In your mind, the idea of camping with your kids seems like a dream. You see: your family snuggled around a campfire. Playing by the lake. Hiking on a trail. Stargazing in the evening. Anyone who's ever been camping with their kids can tell you that while these precious moments can happen, they can also be overshadowed by a lot of less than ideal occurrences. Whinging about bugs or being bored. Complaints about campfire food. Arguments about who gets to use the binoculars first. All these agitations can conspire to turn the heaven of camping into a living hell. That is, if you're not prepared.
Thankfully, becoming prepared is as easy as reading the rest of this article. Here are six incredible tips for creating happy camping memories with your children.
1. Don't Commit Too Much
Unless your child has had a lot of experience camping (in which case, you likely won't be reading this article), he or she will have a limited tolerance for the great outdoors. This isn't to say your child won't like it, but he or she will feel overwhelmed by the experience. An overwhelmed child is an overexcited child, who becomes an overtired child, who becomes a cranky child who becomes a pain in your rear. So, keep your initial trip short: overnight is plenty.
2. Get Them Involved
Getting your children involved in the camping planning, packing, set up and tear down will keep them busy (too busy to complain they are bored), while also teaching them about the ins and outs of camping. It's this sort of hands-on experience that will nurture a lifelong love of camping, while also fostering confidence in their own capabilities.
3. Plan for their Capabilities
You may be perfectly fine with low-trace camping, but will your child be OK packing their own feces and carting it out of camp? Ummm...probably not. Same goes for more experienced camping endeavors, like portaging trips or winter camping. Again, this is something you can do with your children eventually, but you have to acclimatize them to the camping experience before you can throw them into the bush. Opt for campsites that you can drive into, as opposed to hiking 20 km to reach. By all means, hike once you've arrived and are settled in, but remember you are dealing with children, and the world — especially the natural world — can be a big, tiring place.
4. Make Them Comfortable
One of the benefits of camping is that it can push us outside of our comfort zones, and force us to realize the scope of our abilities — and this can definitely be a good thing. However, you don't have to be chronically uncomfortable. These pushes toward realization should be balanced by rest and recovery. So, while sleeping under the stars may sound like a great idea, in practice, your child may be cold and scared. This is when a quality tent or family camper trailer can come in handy: it provides a safe space where they can return after that exciting canoe around the lake, or hike into the woods. When it comes to camping with kids, comfort is king.
5. Set Expectations
Before you head out, make sure your child has a clear set of expectations as to what is expected of him or her on the trip. These expectations should extend beyond merely behaving oneself and should include the critical safety considerations. Water safety, fire safety, animal encounter safety, parental supervision safety: these are all things you and your child should discuss at length. Make sure they understand (and can repeat) exactly what is expected of them.
6. Bring Diversions
Finally, let's talk about keeping your kids entertained. You may think nature should be diverting enough, but kids are often overstimulated every day. Busy schedules and screens make it difficult for some children (and some adults) to disconnect and just relax. While camping is the perfect time to take a break from screens, this doesn't mean your kids will be happy to just stare at the trees. Bring games, like cards or a board game. Bring coloring books. Bring sporting equipment. Bring books to read. These activities will help your child adapt to screen-free, non-harried downtime, which will benefit both their mental and physical health.