Camping is a wonderful, fun, and affordable pastime that at least 77 million Americans participate in every year.
The number of households who camp once a year increased by an astounding 20% between 2014 and 2017. Even more, the number of families that camped at least three times a year increased by 64% during the same timeframe!
Additionally, it's incredibly inexpensive, sometimes even free. Once you buy your camping gear (which many families only spend between $51 and $200 on), you've taken care of the priciest part.
That's why camping with kids is such a great idea. You can get them out of the house and having fun in an affordable way. Not many other kid-friendly activities can boast the same.
Of course, in our digital age, it's easy for kids to feel bored when they're not "plugged in." How can you keep them entertained while outdoors?
Keep reading to see how you can have a stress- and conflict-free adventure with the whole family!
Part of the reason kids may become stressed or bored during a camping trip is a lack of supplies.
If there are not enough snacks, they'll be complaining of hunger. If there's not enough entertainment, they'll lament that they're bored.
Knowing this, make a camping checklist for every day of your trip and cross things off as you go. It's helpful to pack items in clear containers if you can, so everything is visible and accessible. Have each kid pack their own clothes, but double-check that all the essentials (plus some spares) are included.
Your checklist should have at least the following:
- All camping gear, including the tent, sleeping bags, pillows, a ground cover
- Clothing such as pajamas, an outfit that can get dirty, jackets for nighttime, bathing suits if you're near the water, etc.
- Miscellaneous items like bug spray, flashlights, batteries, a stocked-up first aid kit, insect repellant
- Enough toiletries for each member of the family, including things like sani-wipes for on-the-go cleaning
- All kitchen supplies, such as plates, utensils, a stove if necessary, a place for trash, napkins and/or paper towels
- All your "fun and games" necessities
You don't even have to wing it, either. There are many family camping checklists online. Print one out and use it for reference!
Involve Them the Whole Time
It might be easy to fall in traditional parent-child roles when you're out camping. For example, Mom and Dad put the entire campsite together while siblings argue in the car. But when you're camping with kids, consider involving them every step on the way.
What does that mean?
First, get their insight on where to go. Even if you nudge them to the destination you've already decided upon (they don't have to know!), they'll feel good knowing they were a part of the decision-making process.
When you arrive at the campground, have them assist in setting up. Let them help you pitch the tent, scope out the firepit, and organize all the camping supplies. Designate a job for each person and have them be active in getting the area fit for a good time.
You can also involve them in the pre-planning stages.
What will they want for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? What games would they like to play while there? If you can cater to the activities and menu they want, they'll be all the more excited to join in.
Basically, involve your kid in every stage of the trip, and they'll feel much more like a central part of the adventure than simply "tagging along" because Mom and Dad made them.
Have Plenty of Games and Activities Prepared
Of course, one significant way to keep kids from feeling stressed, bored, or ready to head back home is to come prepared with fun activities and games.
If you're lucky, your kids will spend the entire time exploring the campground, hiking the trails, playing "tag," you name it! But, when the energy runs low, and they look around for the TV remote, you'll need to be armed with some ideas.
If it's nighttime, gather around the fire and tell stories and look for constellations. If someone in the family plays an instrument, bring it along, and you can even host a little fireside jam sesh and have the kids sing together.
If it's daytime, your options are as endless as you are creative.
You can play games like Capture the Flag, cards, charades, horseshoes. If you bring along a soccer ball, volleyball, or frisbee, start an impromptu sports hour. And don't forget old-school favorites like hide-and-seek.
Consider Your Surroundings
What we mean by this is, know what's around your campground.
Is there a place to fish, canoe, or kayak? Is there a volleyball net, a particular area with stunning scenery, somewhere to swim? Are there hiking trails, emerald lakes, canyons or hills?
Use your surroundings to fuel the adventure! If you choose a place that's got activities all around you, you may not even have to pull out the games. Consider this factor when selecting your camping destination.
If there are things to do all around, like a prime fishing spot, for example, your kids will feel even more in line with nature. If you're posted up right near a beach, gather supplies and take a walk over there, where you can hang out for hours if the weather's right.
Stay Structured and Prepared at the Campsite
This tip ties in with the one about packing accordingly. Keep chaos out of the campsite—you'll need some structure and order to keep everything chugging along smoothly.
For example, have everything in clearly-designated spots. We mentioned packing in clear containers if possible, as this takes some of the confusion out of the equation. Keep certain items in the car, and others on the campsite itself.
As you stay at the campground, clean up around yourself. "Leave it better than you found it," as the saying goes. Encourage your kids to pick up their trash and put away their toys as they're done.
You can also stay on a slight schedule if you'd like, too. This helps sleep schedules from getting disrupted when the camping trip is over. Make sure your kids go to bed and rise at a decent hour (which probably won't be a problem if they're tired from all the stuff you're doing!).
Camping is an adventure, so balance structure with ease and go with the flow whenever possible. As a parent, however, you realize the importance of staying prepared and expecting the unexpected!
Plan Your Food
This tip is a big one! Keep kids satisfied and full throughout their camping experience by planning your meals ahead of time. Come prepared with plenty of snacks and refreshments.
Of course, you'll have to bring something easy to grill, like hamburgers, or even hotdogs to roast on sticks over the fire. Kids will love eating outside, sitting on tree stumps, especially if they're the ones cooking.
No camping trip is complete without some ooey-gooey S'Mores, so be sure to pack plenty of Hershey's chocolate bars, graham crackers, and marshmallows for the evening hours. Bring your own sticks or scavenge them right there from your surroundings.
One excellent trick we have is to place a pre-made pancake mix into empty condiment containers (the ones with a squirt-style lid). Then, in the mornings, simply squeeze the mix over a skillet, and voila—breakfast is served! Have the kids make shapes with their pancakes.
For camping snacks, consider options like:
- Homemade Chex mix
- Pumpkin seeds
- Granola bars
- Rice Krispie treats
- Trail mix
- Dehydrated fruit
And of course, add anything else to this list that your children love to munch on!
Have a Nighttime Plan
Campgrounds at nighttime can be scary for children. At home, a night light may lead them easily down the hall to the bathroom. But out in the woods, the same rules don't apply.
Having a nighttime plan lends itself to the structure we mentioned earlier. Before the sun starts to set, talk over the scene with your kids.
If they have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, where should they go? Where will the flashlights be? How should they navigate in and out of the tent in the dark?
Have everything in order for the evening hours, so your kids don't get scared in the middle of the night and wake up the whole campground!
Camping With Kids Is a Blast
No matter what the conditions when you camp—good weather or bad, trials and tribulations or smooth sailing—you're making memories as a family. You can always look back on your time together and reflect fondly on the adventures you had.
Camping with kids doesn't have to be stressful or tedious. In fact, it can be exciting, funny, and unpredictable. Relish the unique energy that kids bring to the table!
Check out the camping supplies on our site to see how you can make your trip all the more enjoyable.