The Littlest Campers: Tips and Tricks

General tips for camping with kids

1. Don't camp alone. Part of the beauty of these trips is how many adult hands there are to pass a baby off to, and how many adult eyes there are to watch out for the roving dust cloud of older kids. Find out how many of your friends are potential good campers, even if they've never camped before, and drag them along. Promise beer. Promise marshmallows. Promise anything, but don't camp alone. 

 Our motley crew of pajama clad ruffians

Our motley crew of pajama clad ruffians

2. Don't over do the packing. You need less than you think, especially if you camp in a group.

3. Leave the workbooks, tablets, and toys. Bring books, buckets, and glue. Nothing entertains a pack of wild beasts like gluing leaves on paper. I can't explain it, but I know it's true. 

4. Dirt Tent! The kids will want nothing more than to go in and out and in and out of your pristine sleeping tent. They will want to play with the zipper and jump on your air mattress. Bring a dirt tent. Scour garage sales or maybe retire your old tent. Set up the dirt tent as the place they can play, keep their shoes on, not worry about bugs getting in. DIRT TENT.

5. Release the schedule. Stop looking at your watch. They aren't going to nap. They might pass out at 4:00pm in a mud puddle while looking for worms. They aren't going to go to bed on time. They might eat seventy marshmallows and fall asleep around the campfire in the middle of the second verse of Hey Jude.  Don't worry, they'll still be up at 6:00am. 

Camping While Pregnant

I have not yet attempted the CWP, but I have a brave and wonderful friend who joined us on a camping trip when she was a full eight months pregnant with her second son. Other than some hilarity over breakfast as she re-enacted attempting to get up off of her air mattress that had sprung a leak in the middle of the night, leaving her trapped and flailing, the trip was without incident and enjoyed by all. 

Tips for CWP

- Make sure you get a campsite close to the bathroom.

Camping with a Newborn

If you are practicing any version of attachment parenting (breastfeeding, baby wearing, and co-sleeping), camping with a newborn is no big thing. 

 Not a newborn in that ergo, but seriously, ERGO!

Not a newborn in that ergo, but seriously, ERGO!

Tips for Camping with a Newborn

- Breastfeeding, babywearing, and co-sleeping

-If you have room and access to one, a pack-and-play can come in very handy. Put it under a tree with cool leaves and you might even get a quiet minute to set up the tent.

Pro-tip: Put the pack-and-play and any other crucial distract-the-kids style items in the car last. That way they are the first things you pull out. It is no fun trying to unpack and set up camp with bored kids underfoot. 

Camping with a Crawler

I'm not sure I have a ton of insight to offer here. Our first time out was with a crawler and it was rough. She didn't want to be in the baby carrier. She wasn't a fan of the pack-and-play. She just wanted down, into the dirt, on her hands and knees. I'm a big fan of dirty, but it started to be a safety concern. This might be the one stage I would wait out.

 Come on, mom. I wasn't that bad.

Come on, mom. I wasn't that bad.

Tips for Camping with a Crawler

-Definitely bring that pack-and-play. Beg, borrow, or steal that pack-and-play. But then don't be surprised when the little stinker wants nothing to do with it. 

-Over-pack on kid's clothes. If there is water, they will find it. Dirty is one thing, but getting to the end of the day with nothing dry to put on for bedtime is another.

Camping with a Toddler

Here is where it starts to get really fun. The dirt! The bugs! The snacks! The disgusting intersection of all three! I don't think I've ever seen anyone more joyful than a filthy free-range toddler. Toddlers make good campers, if you let them. 

Tips for Camping with a Toddler

Bring extra shoes. If there is a puddle they are going to jump in it and life is no fun with wet shoes. 

-Pack for colder weather than you expect. Cold munchkins don't sleep well.

-All day pajamas is a good look when camping.

Camping with a Preschooler

Camping with someone who sees the whole world as magical is pretty special. This last trip, we would walk on the adjacent hiking trails and O would tell us stories about gnomes and fairies. It is the perfect age to take them to a new place that can challenge their expectations and immerse them more fully in the natural world. 

Tips for Camping with a Preschooler

- Snacks. Things that are easy to throw into their mouths as they run by. It can be tricky to get them to eat otherwise.

-Glow sticks are a fun, easy way to make sure the kids stay visible at night. 

-Camping is a great time to try to get a picky eater to try new food. They are so far outside of their normal day-to-day, you might be surprised by what they'll try. 

-Say yes. As often as possible, as much as you can stand, even when you want to say no, say yes.  You're camping. 

Camping with a Big Kid

I don't have any personal experience to offer, only observations. In general, I have watched the older kids in our camping group rise above what I would expect based on their ages. I have watched them look after the smaller kids, taking time and effort to make sure they were safe. I have watched them be helpful without being asked, when it comes to setting-up camp or cleaning up after meals. Perhaps the freedom they are permitted instills a sense of responsibility, or maybe they are just so happy to be outside.  Maybe, they were all just good campers.