When you bring small children along with you to a new environment, their minds can have trouble adapting to all of the new and novel things that they experience and this can produce a child a very tired and probably grumpy child. Learning how to manage camping with small children is a process and each time you go, things will be better. Remember the first time will be the trickiest. Keep your cool, parent! Everything will be A-Okay!
Bring along a tent
My number 1 tip for new and experienced campers alike is to bring along a tent even if you don’t plan to sleep in it. The tent is your friend when camping with small children.
- Are the children restless or bored? Time to set up that tent and have them help as much as possible. Because these are smaller children, I recommend a tent that’s easier to understand and erect, such as a pop-up tent or a dome tent, rather than a luxurious cabin tent, which can take a half hour or more.
- If it starts raining or drizzling, it’s tent time.
- If it gets too hot and the sun is really beating down, take 1 or 2 hours to rest and rehydrate.
- If the bugs get too awful, time to retreat into the tent.
- And most importantly, when the kids get tired or cranky, definitely time to take a break and restore sanity in the tent.
The theory is that the tent provides a small, familiar, safe space away from all of the many things in nature, which is very useful for resting and for simmering down from all of the excitement and stimulation. As it is a smaller space, it can also be used for time-outs.
Bring along snacks, but watch the ingredients
Snacks can provide an energy boost for a tired child, but they also provide a small break in the day. While they’re eating, you get a reprieve from incessant questions and talking and can use the time to sort out anything that you need to do, such as checking the map again, or re-applying sunscreen or bug repellant.
Not all snacks are good snacks to bring if you plan on being active out in nature for example hiking or walking nature trails, so check those nutrition facts. You want snacks that are low in sodium so that your family doesn’t become dehydrated. You also want your food to provide energy, rather than the midday food blues, so you want food that is as low in chemicals as possible, especially sulfur. This means that most snacks that are targeted at campers are actually some of the worst that you can take: dried jerky, dried fruit, or trail mix are all full of salt and preservative chemicals.
Bring all of the essentials
Plan out a list of all of the things that you will need for your camping trip and pack it all up beforehand. This helps reduce stress before the trip because you know that you’ve got everything ready to go. Don’t forget your sunscreen and bug repellant.
Pre-plan activities, and absolutely don’t wing it your first time
One of the worst things that you can do as a first time camper is expect your child to be completely entertained by all of what nature has to offer. As this is a new environment, they’re not going to be sure how to approach it. And for some children, it isn’t the best idea to give them free reign to explore as they please, especially ones that like to put things in their mouths.
A word on children who are very engrossed by video games and electronics
Most children’s entertainment realms revolve solely around gadgets and electronics, and to try to substitute it all at once is going to leave them clueless, and then upset. Learning to be entertained with what is outside is a skill that takes time to develop, so you can’t expect them to get there all in one day. You might want to take some form of entertainment that they like and let them play it less than normal, but find a way to require that they spend some time outside too. You can say “You can play your video game for as much time as you spend outside”.
Activities you can buy
If you plan ahead, you can buy various nature exploration kits aimed at children of your age range. They’ll typically come with magnifiers, binoculars, exploration tools, hats, and some games that they can play. Having new toys helps break up the day.
Another idea are games that don’t involve electronics at all. Some ideas for that are various card games, portable board games, or more old fashioned toys such as yo-yos, the ball on a string that you get into the cup, etcha-sketch, drawing and coloring with non-toxic and washable colors. Here are a few ideas that you might like:
Activities you can get for free
Not everyone is into buying things all the time, and that’s okay, too. There are plenty of existing games and activities that you can find. Check your local wildlife and parks service website for different activities that you can print out and play with your children. There are some other websites devoted to pen and paper games, such as “I Spy” and “Bingo”.
Get ‘em moving with sports!
Physical activity is great for children and it helps them feel more at ease and comfortable. Bring along some sports equipment that you can play with at your camping spot. For example, a soccer ball, football, a ball to play catch with, or a frisbee are all some good choices.
Go forward and explore the wild! Good luck!
Now that you have some ideas on how to manage camping with small children I hope that you and your family have a great time out in the wild with nature! Remember that much of your trip will rely on you staying patient and calm, too, so bring your own favorite snacks, and maybe a book to relax with, too.
You can read more of Tadej’s great hints and tips about all things camping including which tents to buy and more practical ideas for making camping with the family fun on Camping Tent Lovers