Summer is a great time to take the kids camping – but it takes special planning to make sure the little ones learn to love being outside. After all, sleeping under the stars is a big change from the safety and security of home. Here are 6 tips to ensure your camping trip is a success.
1. Get to your campsite early
Make sure you have plenty of time to set-up your tent during daylight so the kids can get comfortable in the campground. If they feel familiar with their surroundings during the day, those shadows will look less scary at night. Build a warm, comfortable fire and give everyone their own flashlight. Bringing favorite stuffed animals and security blankets can do wonders to help with fear of the dark, which is well-worth the chore of washing off the dirt when you get back home.
2. Pack for cold and sun
Temperatures have a habit of shifting unexpectedly when you’re camping, and kids get hot and cold more quickly than adults. Make sure you pack plenty of layers. A fleece pullover (not a sweatshirt) and a warm hat are essentials for night, and you can never bring too many pairs of warm socks. During the day don’t forget sunglasses and baseball hats to keep the sun off their faces. Of course, sunscreen, bug spray, aloe vera, anti-itch cream and a first-aid kit are essentials. If you anticipate the sunburn and mosquito bites, you won’t be caught unprepared by itchy skin after 5 PM!
3. Bring snacks. Lots of them.
Kids get hungry fast, and afternoons can be the perfect storm for cranky behavior if you’ve been out all day in the hot sun. So come over-prepared and bring healthy, camping snacks. Make sure kids get a good mix of protein, sugar and salt so that the energy is both quick and long-lasting. Trail mix is a classic, but string-cheese, beef-jerky and dried fruit are also favorites. Combine the healthy with something sweet like a fruit-leather so that energy will last all the way till dinner.
4. Plan days full of variety
Seeing every famous site in Yosemite National Park may sound like a good idea, but kids need variety. If you go for a hike in the morning, hit the lake or the pool for swimming in the afternoon. Many National Parks let you bring bikes, and renting canoes or paddleboats is always a blast. Break up your long evenings by asking kids to help with simple tasks – like collecting sticks for the campfire or water from the faucet – to cut back on downtime and boredom.
5. Bring supplies for games
Spice up your hikes by transforming them into nature walks. Bring out the magnifying glass and binoculars, and kids will get a kick out of seeing nature up close and personal – or very far away. Ask the kids to collect “samples” in Ziploc baggies and empower them to feel like real scientists. Or bring crayons and a stack of paper: you can collect leaves and sticks to make beautiful leaf rubbings. Next thing you know you’ll have mini-naturalists and impressionist painters on your hands!
6. Go at your kid’s speed
The point of this trip was to have fun and enjoy being outside, right? Give the kids and yourself a break. Maybe you only came home with half your socks, and maybe one night you gave up on cooking over that camp stove or campfire and took the kids out to dinner. The most important thing is that everyone had smiles on their faces – including you! As long as the kids had a great experience camping, it doesn’t matter if they recall that ice cream treat before they remembered they visited Yosemite Valley. What is important is that you got outside and got moving as a family.