get a Park Pass
If it turns out the camping thing is for you, look into your state's park passes to receive discounts and special deals throughout the year. The passes generally pay for themselves within a few visits and one is usually good for the whole family.
Those our the Little Life Explorer's six tips for a successful camping trip with the little ones. Are you ready? Grab your kids, grab your camp checklist, hit the trails and explore LIFE.