Camping with kids
Camping can be a budget-friendly family activity and get you and the kids out of the day to day grind. Think of it as time away from screens, homework, and an avalanche of after-school activities and chores, providing a sometimes rare chance for them, and you, to act like a kid. What could be more fun? Here are some pointers for camping with kids to keep it fun and have a good time.
Before you go
Practice with a shakedown at home: Take out the tent, bags and sleeping pads and have a fun overnighter at home in the backyard or even in your living room if you have space. It’s fun for the kids and you get to see that all your equipment is working and in good order. Show the kids how to pack and unpack the gear so nothing is forgotten, like those easy to lose tent pegs.
Find used equipment: It's nice to have new gear, but it's not necessary. See what you are missing then take a little extra time and find it used, at an outdoor gear swap or online and your budget will go much further.
Pick your camping spot: Do you want the campground to be well developed with toilets, showers, running water and a nice soft pad for you to set up on? Maybe you want something a bit more rustic or out of the way? Do a bit of research online to take the guesswork out of it. National parks are a great way to start and generally offer a wide range of camping, plus they have a plethora of information to meet your camping requirements.
Get the kids involved: Most kids will love the idea of camping and won’t need much convincing, but including them in the decisions helps get them engaged and a part of the process. Get out the maps and see if they have ideas about activities they would like to do like riding bikes, swimming or visiting that cave of bats they heard about at school.
Plan the trip menu together: See what they want to eat and get creative. Let everyone pick a special snack. Do some prep ahead of time like chopping vegetables and mixing spices. Make some fun and healthy snacks ahead of time, like energy balls or homemade granola bars, that taste great and are better than a greasy bag of chips.
Pack your bags together: Giving your kids the responsibility to pack their own bags will help them feel more comfortable, teaches them about planning and how to be organized. Make a list, for you and them, that you can save and bring out every time you pack so prep time is minimal. You can even download kid friendly lists online as a time saver. Don’t forget the bug spray (unfortunately I did).
Pack a good first aid kit: You can buy one or assemble your own (visit your local outdoor store for first aid packing suggestions)—along with any medications you or your family may need.
While you are there
At the campsite: Let the kids choose where to set up the tent, and then have everyone pitch in to pitch it. Teach them about safety, but be positive and have a good time. They can help with the tent, pulling sleeping bags out, blowing up mattresses, gathering wood and kindling (where allowed), and getting water from the pump. It helps to keep everyone busy and gives them fun responsibilities. Tell them s’mores are waiting for them as an after-dinner treat for all their hard work!
Be organized and try to stay organized: Keep everything in colour coded bags or zip locks that you can see what’s in the bag and try and put everything back in its place when your family is finished using it. It’s easy to lose things on the ground and in the trees especially when it gets dark.
Be safe: It's also important to talk with the campsite's staff or park rangers about any potentially dangerous wildlife or conditions that may be in the area to avoid a bad situation. We stayed in a spot that was near poison ivy, so we made sure we checked the area and learned what the plant actually looked like to avoid itchy situations in the future. Before letting them loose teach them proper food storage or how to react during wildlife encounter (ie don’t feed the animals) so everyone stays safe and the wildlife gets the proper respect.
Be curious about nature: Bring a field guide to help them (and you) identify wildlife, bugs, funny looking rocks, birds, flowers, clouds, constellations. Make a game of drawing all the fun things they found on their walk in the woods.
Keep it loose: Try not to keep a strict schedule. If they're entertained by skipping rocks or watching the ants parade across the campsite until sunset, let them. The only deadline to keep is to eat dinner before you go to bed.
Make meals quick and easy: Cooking over a campfire is great for kids, but teach them how to act safely around it. It’s a hands-on activity its and easy to make food taste delicious without a lot of work. Before leaving home do some food prep, such as chopping vegetables and mixing spices then sealing them in zip lock bags. Breakfasts can be essy as a jazzed up oatmeal with nuts, seeds and dried fruit alongside a hot chocolate to warm up during a chilly morning.
Hot dogs are easy, but try mixing it up by grilling Italian sausage, pepper, and onion, like we did. Or try making campfire pockets wrapped in tin foil with meat and veggies with a bit of butter and herbs and rest them on the grill or among the coals to cook. Plus clean up is easy. Then, of course, for dessert its marshmallows on a stick over the fire. S’mores are always the key to kid’s heart.
Get dirty: A little dirt’s not going to kill them. They are going to get grimy, and that’s okay. Wash up before bed, or they can always jump in the lake! The shower can wait until they get home.
Have some safe fun at night: There a few things that have both kid appeal and safety value. Whistles can be great for the kids to loop around their necks and inexpensive headlamps can be carried around when it starts to get dark. Glow sticks can be a big hit as well to keep track of everyone and have lots of fun. Make necklaces or bracelets with them and bring lots, you can never have enough glow sticks!
Sleep well: With all the fresh air and exercise the kids are bound to fall asleep fast after such a physical day. Tell a few ghost stories then it's off to bed so the adults can have a little quiet time around the fire and not think about all the emails waiting for them at home.