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. 

Camping is Forever

O: I need my own tent, my own tent where all my friends can sleep with me. 

My dad took me camping. I couldn't tell you if he took me twice or a thousand times, but he took me camping. I rode my bike around the campground with my purple unicorn whistle around my neck. I ate s'mores and hotdogs, slept in a tent, and went days without a shower. I carried my own bag, even if it was only from the car to the tent. I learned that there are two kinds of people in the world: good campers and bad campers. I learned that I wanted to be a good camper.

That's me on the left, good camper in training.

That's me on the left, good camper in training.

Good campers go with the flow. They know how to have a good time regardless of the circumstances. They always have a pocket knife and bottle opener, and they always know where they are. Good campers follow the campsite rule everywhere they go, always leave the campsite/friend's home/restaurant table/partner/friend/lover better than you found them. They rarely brush their hair, but they always brush their teeth. They share their supplies and food as willingly as they share stories and jokes around the campfire. They know how to pack light, but they always manage to have exactly what they need. Good campers have easy laughs and cool toys. My dad is a good camper. 

In our post-marriage, pre-kid life, Jim and I camped. We registered and received a tent as a wedding gift. We didn't camp enough, though. It was always "that thing we should do the next time we have time to," and we never managed to have time to.  

We have camped three times with the girls. The first time was unbearable. No one slept. We were dirty and miserable. I brought a car full of things we didn't need, but still couldn't manage to make myself coffee in the morning. If it wasn't for the peer pressure of a beloved group of friends, we might never have camped again.

The second time was better. I packed lighter and smarter. We agreed beforehand to throw the schedule and rules out the window. It was a land of no naps, unlimited snacks, and a run-until-you-pass-out bedtime strategy. It was late fall, cold and damp, and as we snuggled deep in our sleeping bags, I heard O giggle in her sleep, dreaming of s'mores and dragon flies.

Now, this is a kid who knows how to camp

Now, this is a kid who knows how to camp

This last time was spectacular. The campground had recently had a fire and the charred trees were surrounded by the fresh green of new life that always seems to follow destruction. It was awe-inspiring and a great chance to talk about the cycles we find in nature all around us. O is old enough now that she just was absorbed into the roving dust cloud of children that bounced happily from campsite to campsite, being chased out of tents, and climbing trees. P hopped from lap to lap, happily hosted by the different adults in our party, eating overripe peaches with her sticky, dirty hands. We can't wait to go again, to walk at sunset and look for lizards, to wiggle our toes in the sand, to throw dirt clods in a gully, to watch sleepy children climb onto their parents laps by fire light, fighting to keep their eyes open for just one more minute.  

I am learning to be a good camper, to revel in the quiet and to take each moment as it comes, to balance preparation with practicality. I want to lead by example by following the campsite rule, leaving the world behind me better than when I entered it, improved or at least not damaged by my presence there. I want them to remember, when they are grown, being dirty, exhausted, and happy, sleeping deeply with sounds of close-by crickets and far-away coyotes outside the tent. I want them to be good campers, like their grandpa. 

Check in tomorrow for my Top Ten Tips for Camping with Toddlers.

A Museum, a Park, a Beach, Repeat

O: Momma, are we starting the day, or ending the day, or in the middle of the day?

I love summer, or at least I used to, when I was a kid. As I trudged into adulthood it has started to mean less and less. Sure, it is warmer and it is light later into the evening, but gone is that free feeling of having nothing to do, nowhere to be. I no longer live in my swimsuit, my hair in an eternal matted pony tail. 

But here we are, at the beginning of O's second summer off from pre-school, and somehow, that tingly summer feeling is returning. This week I rolled down a hill, swam in the ocean, and ate ice cream for dinner. Our bathing suits are living on the line outside and haven't been fully dry all week. In a few days, we are going camping. We will return home, exhausted and that first post-camping bath will leave a dirt ring around the tub as satisfying as the trip itself. Summer is a time to be dirty, to roll in the sand, to eat cherries until your fingertips are stained red, to lay in the dirt on your belly and look for bugs, to lay in the grass on your back and watch the clouds. I'm ready. I suppose, if O and P want to join in, they are invited too. 

This summer, my recipe is this: a museum, a park, a beach, repeat. Every week, we are going to attempt those three things. That should leave plenty of time for cloud gazing, getting dirty, and cherry eating too.