Camping with kids gives us adults a chance to see the world through their eyes and it’s an exciting experience! But, while sitting around the campfire staring into the flames sounds great to us, a kid will enjoy that for about 10 seconds. Here are some tips to help you create a positive camping experience for your child.
Know your camping location and the limitations or challenges of the kids in your group. Does your child wander and are you camping in the woods where s/he may get lost? Is there a steep cliff that could cause a fall or injury? Are there natural predators in the area (of special concern with younger kids)? It’s your responsibility as a parent to properly manage your kids according to the natural habitat in which you’re camping. Part of creating a good camp experience is doing what you can to prevent disaster.
If you off-road to your camping destination, make safety a priority by meeting all legal restraint requirements for your children (five-point harness, car seat, booster seat, whatever is required). When I talk about off-roading and camping with other people I am often asked if we take our son with us. Of course! Then I’m asked, “Is that safe?” Well, he’s in a booster seat with seat belt buckled while we barrel through the woods at speeds averaging a whopping 3 mph. Yes, it’s safe. And hopefully he’s picking up some good driving habits that he’ll remember when he’s a teenager!
Give kids a job at camp as soon as they’re old enough.
Not only does this give your child something to do (so he isn't just wandering off and getting lost), but it makes him feel important and part of the group. Plus, it’s one less item on your camp to-do list! Here’s our current action plan when we arrive at our camping location: I immediately set up the tent (because rain can start quickly and without warning in the mountains and it’s important to have shelter), my husband digs a fire pit (if one is not already present), and our son scouts the immediate area for small branches and kindling items and then he helps my husband start a fire.
Teach outdoor skills.
For example, teaching a kid how to start a fire (as soon as they’re old enough to do it safely) is an important skill that they need to know if they’ll spend any amount of time in the woods. This can then become their job at camp when they are old enough. And, providing them with fire safety tips and a good experience with starting a fire (and putting it out at the end of camp) will hopefully alleviate the urge to “play with fire” at home out of curiosity. Other outdoor skills you might consider teaching your kids: safely using an axe/hatchet/knife, tying knots, building a shelter, reading a map and using a compass, how to fish/trap/hunt, how to gut/cook an animal or fish you’ve caught, how to track an animal, how to leave no trace and “stay the trail,” and much more.
Have a contest.
Once your kid has been taught some basic outdoor skills, have fun with it! Who can build the fastest fire? Who can build a trap and catch the first small game (and then gut it and cook it!)? Who can tie the fastest knot of a certain kind? Who can get from Point A to Point B quickest by using a map and compass? Who can climb to the top of that tree? Use your imagination! Not only is this fun for kids, but for adults too!
Games are great!
In addition to testing your outdoor skills with contests, make sure you pack other game options for camp downtime. Here are some of our favorites: anything magnetic (it’s often windy in the mountains), travel-size CAMP, Exploding Kittens, S’Mores card game, Build-a-Bike card game, Zombie Dice, or a plain old deck of cards – with which you can play War, Crazy 8s, Go Fish, Old Maid, etc. Another easy packable option are glow sticks – you would not believe the fun a kid can having running around the campsite after dark pretending his glow stick is a sword! And if you want to spend a little time preparing, you can also create a scavenger hunt that sends kids from clue to clue around your campsite area, with a treat or prize at the end (chocolate?!).
Don't forget snacks!
Who doesn’t love Cheetos?! Being a bit of a health nut I don’t keep a lot of junk food at home and I make sure healthy snacks are packed. But in addition, on our way to the woods my husband snags a last minute armful of chips, Cheetos, Gummy Colas, Combos, or whatever. Being able to have [a little] junk or treats when camping helps make it a special experience for kids (and adults too!).
Attention is everything.
This final tip is maybe the most important one. Your child wants your attention and there’s no better time to fully focus than during downtime at camp. There are no TVs, movies, phones, tablets, computers, or video games to distract you. No updating Facebook or checking what you missed on Twitter or checking work email. Take time at camp to give your kiddo some real Facetime and that will make the camping experience an awesome one… for both of you!
How do you make camping with kids fun? Do you have additional tips? Leave your Comments below! And, if you need some reasons to camp, consider these!