Camping 101: Introducing the Next Generation

Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes camping.  Some can head out with little more than a hatchet, flint, and granola bar and last for weeks on end.  Others prefer to roll in to a campsite with full hook-ups and free wi-fi.  However you camp, camping alone, camping with adults, and camping with kids require different levels of preparation and execution. 

Today, we're going to provide some tips and tricks for introducing the little ones in your life to the camping life.


1. Practice

This is a vital step, especially for those with young kids.  There are a lot of unexpected differences when sleeping in a tent outside.  For one thing, the sun sets later than most kids' bedtimes and rises long before they typically wake.  It's also a shock at how quiet it can be when sleeping outside.  The normal drone of furnaces, AC units, and appliances is replaced by silence ... with an occasional hoot or howl to spice things up.

To make it easier, take your kids on a test run in the backyard.  Explain the types of noises they will hear and what they are and what they mean.  Don't be surprised if they wake you up a few times through the night.  Don't dismiss their fears, but do your best to explain exactly what they heard and remind them that you are still safe in your backyard.

And if they can't last, don't be ashamed to retreat back to the house.  With young children, it can take a few tries before they are comfortable with the sounds of the outside world during the night.  Sometimes letting them bring a treasured item to sleep with (like a blanket or a favorite stuffed animal) can ease the transition.

2. Let the Kids Sleep in the Middle

This may or may not be an issue depending on your children's ages, but it is an option to consider.  Sometimes, letting the kids sleep in the middle of the tent provides a sense of comfort.  It can also keep them warmer, prevent them from rolling off their sleeping pads, and ensure that they don't wake up in the middle of the night and, in a sleepy state, slip outside to return to their bedroom (it happens).

3. Keep the Bedtime Routine

Sometimes when everything else has changed, this the only aspect that you can keep the same.  Having a familiar process before bed, even if the bed and bedroom have changed, may help kids adjust to the camping life easier.  So remember to bring some bedtime books, sing those songs, or whatever else you normally do at bedtime to ease kids into the process.


4. Make Meal Time Fun

Camping can sometimes feel like more work than it's worth, especially when you have kids.  Meals still have to be prepared, dishes still have to be washed, and your menu is often limited.  Get the kids involved by planning meals where they can help.  Getting a cast iron pie cooker allows you to make toasted sandwiches over the campfire  Experiment with the fillings and let your kids make their own (help them with the actual cooking).  They also make great dessert sandwiches with things like chocolate hazelnut spread and sliced bananas inside (tastes a bit like chocolate chip banana bread).

And, of course, don't forget the s'mores.

5. Bring the Binoculars, Magnifying Glasses, and Telescopes

One of the great things about camping is the easy access to nature.  Why not let your kids explore it in a new way by bringing along special viewing gear?  Have them try to spot wildlife in the distance or check out the fuzzy underside of a leaf. 

On my last camping trip with the family, my daughter spent nearly 30 minutes sitting on a rock with a pair of binoculars scanning the opposite mountain for dinosaurs.  She was convinced that if dinosaurs still lived, they would live out there in the remote mountains.  Instead, she saw two deer, a flock of turkeys, and another hiker visiting the same valley.

6. Buy Them a Camera

I've mentioned this in another post, but it should be addressed again.  Children are often fascinated by cameras and love taking pictures of things that interest them.  Just as you take photos to remember your favorite times and places, allow them the chance to do the same.  Kid cameras are built to be bumped around and can be found at a reasonable price.  Plus, in this age of digital information, seeing the pictures doesn't have to cost you any more than the price of a reusable SD card.

Then, when you return home, you get to experience their joy again as they show family and friends the pictures they took while out exploring.

Kids on Carts

7. Let them Choose an Activity

Often it's the parents who set the agenda for any vacation, but why not let your kids make a few choices?  Letting them choose an activity to do will often get them far more excited about the trip itself.  If they aren't sure or if options are limited, pull together a list of activities for them to choose from to help.  Letting them make some of the choices also helps to boost their confidence and comfort with trying new things.

The best part?  This applies to everyone in the family.  Teenagers who seem less then enthused to be dragged along on a family camping trip may perk up a bit if they find that they can choose an activity. 

8. Start Small and Close

Like most new things, kids can take time to adjust and accept, so with that in mind just be sure that your first few trips to the wild are short and close.  Plan a single overnight trip to a familiar place like a family member's yard.  Then try a short weekend trip to a nearby campground.  Work your way up slowly and let your kids get used to the camping lifestyle before you tackle a week-long trip to a primitive spot in the mountains.

9. Surprise Them

It's always fun to surprise your kids, but especially so during a vacation.  When planning, keep a special activity quiet until you arrive and save it for a day when they need a little pick-me-up.  Whether it's a fun-filled activity, a trip for ice cream, or a special project, surprising your kids with the unexpected is sure to keep them talking about this vacation for years to come.

Girl Sleeping

10. Give Them a Day to Recover

This goes for parents as well.  Vacations can be exhausting.  Your sleeping schedule is often tossed out the window, your activities can be physical exhausting, and when you get home, you still have to unpack.  Knowing this, why not plan your vacation to end a full day before you have to return to normal life?  Giving your family and yourself that extra day to recover can make all the difference.

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