Camping with Kids – Lessons Learned
This post was originally published on Mums on the Go in 2012. With that site closing down I wanted to still be able to share this information here with you. We have an extra kid now and confess we haven’t been camping for a while. Committed to changing that in 2016 xx
Camping has been part of my life since I was a small child – and camping as a kid involved having to dig trenches to use as toilets … that’s the kind of camping I was raised with.
So as an adult (without children) I embarked on lots of camping adventures in National Parks, multi-day hikes in places like Patagonia where everything I needed for 6 days had to be carried on my back. This kind of camping involved being efficient with what you packed, keeping everything light weight and perhaps not super comfortable … but I loved these adventures.
Now I have 2 small children, currently 3.5 years and 13 months and my husband and I are committed to having our kids camp from a young age so that it becomes part of our family culture. However, I confess I find camping with such young children a challenge and each time we go I learn valuable lessons.
Last weekend we set off for 3 nights camping in a National Park. It was the third time we have been camping with kids and only the second time with 2 kids – and perhaps the hardest trip so far.
I learnt some very valuable lessons this trip:
If you buy new gear be sure to test before you leave
So enthused about camping this summer my husband and I gave each other all sorts of new camping gear for Christmas – and managed not to duplicate any gifts! For my birthday I received a camping fridge that runs off power, the car, or gas. What luxury … no more UHT milk, no more melted ice. Luckily we tested it before we went as it didn’t work when hooked up to the gas and we had to swap it over the day before we left.
I also received an email this week sharing this story “we bought a new double air mattress (twice the thickness of the typical air mattress) with a built in pump only to arrive, pull it out the box to realise we needed electricity to pump it up ;-)”
An extra adult makes life much easier
This was the first trip where it has just been my husband and I and the girls. Previously we have camped with another family or taken an adult friend with us. The lack of an extra adult was probably the factor that made this trip so challenging. My 13 month old can’t be left alone for 5 seconds without getting herself into trouble which meant that at all times 1 adult was on “kid duty” and 1 adult was on “logistic duty”.
For example when we arrived my husband had to set up our big tent alone while I took the girls for a long walk to get them out of the way. At dinner time my husband took care of food preparation and cooking while I kept girls entertained. I found this quite exhausting so I think until the girls are a bit older we should ensure there are more people involved in our camping adventures … even if this means more kids because I could have looked after 4 kids as easily as my 2 and life would have flowed more smoothly with an extra adult to help out.
Simple food still the best
With the arrival of all our new, luxury, camping gear – such as the fridge – I decided indulge in camping food we wouldn’t normally take. Bacon & Eggs & pancake mix for example. This sounds great except it meant someone had to cook each morning and with the lack of an extra pair of hands this was very time consuming. I think next time I’ll stick to good old fashion weetbix and keep it simple.
I had also bought a whole lot of “treat” foods for snacks during the trip – little packs of chips, packets or sultanas, jelly snakes, little juices etc. Only the jelly snakes actually made it as we managed to leave 3 bags of food behind!
Note to self – don’t assume hubbie has picked up all the food I have put together … always do a check.
Bushwalking important for us
We discovered that the campground we went to was really set up for surfers. It was a 10 minute walk to the beach which isn’t really far but for 2 small kids it is. If the weather wasn’t good for the beach there was really nothing else to do. Normally we would take the girls bushwalking when we camp but there was really nothing there. Note for self: only choose camping areas with bushwalking nearby and try to have the beach access closer to the camp ground.
National Park organised activities are great
As it was school holidays the National Park had a selection of activities running each day. I had looked ahead at the weather before we left and noted one day was forecast to be cool and wet. On this day there was an aboriginal painting activity scheduled so I booked Miss 3 and myself in for this. It was fantastic … for 90 minutes she was totally absorbed in the activity and the stories being told, we were dry under a shelter, and my husband got to chill out listening to the cricket on the radio while our baby had her morning sleep. It was so lovely to relax and let someone else create the activity.
Plan your “tent time” toys
“Tent time” can be a challenge for some kids … whether it is forced by wet weather, or just because a little rest time is needed. This seems to be something we do quite well which is good. My trick here is to pack a small range of light weight, compact activities/toys that can have multiple uses.
- Finger puppets or small dolls … great for variety of story telling activities. Miss 3 also like to put them all to bed in her sleeping bag
- Colouring in: I always buy a new colouring in book for Miss 3 before a camping trip. She can spend hours absorbed in this. However, this trip I also found her colouring in the flowers on her leggings! She told me she wanted to make them really pretty and I have to say she had done a very neat job so it was hard to be too cross about it. Guess what, 3 days later when I got to wash the pants at home the text washed out … washable textas are an amazing thing!!
- Books: I packed 5 books for the girls to share. I pick ones that Miss 3 knows well so she can “read” them to herself or we can snuggle up and read together
- Small plastic balls: we have this small, light weight plastic balls that came out of a paddling pool years ago. A handful of these create great entertainment for both girls in the tent … rolling between us, hide and seek, learning to juggle etc
Our next camping trip will be a little different. We are heading out west at the end of January to visit some friends and will pitch our tent on their property … so there will be plenty of extra hands and a house to play in during the day. Our challenge on that trip will be the long drive to get out there. Then I will have to search for our next adventure.
What great lessons have you learned about camping with your kids?