A new summer ritual for our family began three years ago: Camping! Yep, camping outside in a real tent at a campground (not just sleeping in a cabin somewhere “up north” or putting up the tent out in our backyard for a couple of hours. I am referring to the real deal where you actually pack up the car with all sorts of camping gear and goodies, head out on the road to a campground and actually set up camp for the day and night.
The big catch to the deal however is that in order to make it work for our family of four (with two kids ages 4 and 6) is that one parent and child actually stays over night in the camp while the other parent (namely me!) and the other child drive home after dusk to sleep in our nice, cozy beds. Until we have better sleepers, this is the way we do it and it just so happens that I get the luxury of being the parent to go home. Yet even so, it is a fun, exciting day for the entire family and we are hopeful that next summer we will all be able to camp over night!
This year we went with another family who have two children the same exact ages as our kids, making it a lively camping experience. The kids spent the first two hours setting up the tents and playing inside them. For some reason, this is half the fun! Then, we headed to the campsite beach located right on a lake which provided hours of free entertainment for our dirty, smelly rugrats. Finally, around late afternoon it was time to build a campfire and grill a delicious campy meal of hot dogs and brats, followed by the much-loved and highly anticipated s’mores.
By 8:30, the “natives were getting restless” as our friends like to say so it was time for me to leave with my son (it was my daughter’s turn to sleep over this year) and head back for our own camping experience. He lucked out and got to sleep with Mom in her bed!
Here are some basic guidelines aka Camping with kids 101 to make your trip run more smoothly and be more fun:
- For your first trip, pick somewhere near your home. We chose a lovely regional park located about a half an hour trip by car from our home. The advantages are many. If there is bad weather, the kids aren’t sleeping or another member of the family (namely me!) wants to go home, it is a quick and easy ride back.
- Make an entire day out of it. We generally start loading up the car with everything first thing in the morning so we can arrive in time for lunch and have the entire day at the campsite to have fun.
- If possible, pick somewhere that is child-friendly and has a lot of families. This helps out in many ways. If your kid is screaming or having a melt-down, no worries, everyone understands and you won’t get any rude stares. You also generally won’t have to deal with any late night loud partying by the twentysomethings sans kids. Finally, family-friendly campgrounds usually have playgrounds, children’s activities and best of all, other kids for your kids to play with making it a win-win situation.
- Pick a campground that has lots to do. We normally stick with a site that is located on a lake so we can either go swimming or play at the beach. Camping far off in the woods could get a little boring for young children who need variety.
- Pack lots of snacks, food, water and most important of all, supplies to cook up some good old-fashioned s’mores on the fire. Gathering the wood, making the fire and cooking our meal over a hot campfire rules. The best part of all is making and eating the s’mores, a tradition that has continued for generation after generation of American families.
- Don’t go with any expectations: Especially in terms of sleep! If you get any sleep at all, you can consider it a bonus. Campgrounds can be loud especially if they are crowded with other campers. Plus who on earth is used to sleeping outdoors? There are those annoying birds rising at the crack of dawn and God knows what else out there making noise, not to mention those pesky, buzzing mosquitos that tend to somehow magically appear in your tent, hovering around your ears all night before they bite you.
- Plan to be dirty, tired and ready to get home the next morning ASAP for a long, hot shower and a well-needed nap. Sunday is usually shot so don’t expect to do much.
- Most important of all, HAVE FUN! By enjoying your time together and sleeping under the stars in the great outdoors, you will provide ever-lasting memories for your children and hopefully an appreciation and love for nature that will last a lifetime.